It is amazing where football can take a person and Zesh Rehman of Southern District Football Club (Hong Kong) can attest to this. From humble beginnings in Birmingham where his dream of professional football slowly became a reality to making his debut for Fulham in the English Premier League to captaining Pakistan to plying his trade in Hong Kong; football has given Rehman a whole host of emotions and experiences and it is true to say that Rehman is now truly a renaissance man and world traveller.
Rehman is in his second stint in Hong Kong after a very successful time with Kitchee when he first moved to the city. Football has given Rehman many opportunities and as football goes beyond just mere games; Rehman is keen to give back to society and help people from all backgrounds fulfil their potential in life through his charity, the Zesh Rehman Foundation. In an exclusive interview, Rehman discusses his life in Hong Kong, the Chinese Super League and the best player has played against.
Rehman first gave his thoughts on the Chinese Super League and if Hong Kong football was overshadowed by the recent huge injection of funds.
“Hong Kong is in the shadow of the Chinese Super league and you can’t really dress it up as China is so big and the profile of the players who go to China overshadow Hong Kong players by a million miles. But that is not too say that Hong Kong cannot have a respected league and there are still one or two clubs here (in HK) which could do well enough against the Chinese Super League teams and compete very confidently in China’s League Division 1 I think. There is a gap with the crowds and the infrastructure; there is a gap but Hong Kong football is doing well.”
Rehman commented on how, in order for Chinese football to improve, the game in China has to be restructured from the bottom up so that the foundations and structure of the domestic game could produce promising youngsters who could flourish.
“China has set a new standard in terms of paying and what they are paying for transfers and salaries and whether it will be sustainable in the long-term then I am not sure but if it is actually going to help football in China grow then I doubt as you have to start from bottom to top like Japan did twenty odd years ago. You cannot go from top to bottom and bring in superstars and this will just fizzle out but it is great for Asian football as a whole to attract such big names.”
Rehman discussed how Hong Kong football has few stars names though there are many solid players and some promising players who are making their way up the ranks.
“No one really really sticks out but we have some good players in Hong Kong and quite a few foreign locals who are now playing for the national team and the goalkeeper (Eastern’s Yapp) from Eastern has done well especially the two games against China in the World Cup 2018 qualifying and he has potential to play outside. There are some young boys in my team (Southern) such as the centre back Lau Hok Ming as well as Hui Wang Fung and Leo Chan who have the potential to play at a higher level and the national team for a long time.”
Given his South-Asian background, Rehman is aware of the South Asian community in Hong Kong and is keen to see more South Asian players who grew up in Hong Kong being given more opportunities in local football.
“(I don’t help out) in an official capacity but I am aware of the South Asian minority groups (in HK) that are playing football here that have local citizenship and it could be an untapped market for some local clubs to look into as they have local IDs and are good enough to play.”
Rehman reflected back on his career and discussed his favourite memory in terms of a game which sticks out in his mind,
“The game which sticks out for me is probably my full debut in the English Premier League at Craven Cottage against Tottenham and we won 2-0. It was the perfect day and I visualised that day for a long time and for it to happen on a Saturday afternoon in the English Premier League with a win and a clean sheet with family there was a great moment. My family came and my family were really supportive and it has not mattered where I have played; they have always tried to come and they have even been to Hong Kong recently.”
Rehman also professed his love for life in Hong Kong and how comfortable his felt in Hong Kong and how much the chance to travel and play around Asia has opened his eyes to so many different cultures.
“I love Hong Kong and my daughter was born here a few years ago and now we have come back and she is in school here and my wife is enjoying it here and it is a good place for me to be right now. In terms of seeing the level (of football) around Asia and different countries and different cultures, you can make a lot of contacts so it has been a good football and life experience.”
Always one to offer advice to youngster looking to make it in the game, he had these words of wisdom to provide:
“The most important thing is just to play football and don’t be too aware of where you are from or where you are playing or the cultures and backgrounds of other people. What I mean by that is be aware of it, of course, but don’t put too much highlight or emphasis on it and just perform. At the end of the day, if you are good enough then it does not matter where you are from and where they are from. At the end of the day, football is universal and if you are good enough then you will come through so just play football and do not place too much pressure or whatever on your own background.”
Lastly, when it came to the best player he has faced, it was a simple choice; the Arsenal legend, Thierry Henry.
“In 2004-2005 season, we played against Arsenal and I played against Thierry Henry and he was actually unplayable at that time and probably the best player in the world at that time and if you gave him half an inch then you would get punished. It was a good learning curve as a young player and it was also good to see a gap between the best in the world and the rest. I got his shirt!”
For more on the Zesh Rehman Foundation, visit http://www.zeshrehmanfoundation.org/