On Wednesday evening Manchester United’s new manager Ralf Rangnick took the opportunity to use the final Champions league group game as a tester for fringe players to see how they measure up to his expectations.
Due to the game having no stakes at all for United, who were already going to finish top of the group regardless of any other results, United’s bench was an unconventional one to say the least made up of Tom Heaton and six Academy players.
One of the players on the bench was Academy player Zidane Iqbal, who by the end of the night would be the first ever British South Asian to play for Manchester United, as reported by The Athletic.
Iqbal, now 18, has been at the club for over a decade, reported The Athletic, he is a local lad of both Pakistan and Iraq heritage, as reported by BBC sport. In April of this year, Iqbal signed his first professional contract at United at the age of 17, a sign of confidence from the club in the youngster, who is clearly highly rated. Iqbal’s contract was history making as he was the first ever British South Asian to sign a professional contract at the club, as reported by Sky Sports.
It is clear to see why Iqbal was handed his debut midweek by Rangnick, this season the midfielder has player 15 games at Under 23 level, scoring three goals. He has also shown great versatility as the youngster has filled in at both attacking midfield and central midfield, as well as playing on both the right and left of midfield.
United are currently lacking in the midfield position, relying on Scott McTominay and Fred as a partnership, or an aging Nemanja Matic sitting on his own in defensive midfield, so a player with great talent and versatility, such as Iqbal, could find themselves given more opportunities under Rangnick as the season progresses.
Not only is Iqbal a history maker, but he is also a talented footballer who looks to have a great future at the club.
The reason why Iqbal’s debut has made national headlines is not just due to the fact that he is the first British South Asian to play for Manchester United, but more so because British South Asians are vastly underrepresented in the game as a whole.
Sky Sports reported in 2020 that “South Asians represent around 8% of the UK population but around 0.3% are professional footballers. It is the single largest statistical anomaly in English football.”
Seeing a member of the community make his debut for a club the size of Manchester United has been described as a monumental moment, with the player himself stating after his debut that “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.’, reported by BBC Sport.
Whatever the future holds for Zidane Iqbal, he will always be remembered as a trail blazer, but by the looks of it, he is a player Manchester United fans will be seeing a lot more of. Hopefully the debut of Iqbal will give hope to the British South Asian community, as a spokesperson for England supporters group Apna England stated “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.” Every time an academy player makes their debut for Manchester United it is a moment fans love, but in this instance, it’s a debut that may have changed the landscape of football forever.
Written by Jennifer McCord