What does it REALLY take to be a professional footballer? (Part Two)

Well this leaves me to my second point, why are South Asian and Eastern African football players not represented in the professional game as they are in the sport generally?

This is in fact a fantastic time for Asian and Eastern African players, as clubs up and down the country are looking for these players to come to the forefront. The clubs are motivated by two simple truths; firstly the economic gains. As most are aware, the beautiful game is now controlled by finances. Everything is now about money and clubs know that if they manage to find the first Asian or Eastern African player then they will increase their fan base to include the majority of that ethnic minority community. Now imagine an increase in 5 million supporters overnight, increased sponsorship deals and merchandise sales, that’s a massive increase in annual revenue for the clubs.

Secondly, the ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out Of Football’ campaign and political correctness is looking for every workplace to represent all types of people and as stated earlier there are few Asian and Eastern African players, hence why they are scouring the country for talent. The reputation of the club would exceed to a level that not even the clubs chairman would expect.

So, why is it then that we see no development in Asian and Eastern African football? Well firstly, let’s rule out the myth that these players can’t play. I personally believe that Asian and South American footballers are technically the most gifted in the world. Eastern African footballers, in particular Somali players, are also technically gifted but more importantly physically extremely fit. I’m telling you, the Somalian players I have played with not only run rings around players but they just keep going on and on and can run all day (its got to be something in their diet!).

All it takes is just one Asian player or Eastern African player to make the breakthrough and then this problem – or this myth – of how Asians and Eastern Africans cannot play football, and the highly problematic issue of racism will be challenged constructively and proactively.

As a coach there are three things that are looked for in a player; technical ability, mental ability and physical ability. This is where Asian and Eastern African players need to reassess the way they play as they have more than enough technical ability but sadly most players lack the other two qualities. The most important is mental ability, but what is it when I mention mental ability?

Well it’s what I have mentioned before, attitude. Attitude is the difference between a good player and a great player, mental strength always leads to an improvement on physical and technical aspects of football. All coaches look for players that are committed, determined, always willing to listen and learn, and in particular those that can encourage others around them. This is what Roger Skyrme, a Fulham scout, has to say;

“It doesn’t take a scout to pick out the best player on a pitch. We’re looking for more than just raw talent. You’ll rarely see me with my eyes on the ball during a match.I need to find out about a player’s character. So I’ll be busy looking at things like their position on the pitch, and whether they’re prepared to get stuck in and help their team-mates out.”

Let me contrast this with two teams, a ‘white team’ and an ‘Asian team’, and remember I have played for both. This is a typical training session for an ‘Asian team’. Firstly, players always turn up late; the so-called better players are almost always later than everyone else; few make little effort in training and just want to play a match; very little warm-up and warm-down (if any), mostly due to player pressure; most Asian teams are ill-equipped, not always the teams fault, in terms of either equipment or personnel.

Now with a ‘white’ team, the story is the opposite; most of the team will arrive for training about 15 minutes before it starts; they would have a proper 30 – 45 minute warm-up; players will even compete with who is best at training; they will do some exercises, usually in groups (and they can do this because they usually have 4 people helping and not one with most Asian teams); they always listen to what the coach has to say and are willing to learn; and at the end they might not even have a game and they always make sure to spend about 10 minutes at the end to warm down. This will all be done together, not like in ‘Asian’ teams who just want to hang around their own crew and hence segregate the team.

The difference is not just in the team training, but more importantly the attitude of the players. Few are willing to put in the effort required to be a top players, instead we all just want to be ‘Maradonna’, not saying there’s anything wrong with that (personally I think Maradonna is the best ever footballer), but no professional teams look for Maradonna’s, his type is a thing of the past (and that’s a shame for football entertainment). Instead they are looking for players who have the technical ability, but more importantly the mental ability and right attitude to cope with playing professional football. Players that are willing to get stuck in, that are willing to run up and down the pitch, players that don’t moan and give the coaches and managers headaches, players that will motivate others, players that are desperate to play and win, players that want to learn and improve, players that listen to instructions, and more importantly players that don’t give up.

If you are a South Asian of Eastern African reading this, then reflect honestly and see if you have the characteristics listed above. If not, then you know what you need to work on and most importantly never give up!

What does it REALLY take to be a professional footballer?

Well what gives me the authority to write about this, am I a professional footballer? Well the answer of course is no. For those who know me, know that I have played for many teams, and even represented Bangladesh youth, but I never made it as a professional footballer even though I have played for West Ham youth and played with some of the professional stars on show in the English Premiership. Why?

