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!