"I was just embracing it all really"
British South Asian social media users were left proud after Zidane Iqbal made history for Manchester United.
The 18-year-old became the first British South Asian footballer in the club’s history to play for the first team after coming off the bench in the Champions League game against Young Boys.
Iqbal trained with the senior players on December 7, 2021, before taking his place on the bench the following day for the game against the Swiss side.
With qualification and top spot in Group F already secured, interim manager Ralf Rangnick named a much-changed side, including a bench full of academy players.
Zidane Iqbal, wearing shirt number 73, came on in the closing stages of the game, replacing England international Jesse Lingard.
While the match ended in a 1-1 draw, Zidane Iqbal’s substitute appearance was a highlight and a moment of history.
The Manchester-born midfielder, who has Pakistani and Iraqi heritage, became the first British Asian to sign a professional contract in April 2021.
He has now become the first footballer from the community to play for the first team.
After the game, Iqbal said:
“It feels amazing, I’ve been working my whole life for this opportunity, it’s a dream come true, it’s just the start and hopefully I can keep pushing on.
“It was crazy, I was waiting for the ball to go out, embracing it all, looking at the fans, when I came on the loud cheer from the fans was unreal.
“It was more excitement [than nerves], last night I just about slept.
“I was just embracing it all really, I was hoping to get a touch, I did thankfully, I really enjoyed it.”
Iqbal’s appearance was monumental for South Asians in football.
A spokesperson for official England supporters’ group Apna England told Sky Sports News:
“This is obviously a proud moment for everyone associated with Manchester United Football Club but it is also absolutely monumental for South Asians in the game.
“Zidane Iqbal is an exceptional talent, whose commitment, work ethic and dedication to making it at the highest level has been rewarded by one of the biggest clubs in world football.
“With urgent action required to tackle inequalities that persist across football, there is no better way to inspire change than by highlighting those that are blazing a trail in our game.
“Seeing Zidane Iqbal out there making history will no doubt inspire millions across the world.
“It’s a great day for the community – and a great day for football.”
British South Asians also expressed their happiness, with Adam McKola calling it a “game-changer”.
History made tonight at Manchester United. The first British Asian footballer for the club, Zidane Iqbal! ?
— Stretford Paddock (@StretfordPaddck) December 9, 2021
Another person commented: “As a Bangladeshi, I couldn’t hold my tears when I saw Zidane’s name on the team list. Zidane made us proud.”
One wrote: “Zidane Iqbal making his debut in the Champions League for one of the biggest clubs in the world is such a big moment.”
A third commented: “The first player of Pakistani descent to play in the Champions League. Ladies and Gentlemen, Zidane Iqbal.”
Zidane Iqbal is one of five British South Asian Premier League players on a full-time professional contract.
The others are Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury, Aston Villa’s Arjan Raikhy, Tottenham’s Dilan Markanday and Wolves defender Kam Kandola.
Iqbal is also the first British South Asian footballer to play for an English side in the Champions League since Michael Chopra’s appearance for Newcastle United against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002/03 season.