Zidane Iqbal has become the first British South Asian footballer in Manchester United’s history after coming off the bench in the Champions League game against Young Boys.
The 18-year-old trained with the first team on Tuesday, before taking his place on the bench for Wednesday’s visit of the Swiss side, with qualification and top spot in Group F already secured.
Iqbal – wearing shirt number 73 – came on in the closing stages of the game, replacing England international Jesse Lingard.
The Manchester-born midfielder, who has Pakistani and Iraqi heritage, became the first British South Asian to pen pro terms at Old Trafford, in April, and is now the first footballer from the community to play for the club.
Speaking to MUTV after the game, Iqbal 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.”
Ralf Rangnick confirmed Donny van de Beek and Dean Henderson would both start for United, but gave little away on Tuesday about the rest of the make-up of his matchday squad.
“Even if we may be playing with a few new players or fresh players, it’s still important that we win the game,” the United interim manager told reporters.
“And, by the way, the first game in this group we lost at Young Boys and so we still need to make up for that and it’s clear, no matter which kind of players we will start tomorrow, we definitely want to win the game.”
Manchester-born Iqbal has spent more than a decade with United, playing at early years’ sessions before joining the club at the foundation phase.
The attacking midfielder is well-regarded by coaches at United and has cemented his place as an U23s regular despite being one of the younger members of the squad.
Sky Sports News last month revealed England face the prospect of missing out on the United teenager, with Iraqi football chiefs keen to secure the teenager’s services at senior international level.
Iqbal was called up to play for the Iraqi U23 side at last month’s WAFF (West Asian Football Federation) Championship, helping them reach the semi-finals before their elimination to Saudi Arabia. Iqbal also featured against United Arab Emirates, and took the captain’s armband before scoring against Lebanon.
He is eligible to represent England, Iraq and Pakistan at international but has never been called up to an England age-group squad.
The teenager netted for the club’s youngsters against Sunderland in the EFL Trophy last month, and followed that up by scoring United’s opener in their 4-2 UEFA Youth League win against Italian side Atalanta.
Iqbal is one of five British South Asian Premier League players on a full-time professional contract alongside Leicester City’s Hamza Choudhury, Aston Villa’s Arjan Raikhy, Tottenham’s Dilan Markanday and Wolves defender Kam Kandola.
Iqbal is the first British South Asian footballer to play for an English side in the Champions League in 19 years, following on from Michael Chopra’s appearance for Newcastle United away at Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002/03 season.
‘Monumental for South Asians in the game’
A spokesperson for official England supporters’ group Apna England told Sky Sports News: “This is obviously a proud moment for everyone associated with Manchester United Football Club but it is also absolutely monumental for South Asians in the game.
“Zidane Iqbal is an exceptional talent, whose commitment, work-ethic and dedication to making it at the highest level has been rewarded by one of the biggest clubs in world football.
“With urgent action required to tackle inequalities that persist across football, there is no better way to inspire change than by highlighting those that are blazing a trail in our game.
“Seeing Zidane Iqbal out there making history will no doubt inspire millions across the world. It’s a great day for the community – and a great day for football.”
Another milestone reached in 2021
Iqbal’s appearance in Manchester United’s squad is the latest milestone reached in arguably the biggest-ever year for Britain’s South Asian football community.
In March, Sky Sports News helped rewrite history by delivering the news that Luton Town great Ricky Hill was not only the fifth Black player but also the first British South Asian to represent England at senior level when he turned out for the Three Lions in the Eighties.
A month later by Sky Sports News also revealed Bhups and Sunny Singh Gill were to become the first British South Asian match officials ever to preside over the same Championship game, with the pair making history at Ashton Gate when Bristol City hosted Nottingham Forest.
That was followed in May by Sunderland Sikh-Punjabi twins Amar and Arjun Singh Purewal’s historic appearance at Wembley before Hamza Choudhury became the first British South Asian footballer to collect an FA Cup winners’ medal.
Sky Sports News also revealed Anwar Uddin was becoming the first British South Asian former player to take up a seat on the FA Council.
In October, Dilan Markanday made a trailblazing appearance for Tottenham when he came off the bench against Vitesse in the Europa Conference League, and last week Fort William boss Shadab Iftikhar made history as the first British South Asian to manage in Scottish senior football.
British South Asians in Football
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