Aston Villa defender Maz Pacheco sees being a role model as a “big responsibility” that she is more than happy to embrace.
The 23-year-old has spoken about breaking down barriers and says becoming the first British Asian woman to play at senior level for England is a major target for her.
Ormskirk-born Pacheco, whose mother is from the Philippines, has already represented England at various youth levels up to Under-21.
The former Liverpool, Doncaster and Reading left-back joined Villa this summer after spending last season with West Ham, and could make her competitive debut for her new club when they kick off their 2021-22 Women’s Super League campaign by hosting promoted Leicester on Saturday.
Asked ahead of the game for her thoughts on being a role model that youngsters can look up to, Pacheco told the PA news agency: “It’s a big responsibility but it’s a responsibility that I’d always take with two hands.
“For me growing up there weren’t many British Asian female footballers, so the fact I am one of them now is an amazing feeling and I just want to be that good role model, to put a positive light on playing football.
“A big target for me one day is to break into the senior squad and be the first British Asian female to play for England. So that’s another big target that’s always in the back of my mind, how many barriers I can break down along with my career. It’s definitely something that’s in the back of my mind and I want to keep pushing on.
“I am proud of my roots. Of course it (being a role model) motivates me. For me, it’s just making sure I do everyone proud.”
In May the Football Association released an update on its Asian inclusion strategy, which noted the 2011 census showed Asian communities comprising 7.8 per cent of England’s population.
The report said Asian participation in grassroots football for over 16s was at 10.7 per cent (male) and 13.5 per cent (female), while the number of Asian coaches, volunteers and referees was around two per cent.
It said there was a “small number” of professional players of Asian heritage in the men’s and women’s games, and that around one per cent of both Premier League and EFL apprentices were of Asian heritage.
Regarding Asian representation in the English football, Pacheco said: “I think now there’s more awareness, inclusion and players doing more to help that.
“It’s definitely growing, but it is hard to change the numbers straight away. It’s not something that’s going to change overnight, you have to be patient. But it’s definitely going to get there.”
Pacheco recently took part in a video series released by the FA marking South Asian Heritage Month. Another player involved was Swansea midfielder Yan Dhanda, who was racially abused on social media last season – something Pacheco has experienced herself.
“People do go straight for those certain comments,” Pacheco said. “I’ve not ever had it in person, face-to-face. A lot of it is on social media.
“I think there is more awareness, the big networks are doing more about it I’d like to think.
“I think I’ve been quite lucky in my childhood and my career so far that there is nothing that’s ever triggered me or made me feel down about it. I’ve never been affected that much. But it’s definitely something that has happened and is there. People need to be aware that it is in the women’s game as well, not just the men’s.
“My mum has always taught me if people are hating on you it means you’re doing something right. That mentality is kind of drilled into me, from a young age. I think to have that metal strength helps. But it is something that shouldn’t happen.”
Pacheco has also given her thoughts on taking the knee, which continues to be a major talking point within the game.
Last week she posted on Instagram an image of herself making the anti-racism gesture and the message: “New club, new start, same goal.”
And – speaking prior to England players being booed while taking a knee in Thursday’s World Cup qualifier in Hungary – Pacheco said: “We have to stand in solidarity with the players and with anyone in life that feels they have been racially abused, show them they are not alone and things are going to change, and there’s stuff happening to help with that.
“For me it’s just normal to be a part of that movement and hopefully inspire (people) to do the same.”
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