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3 February 2023



3 February 2023

Our U18s midfielder Vimal Yoganthan represented the Reds at the annual ‘Player Development Day’ at St George's Park, with over 100 players in attendance from 56 different clubs.

It has been a ground-breaking period for the PFA’s Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS) as it moves into the third year of its 5-year strategy.

The scheme was created to nurture today’s elite south Asian footballers, boosting representation, and inspiring the next generation of players.

Led by Riz Rehman, Player Inclusion Executive at the PFA, this pioneering work has gained significant momentum in developing a sustainable future for south Asian players in elite football with the numbers of players within the Professional Development Phase being at an all-time high at any one given time.

  • 28 Scholars within the Professional Development Phase at the start of the 2022/23 season - the highest number at any one given time.
  • 1 in 2 professional club academies has at least one player with south Asian heritage signed on their books.

Yoganathan described what the event entailed for the players who attended.

"I arrived at St. George’s on the Saturday and stayed overnight," he began. "Sunday morning, everyone involved met together at the reception, and the players and parents split off. The players went into the indoor centre and the parents had a talk with Riz Rehman.

"In the training session we mixed from under 9s to professional footballers," he explained. "We started off with head tennis we then went on to rondos still mixing with the pros and under 9s. We then split off into age groups so scholars and pros went together and the younger age groups went together. We then went into mini-games and finished with penalties."

"The whole idea was to meet Asian footballers who are in the game with me and build a network. It’s also useful to also to get advice from Asian professionals who have been in the game."

Riz Rehman, said: “I am extremely proud of the ground-breaking work we have achieved over the last two and a half years – the AIMS network has grown considerably and it’s important to focus on the progress that has been made. We are now seeing more players progress from the youth development phase into the professional development phase. This will give confidence to academy players and their families that there is a pathway for them in football.

“We are continuing to work closely with clubs to boost representation across the younger age groups and have facilitated talent identification events nationwide with clubs across London, Midlands, Nort-West, and Wales. Although there will always be issues and statistics we need to continue working to improve, the important thing is to begin working towards them and that’s what we are doing”.

On Sunday 29th January, the AIMS programme held its second annual ‘Player Development Day’ at St Georges Park with over 100 players in attendance from 56 different clubs.

The ‘Player Development Day’ involved:

  • Presentations for parents from the PFA and Premier League to understand the various initiatives across the footballing landscape that align with AIMS.
  • A workshop (how to build resilience) from Zesh Rehman – current Assistant Manager at Portsmouth FC and the first British Asian Pakistani to start a Premier League game.
  • Hearing from players who have transitioned via the AIMS programme from playing to industry work.
  • An opportunity for players to connect with peers from different clubs, create friendships and receive coaching from England National Team, professional club, and academy coaches.
  • Creating opportunities for parents and guardians to connect with each other to share experiences and create a support network to help them navigate the academy journey.

Riz Rehman continued: “From 30 players at our first event in 2021 to now having over 100 players at St Georges Park illustrates the success of the work and the buy-in we’ve had from players and families. Days like these are not possible without the support from clubs, who excused their players from competitive academy fixtures and encouraged their attendance at the event. I was delighted to see so many staff from clubs in attendance who recognise the additional value the AIMS programme brings to their players overall holistic development."

Sunderland defender and PFA AIMS mentor, Danny Batth, added: “I’ve seen first-hand the importance of the AIMS programme and I’m proud to play my part to help the next generation of players though advice and guidance. Riz has been very proactive over the last few years in connecting personally with players and their families and that was evident today with the turnout we’ve had. When I was coming through there were less than a handful of players from similar backgrounds and certainly no Asian coaches, and very few support staff within the professional game. Today highlighted the different pathways players can take when transitioning out of the game and Zesh is evident that opportunities can arise earlier if you get yourself qualified whilst still playing”.

Portsmouth Assistant Manager and PFA AIMS mentor, Zesh Rehman, added: “Most of my involvement with AIMS since its inception has been from afar and via Zoom. It was inspiring to meet so many players and families in-person and I’m sure they will all leave enthused. The PFA have done some tremendous work in connecting with players and credit must also go to all my peers and the young professionals who have voluntarily given up their time to share experiences with those coming through the system. Danny Batth, Neil Taylor, Mal Benning, Otis Khan, and others will hopefully stay within the game in some capacity as they have so much to give back and it’s been great connecting with them all today."

Brighton and Hove Albion Scholar and AIMS mentee, Sahil Bashir, added: “I’ve been involved with AIMS since I was 15 (years old) and I look forward to all the PFA events. As a young player who is still learning his trade, it is like gold dust connecting with senior players who are regular first team starters. To have the opportunity to join in training with them, ask questions and learn about how they deal with setbacks can only further my development both on and off the pitch."

Our table-topping U18s are in action on Saturday 4 February on the Showcase pitch at Oakwell as they take on Wigan Athletic, kicking-off at 11am. Good luck to our young Reds!

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