Zesh Rehman: The key to surviving Asia

Former Fulham defender Zesh Rehman is back in England with Gillingham after six years in Asia, but the one-time English Premier League defender is fond of his time in Asia and he wrote a checklist for foreign players coming over. 

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Having played over 200 games in Asia, internationally with the Pakistan national team, in Thailand, Hong Kong and more recently Malaysia during a six-year period, I have found there are a few common denominators in terms of having a successful and prolonged stay in the continent.

Many of the early lessons in my first year in Thailand set me up for the next successful five years, as I won seven trophies, played in front of huge crowds and reached the AFC Cup quarter-finals twice while travelling all over Asia.

I returned to English football recently feeling more matured and more rounded as a player and person due to my experiences in Asia. Below is a list of some of key survival points when embarking on a playing career in Asia.



Zesh used to play in Malaysia for Pahang

Find out everything about where you’re going in terms of the team, the playing style, the coaches, the players, the club, Country and etc. No detail is too small or irrelevant.

I did this before I stepped on a plane to Bangkok to join Muangthong United. I also had an in-depth chat on the phone with Bryan Robson who was the Thailand national team head coach at the time.

Robson gave me a wonderful insight into all aspects of Thai football as well as the key cultural aspects in terms of respect for the culture and in particular the King.

Before I moved to Hong Kong I spoke to Mr Asia, Steve Darby, who gave me a wonderful insight of what to expect. It always helps to speak to people with vast experience of the region.

On both occasions I had signed my contract after one visit to the club and did not need to trial which leads me onto my second point.


If a club calls a player to go on trial in Asia, they usually fly them over and have them play in a trial game more or less the next day.

I have seen good international players with great pedigree look extremely average during their trial due to jetlag and dehydration.

The player should invest in himself by flying there at least three days earlier to adjust his body clock, get over the jet lag, get fully hydrated and mentally prepared.


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Go forth and alone!

The biggest lesson I learned was that it is impossible to get off to a flying start and hit the ground running if you’re playing tour guide at the times you should be resting, especially after training.

A spouse or partner can be your biggest asset in Asia but also your biggest hindrance if they travel with you right away.

I would strongly advise that the partner comes after a month, by which time the player has had the hectic pre-season, got to know the area and has been able to get to know his team-mates by eating and socialising with them after training.

By doing this, the player immediately starts to learn about the culture, the food, the traditions and ways of the locals.