Why play­ing abroad can be the best op­tion for play­ers

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Glenn Moore

BUMP, bump, bump… as his head knocked against the roof of the tiny minibus Zesh Rehman thought to him­self, ‘what am I do­ing here?’

Rehman was in Bangkok, hav­ing swapped English foot­ball for a club in Thai­land, and the minibus edg­ing its way through tor­tu­ous traf­fic, find­ing ev­ery one of the abun­dant pot­holes, was only mak­ing its way to train­ing. After­wards there was the re­turn jour­ney, and to­mor­row, the same again.

Six years on, as he looks back on mak­ing nearly 200 ap­pear­ances for clubs in three coun­tries, winning a clus­ter of tro­phies in­clud­ing do­mes­tic tre­bles in Hong Kong and Malaysia, he no longer has any doubts. In­deed, the only ques­tion for the former QPR, Ful­ham and Brad­ford de­fender is where to take his boots next. So re­ward­ing has been his glo­be­trot­ting he is en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to fol­low him on the road. But, he added, they needed to go with the right at­ti­tude.

“I had one year in Thai­land, two in Hong Kong, the last three in Malaysia,” Rehman said when we met as he took a win­ter break back in Eng­land. “It has been a bril­liant, lifechang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. My daugh­ter was born in Hong Kong, my son in Malaysia. I strongly rec­om­mend it to play­ers look­ing for new chal­lenges, or av­enues to stay in the game. Don’t just wait for some­thing to turn up, seek it out. If you broaden your hori­zons there are a host of op­por­tu­ni­ties out there.


“The pas­sion for the game in Asia is huge. In Malaysia we won the cup fi­nal in front of 100,000 fans with the ground full three hours be­fore kick-off. When we had an open-top bus ride around the city to cel­e­brate there were so many peo­ple we took an hour to go five min­utes. It was great play­ing in the Premier League with Ful­ham, and be­ing in­volved with the com­mu­nity at Brad­ford, but this was some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“It is not easy. Spa­ces are lim­ited for for­eign play­ers so you are up against play­ers who have played in the top flight in Spain, Ger­many, Brazil, Ro­ma­nia, and so on. You have to be on your game.”

Rehman found that out quickly. Af­ter leav­ing Brad­ford in 2011 he signed up for Muangth­ong United in Bangkok, know­ing lit­tle of what he was get­ting into. “The train­ing ground was not ready when we got there so we were train­ing in a school, get­ting there by minibus. Ev­ery time it hit a bump I banged my head.

“One of the for­eign lads, Toni Kal­lio, a Fin­nish in­ter­na­tional who I played with at Ful­ham, he couldn’t han­dle it. He was ‘what is this?, what is this?’ Within a few months he was gone, his con­tract ter­mi­nated. That was a wake-up call: deal with it, show pro­fes­sion­al­ism re­gard­less of cir­cum­stances. Do your bit on the pitch, not moan about the apart­ment, the train­ing ground, bang­ing your head on the bus. I had a car. In the first few weeks I knocked some­one off and spent the day in hos­pi­tal with them. But you be­come aware of en­vi­ron­ment and af­ter a few months I was whizzing around on the tuk-tuks.


“We con­ceded nine or ten goals in the first three games and we had Thai na­tional team play­ers at the back. So I stud­ied the lan­guage and it turned around. We started to keep clean sheets and win games. I started to en­joy it more. I put my lo­cal hat on. “As the for­eign player you have to be a leader. You are ex­pected to trans­mit pro­fes­sion­al­ism in every­thing you do, even the way you eat and stretch. That is why you are im­ported. But you also have to be aware the level might not be the same as yours com­ing from Europe and the en­vi­ron­ment is dif­fer­ent. Sup­port mech­a­nisms for play­ers are very im­por­tant. I was for­tu­nate my fam­ily were very sup­port­ive and em­braced the chal­lenge.

“There are sta­dia out there which would not be out of place in any top league in Europe, like Buri­ram in Thai­land. Oth­ers are more like Stock­port or Grimsby. I played in the Asian Foot­ball Cup which took me to many coun­tries. I made my de­but in In­done­sia and it was 35-40 de­grees. I had to come off af­ter an hour. There was no air-con in the chang­ing room, no ice in the water, those tricks to get an edge. It is ridicu­lously hot some­times, like a sauna. You get used to it – but it is nice to come back here for a bit of win­ter.”

Rehman was of­fered the chance to stay on and coach Pa­hang in Malaysia but in­tends to keep play­ing while he can. “Chris Cole­man told me to play as long as pos­si­ble and at 33 I have sev­eral years left,” he said. He is not sure where yet, but he knows he will be need­ing his pass­port to get there.

ON THE MOVE: Zesh Rehman play­ing in Eng­land for Ful­ham, far left, be­fore go­ing on his trav­els...

AD­VICE: Chris Cole­man

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