By Mohammad Shahnawaz – Published by DAWN
“What happens is that youngsters play football but they don’t have the links when it comes to making referrals or putting themselves forward to various academies, that’s where the trail goes cold.”
The Rochdale-born solicitor Shehneela Ahmed, who registered as a football players’ agent towards the end of September, 2013, has become the first British Asian female of Pakistani descent to enter the profession. And not surprisingly, this has attracted a lot of interest.
Shehneela, a second generation Pakistani whose grandparents hail from Faisalabad, has set up her own agency Platinum FA in London and has spent much of the last month dealing with media requests, working full time as well as securing moves for her clients during the transfer window. So how has she managed to juggle it all?
“I’m a woman — we multitask!” says she. “The last month or so, I don’t know where it has gone. What with my full time job, football transfers, media requests, speaking to parents and getting loads of emails and texts, its gone mad.”
Shehneela is now looking to use her position to scope out potential footballers from ethnic minority communities as well as inspire the Asian community, both male and female, to break the norm and pursue non-traditional career choices.
She adds: “I actually registered myself towards the end of September and didn’t do anything about it. My friends were saying I was the first British Asian woman to become a football agent.
“They are all in the football industry. They were the ones who said ‘why can’t a woman do it?’ and they have been forthcoming with guidance and support. I’m quite fortunate I have that guidance. I know I’ve got people who I can rely on. I have that advantage. They have the experience and have helped me on my way.”
Shehneela recalled with regret that it was sad her father, who passed away, isn’t here today to see what she has achieved and he would have been proud of her.
“My father always supported me with my ambitions and I went out of town to study at university when none of my friends went to university and were getting married”.
She says she couldn’t have become a lawyer and then a football agent if it wasn’t for the blessings of her parents.
Reflecting on the way news has spread of her becoming an agent, Shehneela has been surprised by the reaction. “The first newspaper which was told about it was from my home town. From there it’s just been mad. It hasn’t sunk in and I didn’t think it was going to have such an impact. People have been great and there hasn’t been criticism but I don’t know what’s around the corner.”
Shehneela has gone on to make appearances on several international channels including BBC, Sky, Aljazeera and Reuters to name a few.
“What I’m hoping to do is work with clubs, build relationships and also spot talent among the Asian community and other ethnic groups.
“And that way, there is a point of contact. I am hoping to act as a go-between because that’s where the breakdown is. A lot of Asians don’t know who to approach.”
She is looking to fully immerse herself in helping the Asian community, hoping they can be inspired by her drive and determination, where she has already signed up the highly rated British Pakistan youngster Waqas Azam, who plays for Burnley and Kamran Khan, who represented Pakistan International XI in 2013.
“I work as a criminal lawyer and when I first entered that profession, I was a bit sceptical about it; about how I was going to be received. But as soon as you get involved, as soon as you deliver the service that the client wants, you get that respect, and you do get a lot of repeat business. So basically it’s down to you and how you are working with people and understanding their needs.
“You have to treat people with respect, give them the time, get results and you’ll get there eventually. It’s not going to be an easy ride, I know that, but one step at a time.”
As Shehneela gets her breath back after the increased attention and the madness of the transfer window, she is now looking at plans to take to the Asian communities around the country.
“I’m hoping to do road shows, get more involved with the Asian community and explain to parents that football isn’t just a sport; it’s classified as a profession.
“It is a respected profession just like being a lawyer or a doctor. They need to get over this stigma.”
Looking beyond Britain, Shehneela says she has had good response from various sports organisations from Pakistan and will be looking forward to working together. “The interest has been immense from Pakistan, I have had people from cricket and football, approach me.”
Commenting on the increasing popularity of sport amongst females in Pakistan Shehneela responds, “It is pleasing to see women are taking a keen interest in sport as they have proven their ability in other roles within the society and sport should be no different.”