Zidane Iqbal: The local lad paving way for kids across the nation

With Manchester United’s upcoming fixture against Brighton postponed due to a COVID outbreak at the club, the last game United played at Old Trafford was the final Champions League group game against Swiss champions Young Boys.

The game marked a momentous occasion for the Manchester United academy, with six academy graduates making their Champions League debut.

Among that number was 17-year-old Shola Shoretire, 18-year-old son of Robbie, Charlie Savage, 19-year-old’s Teden Mengi and Anthony Elanga as well as 35-year-old Tom Heaton, making his debut in his second spell at the club.

However, one youngster that made history was 18-year-old Zidane Iqbal, becoming the first ever British South Asian to represent Manchester United. Iqbal was an 89th minute substitute and replaced another academy graduate, Jesse Lingard.

Back in April, when Zidane signed his professional contract for the Reds, he was the first ever British South Asian player to get thus far.

The 18-year-olds journey started at a very young age.

“I used to go and watch my dad play football, just at a local five-a-side pitch, and I just used to take shots at him,” Zidane recalls, as per Manchester Evening News.

Soon after, the attacking midfielder joined his local side, Sale United, where he was spotted by Manchester United scouts, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Born and raised in Whalley Range, Manchester, United’s number 73 is born to parents of Pakistani and Iraqi heritage.

Despite making up 7% of the total population in Britain, only 0.25% of professional footballers are British Asian, according to Kick It Out. Going by this figure, Zidane is sure to be a role model for young Asian’s growing up dreaming to become a professional footballer, however far he goes.

Previously, England boss Gareth Southgate has said (via Goal): “Historically, there has been a sort of unconscious bias, maybe the perception that some Asian players were not as athletic, they weren’t as strong [as other players].”

Zidane Iqbal is on the way to changing this perception, as he netted five times in the 14 appearances he made for the Manchester United Under-18s last season.

When speaking to BBC Sport earlier this year, Zidane said: “It’s good knowing I might be a role model, however, I want to be a good one.”

If the youngster continues to go the way he is, he most definitely will be a good role model, with Iqbal having already represented the Iraq Under-23s national side, although he is currently eligible to play for England or Pakistan.

At club level, he has played for United at most age groups, making a real name for himself in the Under-18s and Under-23s.

Speaking after his debut, the academy graduate said: “It feels amazing. I’ve been working my whole life for this opportunity, it’s a dream come true, it’s just the start and hopefully I can keep pushing on.”

With the backing of the Old Trafford faithful as well as the South Asian community, there are high hopes for the record-breaker, without even mentioning the fact that he is named after a one-time World Cup, Champions League and Ballon d’Or winner.

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