There are two issues I am going to tackle in this report, what it takes to be noticed and why South Asian and Eastern African football players are not represented on the professional level of football. But first let me give you a little insight into my past experience (don’t worry im not going to bore you with my life story!).

Like every budding young player, you start kicking a football as soon as you can walk. I grew up in my primary school days playing football with the likes of Ledley King and Ashley Cole who lived in my area. At a young age I believed I was the best and strived to be the best and it paid off as I was always the first to be picked. I captained my primary school team (Ledley King was also in my primary school) to win the then famous Smiths Crisp Cup at Wembley, which is like the FA Cup of primary school football.

In secondary school, I again too represented my school as team captain throughout the years, winning the Inner London Schools League (I am not too sure if these cups and leagues exist now). At thirteen, I was chosen to represent my borough, Tower Hamlets, again linking up with Ledley King and Ashley Cole as we ended up going to different schools. It was hard for as I was the only Asian player to play for Tower Hamlets at that time and also as many people know, I am a very short fellow, but again with hard work and commitment, not only did I cement my place in the team but ended up captaining the team. I also then got to represent Bangladesh in an under 16’s International Tournament in Denmark, reaching the semi-finals.

But it was at fourteen that my breakthrough came. My geography teacher in school (who was also our football coach) invited some scouts to watch one of our games. I think they were there to watch Daniel Shittu, who if you know, now represents Q.P.R and Nigeria, but it was my number that came up. In that game I played I was moved about into different positions and played at right-back, left-midfield and in central midfield and was picked up by West Ham.

At West Ham it was hard. I had to up my game as I was playing with better players (Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard Jnr, Joe Cole, you know the score) and for the first time in my life I had to really fight for my place. Well, I never got my place as Frank Lampard Jnr, who now plays for Chelsea and England, got it. I felt hard done by as Lampard’s father, Frank Lampard Snr, was the then youth team coach, and I felt I was never given a fair chance. But Lampard is showing us now why he got it, as he is arguably one of England’s best players!

Then at sixteen disaster struck as I broke my leg twice and was out the game for over a year. This is where the rest was my entire fault. I never ever got support from my parents who told me I was wasting my time, they never once watched me play and always kept saying to concentrate more on my studies than this stupid game. But after I broke my leg, I think I gave up, I put on weight and lost my pace. Instead of keeping fit and trying to get back as quick as possible, I just unwearyingly gave up. All credit to West Ham, they helped through what was not a nice period for me. I did not keep to the routine they gave me and when I recovered from my injury was not even half the player I was, and was subsequently released. I even had a trial at Charlton after that, linking up with my school buddy Danny Shittu, but that too came to nothing. After that I just play football because I love the game and have played for Globe Town, Vallance FC, Walthamstow Wanderers and now NYL. But what was it that made me rise and what was that made me fall?

There are many lessons to learn from my experience. I know I had two traits that not everyone is born with but can easily acquire. Firstly, I am a born leader. I knew it from young as I was a leader among my peers (and I grew up with a proper multi-cultural group). But this is a trait that everyone can attain to some degree, and you don’t necessarily need to inspire people to be leader. To simply encourage someone is being a leader; to correct someone is being a leader; to say kind words to people is being a leader; to motivate people is being a leader; to be a shoulder to lean on is being a leader. This is something we should all try and do, and by doing this you can inspire others around you.

Secondly and more importantly, I had to be the best. I had that attitude where I didn’t know how to lose, I had to win. This was the case in football and consequently this was also the case in my academic studies. Even in my schoolwork, mine had to be best. If someone did something that was better than mine, I had to beat him/her. I took everything in life as a competition. But you’ll never be the best unless you are organised and disciplined and I was disciplined, I used to be the first one to everything; in training, when meeting up, when going somewhere, and I always tried my best and even in training I had to be the best.

These were the two reasons I believe for how I managed to get noticed and for my early football achievements. In football, you need to have that raw technical ability, but without hard work and the right attitude you’ll never win. Only when you are disciplined and have that will-to-win will you achieve things, in football and in life.

So what was my downfall? Quite simple; a lack of discipline. I was always encouraged by my peers and teachers that I would be the first Asian player in Britain to make it, but my frustration of not being able to oust Lampard at West Ham and my broken leg changed my mentality and without noticing it I simply gave up. At a time when Asian footballers were not even given the opportunity I got, people then kept raising the issue of institutionalised racism and how an ethnic minority player would never be picked over a white person. I think that during my injury, instead of wanting to prove these people wrong like I had done so far, I stopped fighting. Once I was released by West Ham I never quite got my confidence back to play with the same attitude as I had always done so.

