The musings of a Mancunian sport loving Muslimah

A Star in the Making

Introducing Zach Shaikh and his story on his journey to become a professional footballer

As a Muslim born and bred in Britain and someone fascinated with sport, it has always intrigued me to learn and find out about those who are trying to break barriers and become professional stars within mainstream sport.

With this in mind, I have a first interview lined up with Zachariah Shaikh, you can find him on Twitter @ZizziShaikh

Zach currently resides in North Carolina, America where he moved in order to pursue his footballing career.  Being the only child and born to Muslim parents in the UK, he has always had their support and blessing to become the best he can be.  Blessed with natural talent and a desire to compete at the highest level possible, Zach answers a few questions and tells of his journey to become a professional footballer.

The campus of North Carolina Wesleyan College

Short background:

“My name is Zach Shaikh and I’m 19. I was born in Coventry in 1992 and have found myself moving to different areas of the North West since I was very young, but for the past 8 years I have called Sandbach in Cheshire home. I am an only child, the son of Muslim parents. My mother Fatima was born in Madagascar and my father was born in India. Both moved to England when they were very young and consider themselves British Muslims. I have a large family consisting of cousins and aunts/uncles that are all football mad. I have recently moved to America in the pursuit of becoming a professional footballer or to become a football coach. I am currently playing for North Carolina Wesleyan College which is located in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.

Growing up I was a goalkeeper until I found that I was far better outfield. I am now playing as a centre half, sometimes being deployed as a Makelele type midfielder.”

Why did you choose to play football?

Football was never something I imagined would become a love and something that I’d want to do as a career. Starting off late, only playing the game seriously from the age of 14/15, I considered it a hobby but the more I trained and played, the game became my first love. The reason that I carried on playing and always trying to improve was because of my coaches. They’d always give me confidence to play, which would make me work harder and stay commited.

Growing up was your role model and inspiration?  Which team did you support?

Its a common answer, but I believe my parents were my role models and inspiration. They would always been determined in whatever they did, whether it be work or organising dinner. My father has always been someone that is determined to be the best he can at whatever he does, whereas my mother was the rock of the family, keeping everything together.

In footballing terms I’d have to say Zidane because of the way he influenced all of his team mates. He would be the player that motivated everyone else on the pitch to up there game by another level.

As a child I grew up supporting Manchester United, probably because of the heavy family influence as well as the fact that I was bought the kit with Yorke’s name on the back.

Zinedine Zidane - An influence

Apart from playing football at the minute, what other activities do you partake in?

I’m currently studying at North Carolina Wesleyan College and I am looking to graduate in 4 years time with a degree in Sports Exercise Science. This is with the view to become football coach or a phyisotherapist. I don’t see myself working in a different field, mainly because football is a big part of my life and the fact that the opportunities in this country are endless.

How important a role did your family play in the position you find yourself in today?

My family are the main reason I’m in the America today. Mainly because they have brought me up with life skills that have allowed me to adapt to a totally new culture and new environment. They know that coming here and having the opportunity to study abroad as well as the incredible opportunity of playing college “soccer” is something that not many people have.

How would you describe your relationship with Islam and it’s role in your success so far?

Growing up in an area which is heavily influenced by Western Culture has not been easy, in terms of my relationship with Islam. Having predominately white friends who all enjoy partying and drinking never helped me. But I have always stuck to my beliefs and followed the laws of my religion. My mother who is a very religious person, always taught me about my religion and encouraged me to learn more about Islam. It has been in a part of my life since I was very young so I have always thanked Allah for my opportunities.

Thankful to Allah for all the opporunities received

What dreams and aspirations do you have for the future, where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

My dream has always been to play football at the highest level possible. If that means I’m playing in the MLS, I’d be happy. But coaching has been something that I have enjoyed as well, and a career in that field would be exciting.

What motivates you to be the person you are and want to become?

