Zesh Rehman holds a unique position in football history, when in he appeared for Fulham FC against Liverpool at Anfield in 2004 he became the first player of South Asian origin to play in the Premier League.
Since then Zesh has played almost 450 professional games across the English leagues with Fulham FC, Queens Park Rangers FC, Brighton and Hove Albion, Bradford City, Norwich City, Blackpool and Gillingham.
He has also played extensively across Asia with Muanthong United (Thailand), Kitchee SC (Hong Kong), Pahang FA (Malaysia) and is currently playing with Southern FC in Hong Kong. During this time he has represented Pakistan internationally (his parents country of origin) and is the current Pakistan captain.
The PFA caught up with Zesh to talk about his recent achievement of becoming the first British Asian to obtain the UEFA Pro Licence.
Throughout your career you have accumulated a growing list of firsts. How does it feel to become the first British Asian ever to obtain the UEFA Pro Licence?
It feels great to finally obtain the UEFA Pro Licence. The fact that I’m the first British Asian to do so is obviously a significant factor for many people. As throughout my playing career I never really emphasised my ethnic background or culture, it’s always been raised by other people. I am aware of the significance of it and I am aware of the impact that it could potentially have to inspire future players and coaches to do what I’ve done, so if that’s the case it’s great but for me it’s always been about the football first, whether that be playing or coaching, it’s about the quality of that. The background, culture and religion are secondary because as I’ve always said football is a game for everybody and should be enjoyed by everybody, irrelevant of their background.
When did you start the badges and how long did it take you to complete it?
I started the badges way back in 2003 with the PFA. I got involved on the FA Level 2 course with Jim Hicks and it was a great experience but from then I put it on the backburner to just focus on playing. It was from 2014 up until now that I pursued it again and finished off the UEFA B, A and Pro License over a four-year period and sacrificing the summers to make sure that I got it done. So overall from the UEFA B to the Pro Licence it took a good solid four years.
Being based in Asia with a young family how did you manage to juggle the time and remain committed to the process? It must have involved some air miles! How many flights did you have?
Being in Asia was a big challenge because of the distance, the timeframes and a lot of travelling. I think in total I took around twenty-five flights to and from the UK to finish the badges and the most important lesson I learnt was to remain committed throughout because once you start it’s important to finish something off. Juggling my time between coaching badges, family, kids, training and travelling to games alongside the Business Management Degree I’m doing with the PFA, it was quite difficult. You get to learn about yourself, you learn how to prioritise, so I learnt a lot of lessons along the way. I’m always going to be committed to finishing something once I’ve started it.
How important have the PFA been in your journey?
The support from the PFA was outstanding, everybody inside the organisation is doing such a fantastic job for its members. I have to thank Gordan Taylor for his on-going support and belief in me. I speak regularly to the staff there, people like Simone Pound and Paul Raven who I spoke too not long ago, they’re always there on the other end of the line to give you advice for whatever you need. The PFA have been fantastic and are really supportive of all their members and I can’t speak highly enough of my Union in terms of what they’ve done for me and are always there if I ever need anything, whether it’s contract or financial advice, putting on bespoke workshops, coaching assistance or whatever it is, they’ve always been there and I’m really grateful for that. My club KC Southern were also very supportive by allowing me to travel to Europe on several occasions to finish the UEFA Pro License.
Having played over 400 career games across several leagues around the world, what’s the next step after playing football?
At the moment I’m feeling good and would like to play for as long as possible. I have another year here on my deal as a player. My target has always been to try to get to 500 career games, so I need a couple of seasons at least to reach that target. In the meantime, I’m preparing for the transition away from playing football, which is why I’ve completed the badges, doing a degree whilst playing and I’ve also set up my foundation (Zesh Rehman Foundation) so I have plenty of options when I finish playing. I have spoken to a lot of players who have really struggled with the transition and it’s been a real eye-opener. It’s been a good insight into why you need to prepare, sacrifice and be committed to other roles. This is why I’ve been as prepared as I can be.
What advice would you give to fellow professionals who are thinking about enrolling onto a course?
I would say get involved in something that you are interested in. As professional footballers we get so much downtime after training and it’s important that players invest that time wisely. The PFA offer courses that can be completed online and therefore there is no excuse for players not to be doing something educational. As I’ve said before it’s about investing in your time and having a plan B alongside a plan A. The average playing career is only about 8 years and no one players forever so therefore it’s important to prioritise and think about a career away from football.