Chelsea academy coach Tore Andre Flo hopes the club’s Asian Star initiative can pave the way for a Premier League superstar to emerge from Britain’s South Asian community.
Flo cast his eye over hundreds of youngsters taking part in the ninth edition of the Chelsea Foundation event, hosted at the Stamford Bridge home of the Premier League champions for the very first time.
The children (U9s -U12s), took part in a day of activities designed to increase Asian participation in all levels of the game, with winners in each age group invited to join a Chelsea Foundation development centre.
„The day has been all about the children smiling, enjoying themselves and playing football,“ former Chelsea striker Flo told Sky Sports.
„If you look around the Premier League you see players from all around the world but perhaps not too many from the Asian community. Hopefully, things like Asian Star can help [address] that and you never know – maybe we can find a great Asian player of the future.
„It’s a huge community and there is plenty of interest there. I am sure there are a lot of [talented] players in the Asian community and we just need to find the one that breaks through. Then hopefully, many others will follow.“
Liverpool attacker Yan Dhanda is the only British player of South Asian descent with a Premier League contract, although the 18-year-old Brummie has yet to be handed his professional debut by manager Jurgen Klopp.
Zesh Rehman was the first British Asian to play in the Premier League, helping Fulham keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw against the Reds at Anfield in 2004.
The centre-back, who helped Gillingham preserve their League One status last season, was part of the prize-giving panel at the Asian Star. Rehman applauded the initiative but admits he remains concerned about the under-representation of South Asian players in England’s top flight.
„Chelsea have sustained the Asian Star project for nine years now and I have always supported it because it’s a good initiative that gets the kids dreaming,“ he said.
„I’ve always kept an eye on [the number of Asian footballers playing professionally in England] because this is an issue close to my heart.
„The fact there are no Asian players playing in the Premier League shows that it is an issue – and it probably will be for the next 10 or 15 years. It’s not something that is going anywhere anytime soon.“
The Football Association and the London FA hosted workshops and provided information to parents of the children taking part in the Asian Star.
The FA’s head of talent identification, Richard Allen, was present at Stamford Bridge as was FA tutor and UEFA B Licence coach Manisha Tailor
Tailor, who was awarded an MBE for her services to football and diversity in sport in the 2017 Honours List, said: „Hosting this year’s initiative at Stamford Bridge is a fantastic opportunity for the children and their parents.
„Whether they were winners or not, gracing the turf at the home of the Premier League champions is something they will always cherish and will no doubt inspire them.“
U12 winner, Lewis Dang, added: „I am very proud to have won. To play here at Stamford Bridge was fantastic and to win was even better! It has been a great day.“
Age group overall winners: Lewis Dang (U12), Jai Shiv Sharma (U11), Nathan Devshi (U10), Ubaidah Rahman (U9).
Special award winners: Jai Samra (U12), Tariq Al Sadi (U11), Shaan Virk (U10) Ruban Khan (U9).