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Page last updated at 13:09 GMT, Thursday, 26 March 2009

Chelsea plot Asian talent trawl

Cardiff City's Michael Chopra
Chopra is one of only seven UK-born Asians playing in the Football League

Chelsea have unveiled a groundbreaking search for talented young footballers from Asian communities.

The Asian Star scheme, which will begin in May, aims to unearth a new crop of potential Premier League stars.

There are seven UK-born Asians playing in England's top four divisions, with none at the highest level after Michael Chopra left Sunderland for Cardiff.

QPR's Zesh Rehman, the only Asian to have played in all four divisions, says the current figures are "shocking".

"I think it's shocking to be perfectly honest. Seven out of 92 league clubs is alarming," said defender Rehman, who is on loan at Bradford City.

"I think the first report about Asians in football came out about 10 years ago. So in 10 years to only have seven Asian players come through is still not enough.

"You can't tell me that Asian kids don't love football because they do.

"Anything that's going to help encourage them to get into the game or believe they have part in it is great."

The five other Asians plying their trade in the top four divisions are: Aman Verma (Leicester City); Anwar Uddin (Dagenham); Adnan Ahmed (Port Vale); Rikki Baines (Macclesfield Town) and Netan Sansara (Walsall).

Chelsea have two British Asian players at their academy, with Nikki Ahamed, 17, who was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and grew up in Wembley, having been at the club since he was 10 years old.

Bobby Barnes, the assistant chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, believes Chelsea will embrace social and business opportunities with the initiative.

"Chelsea are a business and a very successful football club. I think they have looked at not only the social reason but also looked at the marketing opportunities of this and realised there is a massive football-loving Asian market to be tapped into," he stated.

The new scheme, aimed at young players aged 12 to 14, will run at Chelsea's Cobham training ground between May 2-4.

Gifted young players identified by the club's academy coaching staff will be offered a further three-day trial.

Former Blues left-back Greame Le Saux, who now holds an ambassadorial role with the club, told BBC London 94.9 they are not just scouting for top-class footballers.

"The main part of what we're trying to achieve is to open our doors up to a large community of people and give them an experience," he said.

"It's not all about becoming a professional football player."

Piara Powar, director of the anti-racism group Kick It Out, said the club should be applauded for the idea.

606: DEBATE

"We're very pleased that Chelsea are doing this. It is something that's come from them entirely," he said.

"It's an interesting initiative, one that sets out the problem in a positive way.

"There's no question in my mind that there's lots of Asians kids out there who have the talent to play professional football - the Anwar Uddins, the Zesh Rehmans, you can multiply their numbers 10-fold."

Full details of Chelsea's Asian Star scheme, including how to apply, can be found on the club's website - www.chelseafc.com/asiansoccerstar



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