Southern’s Zesh Rehman is in Hong Kong for his second stint and after a highly successful time with Kitchee the first time around, he is looking to achieve similar success with Southern. The accomplished defender has had a long journey from his hometown of Birmingham to Hong Kong and along the way has achieved some notable milestones. He was the first South-Asian to play in the English Premier League when he joined Fulham and then Queens Park Rangers, and is also a Pakistani international player. Rehman had also stints in Thailand and Malaysia.
For all his achievements on the football field all around the world, Rehman remains a grounded individual. Seen as a great professional and role-model for many, he is aware of the impact that footballers can have on others and he is equally proud of the work that his foundation, the Zesh Rehman Foundation, has done around the world and increasingly, Hong Kong. One of the aims of the foundation is to use football as a force for positive social change and a driver towards community cohesion.
In a recent interview, Rehman first shared about his impressions of Hong Kong football when he arrived in 2012 to play for Kitchee.
“When I came here for the first time, I did not know anything about Hong Kong football. There were two or three teams which where quite equal and competing for everything, Kitchee, South China and Pegasus. Eastern emerged a little later on, as they not as strong as they have been in recent years. What I found since I have come back to Southern is that things are very equal and any team can beat any team on the day. We saw that when Yuen Long beat Kitchee and Rangers have gone to Hong Kong Stadium and defeated Pegasus. We were comfortably leading against Kitchee for a big part of the game, so I think the gap has improved but I should still feel that Kitchee’s squad and depth and the number of naturalized foreigners they have has set them apart, but other than that the rest of the sides are evenly matched.”
Rehman also shared his views on the levels of professionalism and organisation in Hong Kong football from both his previous stint at Kitchee and his current time at Southern.
“Kitchee have been a club which have always stuck out. If you look at South China, they are no longer in the Premier league, which shows it is not as sustainable as it could be. A few new teams have emerged such as Dreams and Lee Man and some teams have folded, so I think there is a clutch of clubs which are quite stable. Southern District is one of those clubs and I think they have a project and a vision, but unfortunately there are not enough clubs which have a long term plan which makes them sustainable.”
Rehman also reflected on Southern’s season so far and he hopes that the second half will see an improvement in results.
“So far it has been a little disappointing and we have been a little unfortunate with with injuries. We have not clicked yet and I am sure the second half of the season will be better as we have everyone back now from injuries and suspensions and we had a good in-house meeting. We have our targets for the second half of the season. The game against Kitchee was a good start to the second half in terms of how we want to carry on. We will be OK and Southern can learn from the previous games and just improve.”
Away from the football pitch, Rehman is a pioneer for social change and through his charity, the Zesh Rehman Foundation, he hopes to inspire youths and young adults from all backgrounds to live fulfilling lives with football as a means to drive the organisation’s aims forward. Rehman is also looking to use his foundation in Hong Kong and has already given some talks in schools here.
“The foundation was set up as I was bombarded by kids and parents and students from all around the world just wanting some advice and support on how to get involved in football; not necessarily to become footballers but just to get involved in the game. So it was my way of giving something back. It’s a charity which helps children and young adults from all backgrounds to use football and sport as a tool for personal development and social change. By that I mean we help them get qualified as coaches, volunteers and referees and using the power of football to inspire them to something positive.”
Rehman was also the first player of South Asian origin to play in the English Premier League and is seen as a role-model for many around the world. He is aware of his responsibility that he has for others and youngsters looking to have a break in the game.
“When I first started, other people make you very aware of your standing in the game as a pioneer and role model of going down a route which is not common from someone from my background. So it has always helped motivating me to do better and give back something, as I am aware of the number of people who look up to me. So it is a good responsibility to have.”
For Rehman, being a role-model is something he takes in his stride and he has never felt burdened by this. He feels that others can follow in his foot steps and he is happy to help share information and knowledge with them.
“It is not a burden, though there were times when I was younger when it would have been nice if I would have been left alone to focus on football. At the same time a lot of people want to be inspired by what you have to say, so you have to try and make time to help the next generation. I would not say it is a burden. It is more of a privilege to be in this position.”
A perfect role-model on and off the pitch, Rehman will no doubt continue to make an even greater impact through this charitable work all around the world.
For more information on the Zesh Rehman Foundation, click here.