ASIAN STAR A BIG HIT
Nearly 400 children competed in Chelsea's groundbreaking search for an Asian Star this weekend at Cobham, hoping to win a year-long placement within the Chelsea FC Foundation's Elite Training Centre.
The best youngsters were selected in four age groups from Under 9s to Under 12s following close scrutiny from Chelsea Foundation coaches.
Parents watched on under sweltering conditions as their children were put through drills and tests for speed and agility before taking part in five or six-a-side games of football. The sides were guided by professional coaches.
The initiative attracted the attentions of local media and Punjab singer Jaz Dhami, a coach himself. He said: 'This year I've seen a massive progression and I'm excited to be here. There are not any other clubs which put these events on and it gives the youngsters a great platform from which to build.
'I would like to see more of it, I've been involved over the past three years and I'm surprised other clubs where there is a big Asian population haven't followed suit.'
The teams all played each other once in a tournament before a final took place between the two top sides. The winners of that meeting were awarded medals and Asian Soccer Star 2012 trophies.
Kashif Siddiqi is a professional footballer who, as well as being a Pakistani international, plays right-back for Ventura County Fusion in California. He came down to Cobham to lend a hand giving out prizes and couldn't speak highly enough of the event.
'It's a great initiative and I'm hoping a number of other clubs can now blueprint this model. What Chelsea are doing is not just great for young Asian footballers but the community as a whole,' he said.
'I've seen different kids from the various age groups shine and it's a brilliant idea. If I had something like this when I was growing up it would have eradicated a lot of the barriers I faced, so I'm very appreciative of what the club are doing.'
Asian Soccer Star 2012 winners in the four age groups were decided on their performance, test results and the Foundation coaches' analysis. In the Under 9s group Rajan Sahni stood out among all.
'I can't believe I won it,' he said. 'I'm really glad. I was really shocked when they called my name out, to beat so many people is brilliant.'
Ibrahim Rahman won the Under 11s age group and said: 'It feels really good, I can't believe I won the competition. I've had a great day, my team did quite well but the best part was when I scored three goals in one game.'
In the oldest age group, Saidul Islam Khan was victorious and was almost lost for words. 'It feels amazing to win, there are so many people here so I'm proud of myself,' he said. 'The highlight of my day was winning the whole competition.'
Meanwhile, in the Under 10s category, Keshveer Singh Lakhanpaul triumphed, and flanked by his proud parents, said: 'It's a brilliant feeling. I scored four goals in one of the matches, but it's a team game so my teammates deserve credit as well.'
Each winner was given a Chelsea shirt with Asian Star printed on the back and the number depicting their age group before being whisked away for interviews.
It marked the end of Asian Star 2012 and head of the Chelsea Foundation, Simon Taylor, said: 'It's been an absolutely fantastic day, the weather's been lovely, there's been a great atmosphere and we've seen some very talented footballers on show.
'The kids have loved it and so have the adults. This year we've engaged with the parents a lot more, there have been a few presentations which have been extremely well received so hopefully everybody involved has had a great day.'