The PFA has launched its Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS), an initiative focused on increasing the number of Asian players within professional football.
The scheme, which has been running since early last season as a pilot, aims to enhance the experience of Asian footballers at all levels of the professional game by creating a structured network of support that allows them to thrive.
Current and former players, who have playing experiences across all four leagues and internationally, including Danny Batth, Malvind Benning, Neil Taylor, Otis Khan, Zesh Rehman and Anwar Uddin, are working with the PFA to provide support to the future generation of Asian heritage players.
As part of the scheme, PFA Player Inclusion Executive, Riz Rehman facilitates formal meetings and workshops, giving scholars, academy players, and their parents/guardians a unique opportunity to connect with senior Asian players. This allows them to learn about professional player experiences and ask for advice and guidance as they progress through their careers.
The younger players can also engage with the mentors directly for one-on-one informal support. Although Asian and Asian British people make up almost 7.5% of the British population, in the 2019/2020 season just eight players made first-team appearances across the Premier League and
English Football League. This season, there is an all-time high of Asian representation in professional football, with 15 players on a professional contract and nine scholars within the system – a figure that still seems shockingly small. Despite this, the AIMS initiative’s senior mentors have had overwhelming success across the game, racking up over 1,500 league appearances between them.
The players’ union has also established a network of young players and their families across the academy system’s different phases. The players have been accessing a weekly virtual meeting since the start of January 2021, where the scholars receiving mentoring, in turn, have become the mentors, sharing their academy experiences with their younger peers.
This multi-level approach allows players to receive mentoring at all levels and provide vital representative inspiration for the next generation of budding Asian footballers. AIMS forms part of a more comprehensive five-year strategy from the PFA to increase Asian representation within the game.
The long-term plan includes:
- Engaging player care staff at football academies to refer young Asian players to the scheme and educating club staff around important cultural considerations.
- Including Asian coaches in the scheme, and encouraging more players to pursue their coaching qualifications.
- Supporting Asian players in the Women’s Super League.
- Celebrating the achievements of Asian players across football.
- Identifying and supporting club community organisations working to increase Asian participation and inclusion.
- Working with other stakeholders in the game to have a more collaborative approach and embed Asian inclusion across the game.
AIMS is open to all football players on a professional playing career path who feel they could benefit from additional support. We also encourage current and former players to join our network as mentors and share their valuable insights to help guide young players on their football journey.
PFA Player Inclusion Executive, Riz Rehman, said: “Historically, Asian players and their parents/guardians have not had the networks in the game to help them navigate the academy system. Connecting them to those who have lived their experiences will ultimately give them the confidence to believe that it is possible for their son/daughter to have a professional playing career.”
“Throughout their careers, the senior players involved in our AIMS initiative have frequently been asked by media to comment on the under-representation of Asian players in football but have never been offered the opportunity to actively get involved and make a change.
For the last 25 years we’ve heard the same lazy stereotypes labelled against Asian players, but no one talks about the positive contribution these players have made to the game, or their achievements. The narrative needs to change and this is a start.Connecting these players together and having a player-led approach through a peer-to-peer nature can only be of benefit to all involved.”
Mentor and Aston Villa defender, Neil Taylor said: “It’s what’s needed from the bottom going up. The mentoring is the bare minimum we can do for the upcoming players as we’ve had a career in the game. Less than 1% make it right to the top and it’s important we instil the right mentality to the players from a young age.
“I’ve been talking to the scholars, academy players and their parents on this programme about the player pathways and some of the potential pitfalls they may face along the way. If we are to make a mark, and send the right messages to those who want to take up football as a career, this is a step in the right direction and it hasn’t been done before”.
Mentor and Stoke City defender, Danny Batth agreed, adding: “Growing up I didn’t have the opportunity to tap into any mentoring from experienced players. My support network was simply my family and friends, so now I am delighted to be able to support academy players and their parents from similar backgrounds on their journey into the game. Working alongside the PFA I am able to share some experiences, set-backs and things I have learnt which I hope will help to progress the careers of these young players”.
Mentee and Wolverhampton Wanderers scholar Kamran Kandola said: “The AIMS programme has helped me connect with other Asian footballers and helped me work on my communication skills, by sharing my story with younger players and inspiring them to work hard. Connecting and speaking with players like Zesh Rehman and Danny Batth has been good for me, as they are similar style players in similar positions. It’s helped me to get an insight of what I could come across in my journey and how to deal with certain situations. I hope we can continue to grow the network and help as many players as possible”.
Mentee and Queens Park Rangers under 23’s Dillon De Silva added: “Connecting with the senior players and listening to Danny and Neil has really inspired me to work even harder and make sure I have a career in the game like them. I recently shared my journey with the younger academy players on the AIMS programme and I really enjoy having these conversations. “It makes me realise that I can really help the future generation of Asian players to breakthrough and help them with any set-backs they may face”.