Rehman craving Fulham escape

Pahang may be at the top of the Malaysian Super League table right now, but defender Zesh Rehman has one eye on the other end of the table – the Barclays Premier League table, that is.

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Fulham owner Shahid Khan left Craven Cottage early, hoping that it would bring good luck for his team, only to see them blow a two-goal lead against Hull City Tigers. Here in Malaysia, ex-Cottagers defender Zesh Rehman watched the agonising collapse on Astro SuperSport as the game finished in a frustrating 2-2 draw last weekend.

Rehman, who spent more than a decade at the London club, now plays for Pahang in the Malaysian Super League. He’s crossing all his fingers and toes in the hope that Fulham will avoid dropping into the second tier of English football for the first time since 2001.  Felix Magath’s side are perilously placed in 19th position – second last – on the Premier League table, with 31 points. Their remaining matches are away to Stoke City this weekend and at home to Crystal Palace on May 11th.

“I think Fulham can stay up, but they need to take maximum points from the last two games and hope other results go their way,” Rehman said. “It’s not totally in their hands, so if they get the wins and a bit of luck, then happy days.”

Rehman added that even if the West Londoners were relegated, they should persist with German head coach, Felix Magath. “The results have been fairly mixed but I think Magath has done a good job overall since he came in,” he said. “They should keep him to maintain some sort of continuity after so many recent changes in manager. There is an exciting batch of youngsters coming through who have reached the FA Youth Cup final so whatever happens the future is bright.”

Birmingham-born Rehman was scouted by a Fulham scout as a 12-year-old. His family moved to London so that he could join the club’s academy and he signed his first professional contract in 2000. He made his senior debut in 2003 and played in 30 matches in all competitions before joining Queens Park Rangers in 2006.

“Fulham is my boyhood club who believed in me and gave me a chance so I owe them so much,” Rehman said. “I was with them from the age of 12 until 22 and loved every moment because they are a wonderful family club.

“My most memorable moment was my Premier League debut in the 2003/04 season at Anfield, tracking Steven Gerrard back in central midfield in a 0-0 draw against Liverpool. I was fortunate enough to also play against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United several times and be able to test myself against the likes of Drogba, Henry, Rooney and Shearer.”

Rehman can play anywhere at the back as well as defensive midfielder. His best results at Premier League level were playing in a 2-0 home win against Tottenham Hotspur in his full debut before an emphatic 4-1 away victory against Newcastle United in front of 55,000 fans at St James’ Park.

As he struggled to hold down a first team place against intense competition at Premier League level, Rehman spent loan spells at Brighton and Norwich City. But he only has good things to say about the quaint club on the banks of the Thames River.

“The 2004/05 campaign under Chris Coleman and Steve Kean were my happiest memories because I played over 20 games that season and learned so much from experienced professionals at the club like Andy Cole, Lee Clark and Edwin Van Der Sar,” Rehman said.

“From my time there a decade ago, Mark Pembridge is still involved, working with the youth set up alongside Louis Boa Morte. Several of the staff behind the scenes are still there in the media department whom I'm still in contact with.”

Rehman will always be remembered as a pioneer because he was the first British Asian to start a Premier League match and the first to appear in all of English football’s top four divisions. Despite having played for England youth teams, he made the decision in 2005 to represent Pakistan, the nation of his father Khalid Rehman, and has earned a total of 18 full international caps.

He is also a proud Muslim and an advocate for diversity in sport, having worked as an ambassador for the ‘Kick It Out’ and ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ campaigns.

After spells in Thailand and Hong Kong, he came to Malaysia at the start of this year to reunite with his former QPR teammate Damion Stewart. He's loving the experience of being part of the vibrant Pahang side under new manager Zainal Abidin Hassan. He’s now played more than 300 senior games in four different nations.

“I hope that I can inspire the next generation to follow in my footsteps,” he said. “While I am proud of the journey so far, the dream must be greater than the memory.

“I love Kuantan and the Malaysian people so all things being equal I would love to be here for many more years to come. Saying that though, I will still be hoping that my old club Fulham can find a way to stay up!”

*Join Jason Dasey and his guests every week on Astro SuperSport’s Turning Points show, 9pm Mondays on Ch831 and Ch810