Zidane Iqbal’s first football coach says the teenager was so good when he was younger that he was forced to put him in goal for the sake of the other kids.
Manchester-born Iqbal, whose mother is Iraqi and whose father is Pakistani, made history on Wednesday night when he came off the bench in the Champions League game against Young Boys to become the first British South Asian to play for Manchester United.
Prior to joining United a decade ago, Iqbal played at Sale United under Stewart Hamer, who first began coaching the trailblazer when he was an U5s player.
“When we played a few six-a-side competitions [as he got older] he would do very well. He would stand out,” Hamer told Sky Sports News.
“We got to the point where sometimes we would have to take him off the field in fairness to the opposition because he was just too dangerous on the field and it didn’t feel fair on the others. We had a process, even in four, five and six-a-side where the kids would play in all sorts of different positions.
“So they all took the part and played in goal and Zee would quite often go in goal for us, and he was happy to do that. I’ve still got visions of Zee being in goal and leaning on the goalpost, waiting for something to happen!
“But he’s just never changed. He’s just very focused on his football career. And what happened [with him making his Manchester United debut] was just the icing on the cake so far. But it’s only the beginning of the story, hopefully.”
Iqbal ‘deserves everything’
Hamer, who spent 24 years at Sale United, added: “It was a great experience just to have him under our care and guidance, and it’s just been great to know him ever since.
“It was great when he first joined Manchester United – and to be fair to him and his family, they have kept in touch, right the way up to his United debut, which is good.
“I have seen quite a few of his academy games from when he was a nipper right the way through to his debut. It’s just been great to see that development, but he deserves everything.”
‘Monumental for South Asians in the game’
Official England supporters’ group Apna England told Sky Sports News Iqbal’s surprise appearance for Manchester United was a great day for football
“This is obviously a proud moment for everyone associated with Manchester United Football Club but it is also absolutely monumental for South Asians in the game,” a spokesperson said.
“Zidane Iqbal is an exceptional talent, whose commitment, work-ethic and dedication to making it at the highest level has been rewarded by one of the biggest clubs in world football.
“With urgent action required to tackle inequalities that persist across football, there is no better way to inspire change than by highlighting those that are blazing a trail in our game.
“Seeing Zidane Iqbal out there making history will no doubt inspire millions across the world. It’s a great day for the community – and a great day for football.”
Sky Sports News last month revealed England face the prospect of missing out on the United teenager, with Iraqi football chiefs keen to secure the teenager’s services at senior international level.
Iqbal was called up to play for the Iraqi U23 side at last month’s WAFF (West Asian Football Federation) Championship, helping them reach the semi-finals before their elimination to Saudi Arabia. Iqbal also featured against United Arab Emirates, and took the captain’s armband before scoring against Lebanon.
He is eligible to represent England, Iraq and Pakistan at international but has never been called up to an England age-group squad.
The teenager netted for the club’s youngsters against Sunderland in the EFL Trophy in October, and followed that up by scoring United’s opener in their 4-2 UEFA Youth League win against Italian side Atalanta.
Iqbal is one of five British South Asian Premier League footballers on a full-time professional contract alongside Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury, Aston Villa’s Arjan Raikhy, Tottenham’s Dilan Markanday and Wolves defender Kam Kandola.
British South Asians in Football
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