Scouting For Asians: Chelsea’s search for Britain’s sub-continental football star

Posted on April 15, 2011


In an age defined by the celebrity footballer and the X-Factor, it’s little surprise that televised football trials are fast becoming ten-a-penny on our screens. Whether it’s Wayne Rooney’s search for a ‘Street-Striker’ or Inter Milan’s hunt for Britain’s best unsigned youngster, (both screened on Sky One in the last two years), the trials and tribulations of kids desperate to break into the game has become a predictable televisual fodder for programme makers. A place at a top club academy is as coveted and potentially lucrative as a recording contract for the noughties generation.

Progressing through weekly challenges, living in a house together, and judged by a panel of trainers and coaches, the football trial is tailor-made to fit the formula of gripping reality television with the minor difference that viewers don’t get a vote. Yet.

Chelsea’s most recent foray into this area is slightly different from the rest. The club’s ‘Search for an Asian Soccer-Star’ seeks to challenge one of the British game’s most glaring social disparities – the virtual absence of British Asians in professional football. The competition is now running in its third year and is set up to provide an opportunity for young players of sub-continental origin at U9-U12 level to compete to win a trial at the club’s state-of-the-art Cobham training ground.

Less X-Factor and more positive action programme, the untelevised tournament is run in conjunction with the FA backed Kick it Out campaign. Chairman of the organisation Lord Herman Ouseley welcomed the partnership with the Premiership champions: “this initiative has already proved to be a successful way in providing tangible pathways in to the game” he said. “We’re delighted to be working closely with Chelsea and give Asian Soccer Star our full backing.”

Nicolas Anelka, one of the Premiership’s most prominent Muslim footballers and Chelsea’s top-scorer this season, is ambassador for the programme.  Simon Taylor, head of corporate social responsibility at Stamford Bridge, stressed that Asian Soccer Star was not solely concerned with scouting potential world-class internationals.  “The scheme is not just about finding the next Anelka, Drogba, or Lampard” he said. “It’s about breaking down barriers, showing Asian players that opportunities at all levels of the game exist and encouraging them to maximise their potential.”

Search for An Asian Soccer Star is not a one-way ticket to footballing stardom. It provides significant, albeit tentative, steps for budding British Asian players striving to get onto the professional ladder. Fourteen year-old A’amer Kstantin-Murphy, one of the competition winners from 2009, is now enrolled in Leyton Orient’s academy and was nominated for the British Asian Junior Sports Personality of the Year.  Out of the 500 applicants to enter last year’s search, Muslim youngsters Yusuf Ali and Ahsanuallah Nawazi were amongst the six players selected for a week-long Cobham trial.

Chelsea have a pedigree in encouraging unsigned young footballers. Carl Magnay, current reserves team central defender was winner of the 2006 ‘Football Icon’ competition and has featured at U21 level for Northern Ireland. The drive to find the next British Asian premiership footballer is very much part of the club’s broader aim of cultivating the best in British footballing talent, something that the Blues world-class Surrey training facilities attest to.

This year’s Asian Soccer Star competition is open in the Under 9,10,11, and 12 categories and will give specific priority to players from the Asian sub-continent. The competition will begin on the 7th of May 2011.

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