Monday, July 30, 2007

Pakistan conducts its first player trials in England

The Pakistan Football Federation has concluded its first player trials in England. "This is broadening our base and opening doors to Pakistanis around the world who want to play football," Sardar Naveed Haider Khan, a PFF director, told AP. More than 130 players attended the weekend tryouts at English League 2 club Rotherham United. The eight selected by Rotherham coaches will be training at Pakistan's national football academy in Lahore by the end of next week. While they are British citizens, the players are eligible to line up for Pakistan because of their family heritage. Rotherham also used the occasion to spot talent for the struggling fourth-level club. "It's an untapped market," said Mick Priest, a former coach at Manchester United's academy who now heads Rotherham's youth department."The first British Asian superstar we get will rival the mainstream stars in the game. But he's going to have to be good enough," Priest said. "Football's an unforgiving world and you're not going to be picked because you sell a shirt."

There are almost 750,000 British Pakistanis. Not one plays in the English Premier League and just three are on the books of England's lower leagues clubs. Zesh Rahman, a 23-year-old centerback who spent three seasons with Premier League club Fulham before joining Championship side Queens Park Rangers last year, said some agents were biased. "Before an agent or scout has a look at a player, they are going into it with stereotypes — with the perception that religion is going to interfere with the football," said Rahman, a Muslim who now plays for Pakistan despite reaching England's U-19 team. Professional soccer is in its infancy in Pakistan, with a five-team Super League only having started in the last few weeks.The eight players picked from the Rotherham tryouts will link up with teams in the regular, non-professional Premier League in Pakistan. That league starts its third season next month and is made up of players from government departments.

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