Sunday, 23 October 2011

Charlie Wyett meets Zesh Rehman, who is starring with Robbie Fowler in Thailand


ZESH REHMAN speaks English, Urdu, Punjabi, French and is on the way to becoming fluent in Thai.

The first ever British Asian to start a Premier League game, former Fulham defender Rehman has even launched a phone app which helps footballing nomads by translating well-known phrases in six different languages.

Currently playing for Muang Thong United, the biggest football team in Thailand, Rehman admits his team-mates have a new language problem which a phone app could not solve.

And that's how to understand Scouse.

Rehman, 28, left Bradford to start a new life in Bangkok at the start of the year before having a new team-mate in July when Robbie Fowler arrived.

Yet Rehman now also has a new boss with the former Liverpool and England striker having taken over as the club's player-manager.

A fascinating character who grew up in Birminghan, starred for England at youth level yet chose to play for Pakistan, Rehman is still on the PFA's management committee and believes more players should become Brits abroad.

He said: "I am really enjoying it. It was one of the best footballing decisions I made.

"I was lucky enough to play in England for 10 years in all four divisions but it was time for a new challenge. Here is a different lifestyle and different culture. It is also a different style of football but I am learning about it all the time.

"Muang Thong is a suburb of Bangkok, 20 minutes from all the madness of the city centre.

"We get between 15,000 and 20,000. We are second in the table, six points behind Buriram with 12 games to go. But Muang Thong have been champions for the last four years so they are basically the Manchester United of Thailand. Football here is growing rapidly and the levels here are better than people may think.

"Robbie came as a player two or three months ago. The board decided to change the coach so he is now player-manager. He is really enjoying it and I think he will be a good coach in the future.

"As soon as he got here I helped him settle in. He is a really top bloke and we are getting on really well.

"He has only be in charge for two games but we have won both so it is a good start. He has played for some top managers and I am sure he will be a good manager as he has been there as a player.

"His man-management skills are quite evident. It is not easy being here but he is handling it very well. He also scored his first goal last weekend so is flying.

"it was a challenge for Robbie at first but he knows that he needs to speak a bit slower and they understand then. There has been a great atmosphere throughout .

"It definitely helps speaking Thai. I am 60 per cent of the way to being fluent and it makes everything easier. I was the only member of the back five who could not speak Thai.

"I have now developed my own phone application that will hopefully help players, manager and fans who move from different countries. At the moment I have several different languages using football phrases, with more to follow soon".

Being part of a cultural melting pot is nothing new to Rehman.

He said: "I grew up in a mixed community. Everyone was playing football and I was no different, despite my Asian background.

"My dad Khalid supported Villa during the 1970s which I think was quite rare for a second generation Asian. His love of the game filtered down to me and luckily my family have been my best support mechanism throughout my career.

"I have never made excuses for my background. It's frustrating that there are not more British Asians playing football but I'm hopeful that history will repeat itself.

"In the 1970s there were one or two black players. Go forward 40 years and it is 25 per cent. I am sure it will be the same with the third and fourth generation British Asians who do not perceive themselves as any different, they will be the significant breakthrough makers because they have a better understanding of how to embrace both cultures which is important.

"I have started The Zesh Rehman Foundation and one of the arms is to develop future players, coaches and officials across all levels of the game to help address this issue."

Rehman also believes more English players should leave the country who are finding it difficult domestically should consider their options abroad and in his case the Far East.

He said: "I am on the management committee of the PFA as an overseas member. I am up to date with the stats and the number of players out of contract is alarming. Players need to realize the football world is a global world and their are wider opportunities out their for them to continue their careers, particularly in Asia.

"I am only 28 and want to play for as long as I can. I want to stay in the game as a coach or manager. The next progression is to manage the Pakistan national team in the future.

"I also have offers from four or five other Asian clubs for next season and one or two from Europe but for the time being I am immersing myself into the Thai culture and I've got used to the weather. Here, it's either rainy, hot or very hot.

"As for Robbie, I think this is just the start of what will be a very good managerial career."

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