"He’s not somebody who will be going off to hide"
Football is quickly becoming more diverse and British Asian footballers have found it easier to break through into the beautiful game.
In both men’s and women’s football, major clubs like Manchester United, Tottenham and Birmingham City have given contracts to athletes from South Asian backgrounds.
There have been previous players like Michael Chopra, Yan Dhanda, and Hamza Choudhury who have played in elite leagues.
However, as the level of modern football gets higher, opportunities to get scouted are difficult to come by.
Although, that’s not stopping British Asian footballers from continuing their efforts through the ranks.
Due to their hard work ethic and of course, faith put into them by their clubs, these players are changing things on the pitch.
As football has been on and off since 2021 due to Covid-19, 2023 is looking like the ideal time to emerge as the next top talent. So, keep an eye out for these potential future stars.
Born in 2001, Dilan Markanday is an academy graduate of Premier League side, Tottenham Hotspur.
Although he found game-time hard to come by during his spell, he did make history for the North London club.
On October 21, 2021, he made his professional debut for the side in the UEFA Europa Conference League against Vitesse.
Although Spurs lost, Markanday made history by being the first British Asian and the first footballer of Indian heritage to appear in a competitive match for them.
In January 2022, Blackburn Rovers signed Markanday on a three-and-a-half-year deal, scoring his first goal in August 2022.
The midfielder was subsequently loaned out in January 2023 to Scottish Premiership side, Aberdeen, where he’s been tipped to shine.
Blackburn Rovers reporter, Rich Sharpe, explains why:
“He’s not somebody who will be going off to hide if things are getting tough for Aberdeen.
“He is somebody who will want to show what he can do.”
“He’s not played much in the first half of the season here so he’ll see this as a good opportunity to go and push on his career.”
This could be the best opportunity Markanday has to show his skills and make a name for himself in the sport.
Zidane Iqbal is one of the highly touted British Asian footballers, who plays for one of the biggest clubs in the world, Manchester United.
The midfielder was born in Manchester and joined United when he was aged nine.
Iqbal developed superbly in the youth system which eventually led the player to make his senior debut in December 2021.
Coming on against Young Boys in the Champions League was a significant moment in the sport as it made Iqbal the first British South Asian footballer to play in the competition.
On an international level, Iqbal could have represented England, Iraq or Pakistan.
He chose Iraq and was called up to the first-team squad for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers and made his debut against Iran.
Pacey, skillful and technically gifted, Iqbal is tipped to shine. Having only been born in 2003, his career is going from strength to strength.
The youngest star to be featured on this list is 16-year-old Layla Banares, a tough-tackling footballer who can play across the defence and midfield.
Starting her career at Solihull Moors FC, Banares ended up joining Birmingham City at only 8 years old.
Since then, she’s made radical changes for herself and the sport, shining a light on her faith and other Muslim players.
Despite her age, Banaras captains the youth team and impressively practices with Birmingham City’s under-21’s squad.
She also hit a major milestone in her career and for the Blues by becoming the first South Asian heritage woman to represent the team in January 2023.
Featuring in an FA Cup tie against Huddersfield, Banares helped the side cruise to a 4-0 victory.
Birmingham City manager, Darren Carter, spoke on the iconic moment:
“I said before she went on that she has earnt the chance.”
“Ever since she stepped up and trained with us day-in and day-out, you’ve seen that she has got stronger and more confident, and she deserved that today.”
As such a flourishing talent, Banares is continuing this trend of British Asian footballers emerging in 2023.
From Wolverhampton, Arjan Raikhy is a British Punjabi local lad who plays for Premier League side Aston Villa.
Raikhy, born in 2002, played at West Bromwich Albion during his early years before eventually making the switch to Midlands rivals, Villa.
Having played regularly for their under-18 side, the midfielder featured in Villa’s under-21 side against Carlisle United in the EFL Trophy.
As a keen and talented player, Raikhy had terrific performances for the youth sides.
Prodding at the first-team squad, he was eventually picked to make his senior debut against Liverpool in a FA Cup match in January 2021.
Although, from this moment, he went out on two loan spells with Stockport County and Grimsby Town.
It was with the latter where he found the most success, playing in the National League play-off final as his side beat Solihull Moors to secure promotion back to the Football League.
Having gathered this vital experience, he is seen as an integral part of Villa’s future success and the club does see him as a potential star.
Whilst his game time has been limited, he’s on his way to establishing himself with one of English’s top sides.
Brandon Khela announced himself on the world stage when he became the first British South Asian to sign a professional contract with Birmingham City’s men’s side.
The talented midfield started his career very early, playing for Coventry City at just three years old.
But, he quickly joined Birmingham City after they scouted him. Since then, he’s played in every age group for the Midlands side.
Khela made a name for himself playing for the under-23 side in Premier League 2.
He has a very natural gift and many Blues fans are excited about him blossoming under their ranks.
Micky Singh, the Chair of the Official Birmghinam City Supporters’ Group expressed this to Sky Sports News, saying:
“I’ve supported Blues for over 60 years and have waited a very long time to see a South Asian kid wear the Royal Blue shirt.”
Khela joins the likes of Jude Bellingham as one of Birmingham City’s brightest exports and many hope he can replicate the success of his former teammate.
These British Asian footballers are definitely shining bright and are on their way to becoming football’s next superstars.
Playing for huge clubs with such rich histories is equally satisfying for British Asian fans as it emphasises the changing diversity of the sport.
Although these players are yet to fully break into the senior squad, they have been exposed to the high intensity of difficult opposition and pressuring occasions.
It’s only a matter of time till we see these British Asian footballers gracing the pitch regularly.