When it was announced that Pahang FA were interested in signing Zesh Rehman, bucket loads of excitement were sent into the veins of every War Elephant fan. Zesh came in with a magnificent CV, featuring stints with teams like Fulham, Bradford and even QPR. But fast forward a year later, he’s still equally adored by fans, if not more. Though this time around, it’s not for his CV. Within the space of 12 months, Zesh Rehman evolved into a crucial squad player for Pahang, helping them win 3 majestic trophies as well as go a strong run in the Super League. As a result, the man himself saw no reasons to move and Pahang themselves were keen on retaining him. The Pakistani international is currently undergoing pre-season preparations ahead of the new season, though he found time for a quick interview FourthOfficial.com.
FO: You’ve been in Malaysia for a year now, how do you like this place compared to the previous countries that you have played football in?
ZR: I’ve been fortunate to play in four countries throughout my career, including England, Hong Kong, Thailand but I think Malaysia is where I found the most passionate fans. It’s been a great country to live in and the lifestyle is very good. It is a Muslim country, which is better for my family and kids. I don’t have to go far to find halal food and mosques. So I’ve really enjoyed the football side as well as the country as a whole.
FO: Fans in Pahang already recognized you as one of the most important member of the Pahang squad and you undoubtedly played a pivotal part in the Malaysia Cup triumph. What has the entire experience been like? Particularly on winning the oldest cup competition in Asia?
ZR: Firstly, football is a team game and there’s eleven players on the pitch; 25 in the squad. Everybody has a role to play, including myself and the other foreign players. It was amazing to win the Malaysia Cup, terrific atmosphere at the stadium; certainly the best I’ve ever been involved in. Over the last three years, I’ve been fortunate to win seven trophies, four in Hong Kong and three in Malaysia. But I think the Malaysia Cup atmosphere ranks as the best.
FO: How is pre-season going so far and what are Pahang’s aspirations for the new season?
ZR: Pre-season is going well but we had a bit of a disruption due to the rainy season. We managed to get our fitness to an optimum level and we also had a camp in Hong Kong. Now we’re in Singapore, and the games here will be good for our preparation. Obviously we will go into the season wanting to do well in every competition. We did very well last year, almost won every trophy. So we’ve got four competitions to compete in again, including the AFC Cup. If we can do well in all the cup competitions and improve on our standing in the league, it’ll be a good year. But it will be difficult and most teams are stronger this year. They will also be keeping a stronger eye on us.
FO: Most sides opted to revamp their squad but Pahang opted to maintain the core of the team from last season. That probably illustrates the faith that Coach Zainal Abidin has in you guys. What’s the sort of relationship that he has with players in the team?
ZR: I think it’s great that we kept the same squad because we’ve got a great spirit within the team. Everybody works for each other, everybody likes each other, which is always helpful. That is certainly one of our biggest strengths; the team spirit and togetherness. Many teams changed their squad and I’m not sure if that will work because it takes time to build understanding and familiarity. We already have that here in Pahang and I think that will help us greatly this year.
FO: Pahang have also acquired the services of D. Saarvindran. Based on what you’ve seen in training, what are your thoughts on him?
ZR: I’ve not seen Saarvindran train yet, but I think he will be a great addition, just based on his attitude alone, which is one of the most important thing in football. Obviously he’s got good pedigree, having been involved with the Harimau Muda set-up so he will be an excellent addition to the team roster.
FO: Gopinathan is widely recognized as one of the most dangerous flankers within the region. Would you consider him as one of the best players that you’ve played with? Is there anything for him to improve on to become a stronger attacking outlet on the flanks?
ZR: Gopi has got amazing potential and I think he’s doing very well. He’s improving every game. Last season, he was fantastic for us and I think he’ll improvise even more this season because we’ve got AFC Cup games, which offers an opportunity for all our players to get more exposure. I think he’s one of the most exciting players in Malaysia and should definitely be in the national squad for every game. I also think he’s one of the best players I’ve played with in South East Asia; certainly on the wings because he’s so quick and is such a headache for every defender that he goes up against.
FO: I have to ask you this trademark question as well. Fans in South East Asia are consistently wishing for the level of football within this region to elevate and scale bigger heights. When you look at the ongoing Asian Cup, there are no representatives from the region in that tournament. Having played in Thailand and Malaysia, what is the biggest factor that’s hindering the growth of football within South East Asia? Your thoughts on it?
ZR: It is an interesting question. I think it’s a shame that no South East Asian country is involved in the Asian Cup or even the World Cup for that matter. I’m not sure why though because the fans in this region are some of the most passionate ones that I’ve seen throughout my career. Fans in Thailand and Malaysia for example are absolutely brilliant. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe all countries need to do what we’re doing this year with the 3+1 rule, because that’s the same with the AFC Cup and the Asian Champions League format; so that might help this year. Maybe the national teams need to focus on youth from a very young age and stick with them, have faith in them, send them to Europe for development. But it’s hard to specifically say why though, because in terms of infrastructure, money, and passion, South East Asian countries are not different from those that are competing at the Asian Cup.