(My last assignment for my practical journalism module last semester. It was written in May 2011 so please take that into consideration when reading. Thanks)
Despite never having a professional contract Khazer Akbar has played international football at under-23 level and played against the likes of Arsenal and England sensation Jack Wilshere. This summer he is hoping that will change.
This summer the 20 year old forward has trials pending with Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield United among other clubs.
He starts however with talking about his childhood and how he got into football. “When I was five in primary school it was my aspiration. It seemed to be the trend; everybody around me did it so I got it from there. I realised I got quite good at it and when I did it made me want to play more because it was something I enjoyed.”
Straight after he finished high school Khazer was selected to play for the Pakistan under-23 team despite being seven years younger than the majority of his teammates.
Khazer describes how this chance first appeared. “I was always pushing to be in the professional leagues. It didn’t really matter what standards they were as long as they were professional. At 16 a trial came through the local football club and they invited me to an international trial for Pakistan.
“It was under-23 but it didn’t scare me. I wanted the experience of going there. I went to the trial and I managed to do it.”
Khazer seemed slightly regretful as he admitted he had better options due to the trial but decided it would be immoral to use one trial to help playing for another team.
“At the trial (Blackburn) Rovers were there as well as other various clubs that said they liked me but because I went for the Pakistan trials I felt it wouldn’t be loyal if I used it to get into Rovers or any other team.”
He describes his experience of playing for the Pakistan under-23 team. “I knew I was the underdog in the team playing against 23 year olds at 16 but I got into the first team and was very comfortable.
“I went to Islamabad and had the chance to play in Iraq and in other tournaments. At the end of the day it wasn’t for me so I decided to come back and push for a professional contract.”
After coming back from Pakistan he enrolled in a football studies course with Blackburn Rovers which taught all sides of the game. Not only did he learn more about the playing of the game he also learned about tactics, coaching and proper nutrition.
After the two year course Khazer decided to make a full on push for playing football professionally with Blackburn Rovers. “They offered me a fringe contract which means you play but don’t get paid.
“The club wasn’t bankrupt but they didn’t have much money at the time. This year now, I didn’t want to play without a proper contract so I decided to go to university to do a sports coaching degree. Only as a fall back option though.” He adds confidently, “Hopefully I won’t need it.”
Now that Blackburn Rovers has been bought by Indian consortium Venkys, a lot of money has been injected into the club. This could help the chance of Khazer getting a paid contract however it could also mean high profile signings from abroad could become the main priority for Blackburn Rovers.
Khazer seems unfazed by the latter as he played alongside Martin Olsson and Junior Hoilett who are now first team regulars at Blackburn Rovers. “Martin and Junior were the older players when I was there. They were obviously youth but had more experience than me and managed to get contracts under Mark Hughes.”
Knowing Olsson and Holliet came through the youth set up into the first team gives Khazer hope. “Hoilett, Olsson and (Phil) Jones had been three of their best players last season so it may give other youth players a chance to break into the first team.”
He also recalls of how he played against Jack Wilshere in a friendly against the Arsenal youth team. “He did seem a decent player and it just goes to show anything is possible because just before last year he was playing for the youth team at Arsenal and now he’s representing England.”
Something Khazer hasn’t failed to notice is the lack of British Asian footballers in the football league. There are only seven UK born Asian footballers playing in the four professional leagues in England. None of those players are currently in the Premiership.
Khazer accredits some of this to the matches that scouts are more likely to watch. He says “Not many Asians play in the XI a-side leagues. It’s always five or seven a-side and they expect to get scouted but the scouts usually watch XI a-side. I think more young Asians should start playing XI a-side from a younger age.
“Also a lot of Asian parents tend to try to push their kids to go into education and get professional jobs.”
If Khazer does succeed in gaining a playing contract he will add to the short list of British Asian footballers. If that contract is with Blackburn Rovers he will become only the third to play for a Premiership team.
This summer is make or break for the youngster. “I’ve got trials at Accrington Stanley, Sheffield United but I’ve also got a final trial at Blackburn Rovers. I just need to finalise the dates due to injuries and whatnot.”
Despite a late entry to professional football Khazer Akbar may just defy the odds and prove his aspirations true.