The thing to learn is that I must have done something right for them to even notice me, and I know what it was. It was my ability to strive to better myself, as a person and as a player, and my mentality. I never gave up and had to win at everything and always wanted to learn from my coaches and that is an essential quality that all scouts and coaches look for.

Leyton Athlectic 1 NYL Prostars 3

NYL Juniors started the match to disrupt their opponents rhythm and for the first 30 minutes of the match LA could not get the ball out of their own half. Ashikur (Ricky) controlled the midfield battle and Zaeem, Shariful, Shurayh and Suhel caused all kinds of panic for the LA defence. All that eluded NYL was a goal even though you felt they would rack up a rugby score, much was NYL’s possession and flair on show. But much credit must go to LA and in particular their goalkeeper who continued to frustrate every NYL assault on their goal.

But disaster struck for NYL in the 32nd minute when LA’s first real attack resulted in a goal. As NYL’s frustration waned on, their full-backs were told to push forward more and a LA long ball caught the NYL defence on the counter-attack with only Abdullah and Farhan in defence. The big centre forward for LA got a clear run on goal and unleashed an unstoppable shot as little Hamza was left with no chance in the NYL goal.

If NYL could not be more frustrated than they already were, this goal certainly did it, and for the next five minutes NYL seemed disorganised and flustered, and little Hamza had to pull off a good save to deny LA another goal.

The game then took another turn just before half-time as Abdullah and Farhan steadied the NYL team and a quick NYL attack by Shurayh where he dribbled past three LA players before seeing his shot blocked by LA best player, their goalkeeper, only for the rebound to fall to the feet of Zaeem just inside the box, who let rip a fantastic left foot shot to equalise 1-1 for NYL.

The celebrations that followed the goal were a precedent for the rest of the game and the game went into half-time with the score at 1-1. The second half saw a rejuvenated and more determined NYL who again pegged the LA team into their own half, winning every ball in the air and on the ground. However, NYL’s attacks kept being pounded by the very impressive LA goalkeeper who was quick off his line every time and was by far their best defender on their pitch.

NYL’s breakthrough came in the 65th minute when some fantastic play by man of the match for NYL, right back Ziyad, and Zaeem played some fantastic one-two football to find Shurayh who let fly a thunderbolt that left the keeper with no chance, and to score the all important goal that led NYL to a 2-1 lead. The celebrations for this goal eclipsed the relief of the first and even manager Kamal Siraj got in on the act only to be warned by the referee not to jump onto the field of play.

The 70th minute saw a string of changes for NYL, with the impressive Ashikur and Suhel being replaced by Abdul Rahman and Aziz respectively, and striker Alim being replaced by Ferdous. And in the 76th minute it was these boys that linked up well to put the game beyond doubt. Abdul Rahman was quick to get into the action and tested the keeper with a fierce 30 yard shot that was just saved by the keeper, and his appearance seemed to give new energy to NYL. He and the ever present Shariful running the midfield show. The third goal came from a good run from Nahidur on the left wing feeding the ball to Ferdous who set up Abdul Rahman who scored from in the six yard box to make the score 3-1 to NYL and to cap a brilliant NYL performance with his first ever goal for NYL.

What impressed the most about this performance was the attitude and the determination of the NYL players who looked hungry. The end result flattered the LA opposition who were really never in the game and the mentality of the players to come back from a goal down needs applauding, in particular the performance of Abdullah and captain Farhan, who were solid in the central defence. Well done boys, keep up the good work.

