Gareth Southgate appears alongside Leicester's Hamza Choudhury and Manchester United starlet Zidane Iqbal in FA series during South Asian Heritage Month; England manager says Asian communities are an important part of the football landscape and should be better represented across the game
Monday 2 August 2021 23:46, UK
Gareth Southgate has welcomed the push for greater Asian representation in football, adding "sometimes the Asian voice has been lost in the anti-discrimination argument".
The Football Association launched the second phase of 'Bringing Opportunities to Communities' in 2019, focused on trying to get more people from Asian backgrounds playing a bigger part in English football.
The governing body is marking South Asian Heritage Month, running from July 18 to August 17, by releasing a series of videos aiming to inspire people of Asian heritage with positive stories about role models from across the game.
The second video in the six-part series features Manchester United teenager Zidane Iqbal and Leicester's Hamza Choudhury, along with England boss Southgate, who says football must work harder to level the playing field for British South Asians in the game.
"Sometimes the Asian voice has been lost in the anti-discrimination argument," England manager Southgate said.
"And when you look at the percentages of the population that we're talking about, it's high numbers. Frankly, it's a big talent pool that we're missing within football. We don't have high numbers of English-qualified players playing anyway, clubs in their academies are always searching for talent.
"It's like in any business. If you're only selecting from a smaller section of the population, then what are you missing?
"What I've noticed with the England team in recent seasons is that dynamic in terms of the supporters coming up to me has changed a lot, far more Asian people, coming up to me, talking about their pride in the team, talking about the diversity of the team.
"That could only be even more powerful if someone from the Asian community was in the team as well, and we had that greater representation across the board."
Leicester midfielder Hamza Choudhury won the FA Cup with Leicester last season and is the most senior British South Asian Premier League player.
The British-Bangladeshi midfielder has made seven appearances for England's U21s and is intent on earning international recognition with the national team at senior level.
"I think almost everyone's dream [in football] today, no matter where you are from, is to represent your country," Choudhury said.
"Whether it's at a European Championships, or a World Cup or an Africa Cup of Nations - it's every boy's dream to wear the shirt you are from.
"My first call-up was for the U21 Toulon tournament. I wasn't really expecting to get called up. It was the best feeling in football, I'm yet to make my senior appearance, but it's something I'm striving to do."
Manchester United attacking midfielder Zidane Iqbal penned his first professional contract in April and is one of the country's most promising British South Asian talents.
The 18-year-old scored five goals in six games for United's U18s last season and opened the scoring in a 5-1 win for the United's U23s at Stalybridge Celtic on Tuesday night.
Iqbal's mother is Iraqi, and his love for the game comes from his father Aamar, who is a British-Pakistani. The United academy player is eligible to play for three different countries and is yet to represent England at youth level.
"When I was younger, I used to go and watch my dad play football, just at the local five-a-side pitches, and I used to take shots at him while he was in the net," said Iqbal, who has spent the last decade with United.
"I come from such a hardworking family. My parents, they were always working hard, my brother, my grandparents when they came to this country - they have inspired me to always give my best at anything I do.
"The journey - it's different for everyone, but I can tell you, it's not easy.
"It's like a rollercoaster ride, up and down [but I've always thought] enjoy it. Just enjoy the ride - whatever is meant to be is meant to be."
For more stories, features and videos, visit our groundbreaking South Asians in Football page on skysports.com and stay tuned to Sky Sports News and our Sky Sports digital platforms.