I want to make my family proud, I have always dwelled upon what people think and when you let people down it can really affect you. I want to show them that the faith that they have shown in me is appreciated and that it has spurred me on to work harder. My uncles are both men who have built a career for themselves and are now providing for their families, in a few years time, that’s what I hope to be doing as well.

Can you give a brief description of your best performance and result.

Wow. Well I remember my best game being a National Cup game for my high school. I went to an all boys school called Sandbach School, and we were playing against Thomas Telford (the holders) in the quarter finals. The semi finals were being held at Molineux Stadium. I was around 16 at the time and it was my first night game. Under the lights we kicked off at around 7pm. A high intensity game which saw 3 goals in the first half, saw both teams battling for the ball as well as showing composure knocking the ball around. I was playing at centre back during this match and we had just scored to take the lead. 3-2 up with 2 minutes to go, they opposition place the ball on the centre circle, shoot from halfway and lob the keeper who was too busy celebrating the goal we had just scored. The game goes to penalties at 4-4. I bury my penalty into the bottom left corner, beating the keeper by inches. We eventually lose the shootout 5-4. But we were unlucky to lose because every player (except the keeper), played their hearts out.

Wolves – Molineux Stadium

Describe what goes on in the life of a young Muslim aspiring footballer during an average week.

Since moving to this country I have never had so little time on my hands. I attend lectures usually twice a day, Monday to Friday. Then in most of my free time I am in the library completing assignments and essays. But we train twice a day, five days a week. A team run at 6.30am then we train after classes/lectures at around 4.30pm. The only Mosque in this area is a 25 minute drive, so I finish class around 12.30 on a Friday and catch a ride with some African Muslim friends to the Mosque.

We play two games a week, on a Wednesday and usually on a Saturday. Usually we play our away games on a Wednesday so that all of the students on campus are free to watch the team on the weekend.

Where are you currently playing, and how did you come to be a part of this side?

I am currently playing at a university North Carolina, US. I had a friend who attended the same college, and we were speaking one day and I was telling him that I always wanted to go the States to play football but didn’t know how to go about it. He then gave me the Coach’s number, and before I knew it I was officially applying to the university. Initially it seemed like a lot of work to apply and obtain a visa but after all the paperwork was done, it started to sink in that I was actually going to move abroad to play football.

Zach’s current North Carolinan team

Can you describe your game, what do you look for and is there a particular player you look to emulate?

I see myself as an old school centre half that never backs out of a challenge or header. I am very extroverted on the field which has been part of my game since I first started. That is something that has always made me an attraction to coaches when watching the way I play. I believe that I read the game well and organise players in front of me. I try to emulate the way Rio Ferdinand and Jaap Stam used to play. I love the way Ferdinand is so composed on the ball, he wouldn’t always looks to play the ball out of defence when he has possesion which is something that I admire. Jaap Stam was the sort of player that wouldn’t take any prisoners, he’d have eyes for the ball but would always take the man as well. He always used to be on the border of Assertive and Aggressive which is how the game should be played.

Jaap Stam - Manchester United's stalwart defender

As a British Muslim and all the stereo-types that go along with it, growing up what was it like for you?

As I said before I have always grew up in a white community so I have always stood out. I have always had a problem with racist remarks throughout my life in school. Whether it be on the field or in the classroom. When I first heard people call me “names” it came as a shock but I grew up ignoring it. When it was said on the pitch it made me play even harder and I knew that I’d get my chance to hit back, whether it be a 50/50 ball and me just going into the tackle hard or my team winning the game. But my first experience of being persecuted was when I first arrived in the US earlier this year. I was made to sit in customs for 2 and a half hours to then be asked questions about my trips to Dubai and India (both were for holidays). I was asked whether I had ever had military training, for them to search all 4 of my suitcases, letting me re-pack them all infront them. This was what I feared the most when entering the country, how will a Muslim with a second name of Shaikh be perceived?

When were your training sessions as a youngster and which teams did you play for?  Is there a specific routine and diet you have pre-match?

