by Michael Church
HONG KONG, May 26 (Reuters) – Former Premier League defender Zesh Rehman has set his sights on becoming a future Pakistan national team coach as he prepares to lead the country on their return to international football later this year.
Rehman, who made his debut in the English top flight for Fulham in 2004 before playing for Queen’s Park Rangers and Bradford City, will link up with the Pakistan team for the first time in almost five years for September’s South Asian Championships in Bangladesh.
The regional tournament, which also features India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, will mark the country’s return to the international scene from a FIFA ban.
The Pakistan Football Federation had a ban for third-party interference lifted by the world governing body in March following a tumultuous three-year period.
“I played in this tournament in 2005 and in 2013 and it was a good experience and I really enjoyed playing against the other countries in South Asia,” Rehman, currently on the books of Hong Kong side Southern District, told Reuters.
“The fact there was no football in Pakistan for three years was a blow for the local players and also for me because I’m signed here as an Asian player and as an international, so it’s good to have the opportunity to play again internationally.
“Any player, regardless of your country, wants to play and if you’ve experienced it before you know the feeling and the impact it can have for a lot of people and it’s great that it’s back again.”
The 34-year-old centre half was born in England and represented the land of his birth at youth level, but qualified to play for Pakistan through his parents.
He played for Pakistan for the first time at the South Asian Championships in 2005 and his last appearance came in October 2013 at the Peace Cup tournament in the Philippines.
As a result of the ban and other off-field issues, Pakistan have slipped to 203rd in the FIFA rankings and Rehman is hoping he can play a role in undoing some of the damage inflicted on the sport caused by their absence from the international arena.
“Any association, if they stop playing for three years it’s going to damage the FIFA rankings and I think it’s the lowest it’s ever been,” he said.
“There are young players who have missed out on three years of exposure and development and experiences, so it’s been damaging.
“But the fact that it has come back and the people in charge now seem to be making a real effort to improve at every level hopefully means we can give a good account of ourselves and put the building blocks back in place so the next generation don’t have to deal with this again.”
Rehman has ambitions to play a leading role in developing the game in South Asia and having just completed his UEFA Pro License coaching badges, he is keen to take charge of the national side in the future.
“One of my goals longer term is to be national team coach and to get involved in the set-up,” he said.
“I want to use all of my experience gained playing all around the world to give something back, because they have given me the opportunity to play international football and I feel like I’ve got a lot to offer.
“I’m in regular contact with the federation and we’re trying to put some building blocks in place and it’s something I’ve got my eye on.” (Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)