Team Ratings

Hamza (7 – had little to do, made two good saves in the game. Looked comfortable in goal)
Ziyad (8 – played his heart out through the pain barrier as he carried an Achilles injury, but still did not shy from any tackles. Man of the match performance)
Abdullah (8 – has formed a formidable partnership with Farhan, looking composed and accomplished. Won everything in defence)
Farhan (8 – a captains performance, was superb in defence)
Nahidur (7 – can run up and down that field all day! Too much energy for words and linked well with Suhel on the left)
Ashikur (Ricky) (7 – controlled the game from the beginning, had a hand in every move and won that midfield but tired near the end)
Zaeem (8 – scored an important goal, and was a constant threat down the right flank with his trickery)
Shariful (7 – Mr. Stamina of the year, was determined and aggressive on the pitch, a fantastic performance but got booked for needless unsportsmanlike conduct)
Shurayh (7 – expecting a lot from Shurayh this season and he did not disappoint and got on the scoresheet)
Suhel (7 – was always a threat, missed a great chance but his performance was great, in particular the way he covered Nahidur on the left)
Alim (6 – missed ample of chances but he kept at it. Opposition defenders were rightly afraid of him! Tired during the game)
Abdul Rahman (7 – Came on to score the 3rd goal and did Ricky’s job fantastically winning everything. Extremely pleased with his performance and hope he keeps up the good form)
Ferdous (6 – came on as a sub and set up the 3rd goal, made some very good telling runs)
Aziz (6 – played a part in the 3rd goal but needs to put his training performances into the match)

NYL Prostars 7 Walthamstow 0

NYL Juniors second game was against the team that failed to turn up for the NYL Allstars first game. NYL were hoping to start the game much in the manner they played against Leyton Athletic last week, but the truth was NYL did not even get out of second gear and did not need to.

From the onset NYL dominated this match, and as much a spirited performance Walthamstow Wanderers’ players put in, they seemed no match for the technically superior NYL team and as early as the 6th minute NYL stamped their authority in the match when striker Alim headed in his first goal of the season, after some superb work by Suhel on the left wing. Ashikur again winning the midfield battle for the NYL not letting anything go past him, set up Shurayh for NYL’s second goal in the 9th minute, and after that goal there was no comeback in the game for Walthamstow.

The ever energetic Shariful and the flamboyant Zaeem dazzled both the opposition and the spectators with their trickery and flair but NYL’s third goal did not come until the 34th minute when Abdullah rose highest from a Zaeem corner, to head past the helpless Walthamstow keeper. The game went into half-time with the score at 3-0 to NYL.

The second half started quite lacklustre with neither team creating any real openings for the first fifthteen minutes, as Walthamstow battled hard determined not to get crushed by NYL. However in the 55th minute, NYL’s persistence and class showed as Zaeem scored his second of the campaign with a fine finish from a good passing move, instigated again by Ashikur. After this goal, the Walthamstow Wanderers players heads had dropped and NYL started cruising and in particular Shurayh. He upped the tempo with another thunderbolt in the 57th minute as he bolted a shot into the bottom left corner of the Walthamstow goal to make it 5-0 to NYL.

He needed to show his authority in the game as his usual sidekick; Shariful had to be taken off as a precaution due to an ankle injury, but at this time NYL were pulling all the tricks and there was some beautiful skill and passing on show. And this was epitomised by NYL’s sixth goal in which every player had a touch of the ball until it eventually was passed out to the left to Suhel who cut in and then out, taking on two players and sent a delightful chip over the oncoming goalkeeper, delighting his team mates and manager alike.

The final score was wrapped up by an impressive Shurayh who tormented the opposition all throughout the game and scored with another good finish, set up by a good lay-off from Ferdous, to produce his hat-trick in what was a comfortable victory. The score could and probably should have been more but this was a professional performance and a job well done by the NYL boys.

Team Ratings:

Hamza (7 – had little to do but improving all the time. Looked comfortable in goal but needs to come off his line quicker)
Ziyad (7 – was rarely tested in defence, a solid performance and pleased about his controlled temperament)
Abdullah (8 – scored a well deserved goal, was a rock in the defence and seemed to really enjoy the game)
Farhan (7 – another good solid performance, forming an impressive partnership with Abdullah)
Nahidur (7 – was given more freedom in this game, Ashley Cole watch out!)
Ashikur (Ricky) (9 – broke down every Walthamstow attack, is in great form and well deserved his man of the match)
Zaeem (8 – scored another goal, and played with a thigh injury.)
Shariful (7 – had to be taken off as he was limping, but a gutsy energetic performance. All that was missing was a goal)
Shurayh (9 – an excellent hat-trick and contender for man of the match, caused all kinds of trouble to the opposing team)
Suhel (8 – was always a threat and scored a fantastic goal, has so much to his game and was a joy to watch)
Alim (7 – scored the first goal and should have scored more, worked hard throughout and will surely score more goals)
Abdul Rahman (7 – Came on for the injured Shariful and is playing very good football at the moment.)
Ferdous (7 – came on as a sub and set up the last goal, has assisted two goals now and getting accustomed to his new striking role)