Chelsea’s Asian Star 2019 initiative proved a huge success as 200 young Asian players descended on Stamford Bridge to take part in the annual event.
Having been staged at Stamford Bridge for the first time in 2017, following eight years at our Cobham training ground, the pioneering initiative returned to SW6 for the third successive year with hundreds of parents watching from the stands as the players performed on the hallowed turf.
The young people took part in a day of activities designed to increase Asian participation in all levels of the game. The winners in each age group are invited to join the Chelsea Foundation's Football Development Centres and for the second successive year girls were also invited to take part in the day.
Participants competing in age groups ranging from under-9s to under-12s were led by Chelsea Foundation coaches and judged on a series of matches and tests specifically designed and used by the Chelsea Academy to examine speed, skill and ability.
Shaan Virk, Rayhan Islam, Dylan Bhatia and Ayus Gurung were crowned champions in the under-12, under-11, under-10 and under-9 categories respectively, while under-12 girls’ player Sabina Peterson Rajalingam was named the best female player on the day.
Prizes were presented by former Chelsea striker Tore Andre Flo and 2017 Asian Star winner Jai Sharma, who is now part of the Nottingham Forest Academy.
Under-12 winner Shaan Virk said: ‘I came before and I didn’t win so to win today is a great feeling. The games are the best part as it gave me a chance to play my best.’
Under-11 winner Rayhan Islam said: ‘My dad heard about Asian Star from a family friend, they mentioned it and said your son is really good and should sign up for it so we did.
‘I feel speechless! I think I had the motivation and wanted it more than others and I’m really looking forward to attending the Football Development Centre because from today the Chelsea coaches are really good.’
Under-10 winner Dylan Bhatia said: ‘My dad saw something on the internet and so we decided to come and I’ve ended up winning.
‘It’s been a lot of fun, a great experience and I’ve met a lot of people along the way. At first I was just here for fun to enjoy it but I felt I played really well and then I won!’
Under-9 winner Ayus Gurung said: ‘It was very good to win the competition. I learnt a lot about positional play and scored some good goals.’
In 2018 girls were invited to take part for the first time and this was replicated today with all the female players on show impressing at Stamford Bridge.
It was Sabina Peterson Rajalingam who impressed the coaches the most and she was delighted to be crowned overall girls’ winner.
She said: ‘I’ve always loved playing football and today was just another opportunity for me to play with other people and with boys too as it is more challenging and different.
‘Today has been really good, I’ve loved it and it has been really enjoyable. I feel very proud of myself because I really didn’t expect to win it.’
There were further prizes awarded for players who impressed the Foundation coaches. Also in attendance, to assist our coaches, were volunteers from St Mary’s University.
Club ambassador Flo said: ‘I have been here a few times and seeing the smiles on the faces of the girls and boys playing just makes me really happy. It is such a special experience to play out here at Stamford Bridge and must be a dream come true.
'As a club it is a duty to look after everyone in the community and the Chelsea Foundation is doing a great job with that. Working at the club I get to see a lot of the work being done and it is really making a difference to the lives of people.
‘The main thing is about having fun but this event is growing every year and continuing to provide opportunities for young players. It is great the club is doing this and you can see what a success it is.
‘It is important to include everyone in football and I am delighted to be involved with a club where opportunities are there for everyone.’
Asian Star is the first scheme of its kind undertaken by a professional football club. It is designed to give a much-needed boost to Asian participation at all levels of the game.