QPR defender, Zesh Rehman
Zesh Rehman believes his decision to play for Pakistan instead of England was a realistic option given his circumstances.
The 23-year old defender also believes that players of Asian origin should consider sticking to their roots rather than dreaming of playing for England.
In an interview with Eastern Eye, Rehman said that he was sensible when he decided on his international future and was unhappy with the reaction that followed his decision.
The former Fulham player made his Premiership debut in 2004 and played more than 20 games for the side. He moved to Championship side QPR last summer and was a regular in the squad, but now finds himself out of favour with manager John Gregory.
He is currently on a one-month loan at Brighton and Hove Albion who play in League One.
Rehman was touted as an inspiration to British Asians after being the first to break into the Premiership. But many were left disappointed by his decision to play for Pakistan rather than to stick it out for an England spot. However, Rehman remains adamant that his reason to play for the country of his parents birth was his only realistic hope of international football.
He said: "I'm pleased with my decision (to play for Pakistan) but I had a problem, especially with Eastern Eye. You said I turned my back on England. I didn't like the way that came across - that's why I haven't spoken to EE for a very long time.
"If [as an Asian] you are not getting opportunities (to play for England) when you are playing in the Premiership, then Asian players are always going to be overlooked. When it comes to it, they need to stick to their roots."
Michael Chopra for England?
Rehman said that Michael Chopra being overlooked was a perfect example of how Asian players have little to no chance of playing for England. Chopra has been on top form with Championship side Cardiff City and currently is the top goal scorer in the league.
But he was not even considered for England's games against Israel and Andorra. Preston North End striker Dave Nugent got the call-up and scored on his England debut against Andorra last Wednesday (28).
"Why wasn't (Chopra) picked ahead of Dave Nugent? He's the top goal scorer in the Championship but he can't get in (the England set-up).
"So he needs to maybe look at his decision and go play for India instead of hanging on to the dream of playing for England, because it's not going to happen, end of discussion."
Other professional Asian footballers have also told Eastern Eye that they believe playing for their country of origin would be a more realistic opportunity for an international career.
Former Leeds United trainee Harpal Singh told EE in October that playing for India would be something he would definitely look into.
Singh, who now plays for League of Ireland side Bohemians, had said: "I would look into [playing for India]. It would be something that I would be willing to do and look forward to doing as long as it didn't interrupt me playing football for my club and I wasn't going to be away for a long time.
"Now that I am older and more experienced, [playing for India] is something that I am looking at as a possibility."
Dagenham and Redbridge captain Anwar Uddin said he was proud of his Bangladeshi heritage and would consider playing for Bangladesh as a realistic option. "The England team came knocking on the door a few times. They have asked me to train with them. I considered trying to get into the under-18s, the under-21 sort of level but... it would be a miracle if I ended up playing for England. Obviously there is my father's side. I have applied to play for Bangladesh but nothing has come of that yet. It is something I would consider in the future."
But Rehman does believe the next generation of Asian players will have realistic opportunities to play for England.
"I think the next generation of kids, my kids, could challenge for an England place. But I think that kids who are 16-20 years-old at the moment, you have to be realistic, because there are not many playing professional football. So to be hoping for England, they have got to be outstanding, I mean they have got to be absolutely exceptional.
"But I think the next generation could realistically challenge for England."
Rehman played for Pakistan in December 2005 and said the reception he got from the fans was heartfelt. "I enjoyed it. Before I went, there was only 4,000 people turning up to games.
"But when I went (to Pakistan), 25,000 turned up. Now you tell me if interest is not there, the market is not there. It's all there, it's just infrastructure that needs working on and players need to play in other countries. It's going to take time but I think it can be done. Some of the (Pakistan) players can definitely play in the Championship or even League One. It's that sort of standard but the style of football is more different. Once they get players, coming from other countries playing for Pakistan, it will improve.
"I'm not sure when the next fixtures are, but if they don't clash with the fixtures here, then I can definitely go and play for them."
Rehman has had mixed fortunes as a professional footballer. He came through the Fulham youth academy and got his real taste of first-team football during his loan period with Brighton during the 2003/2004 season. He enjoyed a purple patch at Fulham the next season, but found himself out of favour during the 2005/2006 season, with manager Chris Coleman favouring senior players over the young Rehman. He moved to QPR on a three-year contract at the beginning of this season and was a regular starter, but has failed to make the squad in the past couple of months.
Rehman said he moved to Brighton on loan to get regular first-team football.
"The manager at QPR (John Gregory) told me I wasn't allowed to go to another Championship club. There were a few other clubs interested but I didn't want to go on loan. I had no intention of going but as soon as I found it was Brighton, I wanted to repay the favour because they gave me first-team football when I was young.
"It was disappointing (leaving QPR) because I played every game from August to January. Then I got left out of the side for a few games. It's the manager's decision - you live and die by your decisions in football."
Rehman believes he can still cut it at the top level but just needs a manager who can show faith in his ability. "I know I'm good enough to play in the Championship and the Premiership. I just need to play more regularly. I need a manager to show faith in me, which I had (at QPR) when I went there at the start of the season, but unfortunately the manager got the sack and John Gregory came in. I started playing but the results weren't going for us and he made changes.
"People have got short memories in football. If you are not playing, if you are not visible, you can be forgotten about in an instant. But if you are being talked about, playing, doing the right things, then it's always possible to kick on again."
Rehman has received a warm welcome from the fans at Brighton, who remember his first spell at the club.
"It's nice to feel wanted and respected. If you get that, it's a nice feeling and hopefully I can repay the fans and the club for giving me the opportunity to play when I was 19 years old."
Rehman's short-term move to Brighton might have raised a few eyebrows as he drops down a league to get football, but he doesn't see it as a negative move. "I'm not really bothered about how it looks to people about moving down to Brighton, because to me, it's all about playing. I still got two years left on my QPR contract so I'm not intending to go anywhere.
"I want people to look up to me and say, 'he had a career in the game'. I want to be back at the highest level. I want to help Asian kids come through and give them a better foothold in football and society in general. Asians have not got the best name in society, so hopefully we can change a few perceptions and open the doors for players to come through.
"I am setting up a website where kids can email me for advice. If anyone wants to get in touch with me, they can, and I'll be happy to help. And sometimes in the near future, I will be setting up a coaching school, where Asian kids can come and get some coaching and hopefully improve their basic techniques and get opportunities to play.
"I would love to be back playing in the Premiership, but you don't get that by sitting around not playing, so Inshallah, I can have a good season at Championship level and kick on again from there in the next couple of years."
By Zohaib Rashid, Eastern Eye - www.easterneyeonline.co.uk