The first team that I played for was the schools team at the age of 15. Playing competitive football for the first time, with my friends, at different schools across the North West was what I wanted to be doing. Through friends I then started to play in local teams, I was playing 2 games a weekend and loved every minute of it. We would train once a week on a miserable Thursday night on an astroturf and would always do shooting drills, then we’d end the session with a practice match which always managed to turn feisty. The next season I was asked to train with the Sandbach United senior team. I was 16 at the time and was amazed that I was playing with adults, the game was a lot quicker and much more physical but after a few weeks I had adjusted to the more intense game. I then decided to play for this team that season, I was also instilled as the school senior captain. During that year I was playing 3 games a weekend. On Saturday morning I’d play for school, then I’d rush for my Sandbach United game and on the Sunday I’d still be playing age restricted football.

I knew that I couldn’t play 3 games a weekend for long, mainly because my mum was warning me that I’ll burn myself out and cause my body harm. So I eventually stopped playing for the senior team around the halfway point in the season. But I knew that I when I was 17 I wanted to be playing adult football rather than age restricted football so I signed for a team called Stone Dominoes in Stoke. These were a Semi-Pro team who were known around the area for their style of play and commitment to win games. This was when I started to get into the sport, I was playing at a good level, with players who were all 6/7 older than me and I was still holding my own. Through school I represented the Cheshire U18 team on two occasions, but because of injury missed the other games that season.

Still searching for a team at a higher level I had a trial with the Nantwich Town Youth team. I made it the 2nd stage of the trials before picking up an injury in a tackle. Till this day I believe that injury ruined my chances of becoming a professional footballer in the UK because you always hear of players who have played in the UniBond league moving up the ranks and making it to the football league.

What advice would you give to a young sports enthusiast who dreams of becoming a professional player?

I think the key is to be determined and work hard on your weaknesses. You should spend time outside of training and matches, practising your weaknesses, whether it be working on your touch with your left foot by kicking a ball against a wall or running 30 minutes every night to get yourself match fit. Be determined to out play every single player on the field when you are playing. Not necessarily dribbling through the whole team but winning every tackle, every header or complete more than 90% of your passes. Being on your game when it really matters will make your dreams come true because people will start to recognise your game and the opportunities will arrive in the future. You always have to stay positive, if you don’t have the best game you’ve played you should work on things that you think went wrong, don’t be afraid of asking your coach or team mates on how they think you played. At the end of the day you use that information to make yourself a better player.

Why do you feel there is such a lack of British Muslim talent in mainstream sport, despite the growing Muslim population?

It is a mystery how there isn’t a larger amount of British Muslim in mainstream sport. I haven’t met many Muslim parents that are keen on there child going into the field of sport, but you can find the right balance of sport and education. If a talented sportsman/woman wants to play sport professionally they should be supported by their friends and family. I have played with and against many talented British Muslims but I don’t understand how they haven’t made it onto the big stage. Inshallah in the next 5 years we’ll have some talented Birtish Muslims in the Football League.

Do you feel there are any barriers preventing the progress of British Muslims or do you feel that everyone is treated equally?

From past experiences I believe that everyone is treated equally because I was given the same, if not better chances to play at a high level. Possibly the players who have the chance to become professional athletes have the wrong attitude towards the sport they play, and they believe that they have should special treatment just because of their background. Its difficult to say because I’ve never been affected by any barriers.

I think that with the emergence of more Muslim footballers in the bigger leagues around the world that may change youngsters views and hopefully allow them to see that with hard work and commitment it is possible to make it into the bigger leagues around the world.

Zach Shaikh – A futre star in the making.

Sporty Muslimah is very grateful to Zach for his time, I wish him all the success in his quest to be the best he can.  Leave Zach a message of support below and follow him @ZizziShaikh. Maybe in a few years time we’ll be hearing this name and seeing the name on the back of his supporters shirts.  Remember where you read about him first!


One response to “A Star in the Making

  1. Pingback: Zach Shaikh and his footballing ambitions « DesiBallers

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