Easah Suliman: ‘If I can be a role model to get others involved in football then it’s a real achievement.’ Photograph: Andrew Couldridge/Action Images
Even at the tender age of 17, Easah Suliman is already used to all the attention. The Aston Villa central defender has just returned from the Under-17 World Cup in South America having played every minute as England went home with only one point from their three group stage matches.
“It’s not really normal for someone my age to be doing these kind of articles, ” Suliman acknowledges. “But I think it’s quite important to show that being Asian is not going to stop me, whereas in the past it might have done. I’m not too sure if that’s true or not. But if I can be a role model to get others involved in football then it’s a real achievement.”
Two years ago the teenager from Moseley in Birmingham became the first player with Pakistani heritage to captain an England team and he signed his first professional contract in January amid reported interest from Bayern Munich and Arsenal. Already well over 6ft, he was an unused substitute in August for Villa’s Capital One cup match against Notts County and was regularly training with the first-team squad until Tim Sherwood’s recent departure.
Along with Liverpool’s Yan Dhanda, a 16-year-old who was signed for around £250, 000 from West Bromwich Albion in 2013, Suliman is rated as the next great hope of Britain’s Asian community – estimated to make up more than 5% of England’s population. However, only nine out of 3, 000 professional footballers in the top four divisions can claim south Asian heritage and the Football Association’s Asian inclusion in football programme, which launched in May, is hoping to address that imbalance.
“It’s been delayed a few times but the fact they have launched it is a good thing, ” says Baljit Rihal, who set up the Asian Football Awards in 2012 but has decided to make an event he runs largely out of his own pocket a biennial affair. “There has been a noticeable increase in terms of young players in academies. Now I think we’re just waiting for that star player.
“It makes it difficult when you have the same faces every year, ” he adds. “In an ideal world in order to measure our success we should not have to do the awards.”
Once again, the Swansea City and Wales defender Neil Taylor is expected to compete with the Wolverhampton Wanderers captain, Danny Batth, for the main prize, while West Brom’s Adil Nabi, who has been playing for Roberto Carlos on loan at the Indian Super League side Delhi Dynamos, is the other nominee. The night will also recognise the role Asians play at all levels of the game, including coaches, non-league players, grassroots and the Woman in Football award.
Neil Taylor of Swansea is expected to vie with Wolves’ Danny Batth for the main prize at the Asian Football Awards. Photograph: Huw Evans/Rex Shutterstock