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Chopra Feature
 First appeared in "The Guardian"  08.09.01

Young, gifted and Asian 

Michael Chopra, 17, is set to become the Premiership's first home-grown British Asian star - and his debut will be a cultural landmark for a new generation of fans.

As a footballer, Michael Chopra has the world at his feet. The 17-year-old scores goals for fun, has been dubbed the new Michael Owen and has already grabbed the winner for England at Wembley. 

Now the half-Indian, half-English striker with a Geordie accent is set to become the first home-grown player from an Asian background to play in the Premiership. Football experts believe he is destined for great things. 

He has set soccer's rumour mill buzzing with a string of goal-studded performances for Newcastle United and England's youth sides. England legend Peter Beardsley, his coach at the club, reckons he is potentially a better player than his hero, Alan Shearer, who scored 30 times for England. Premiership defences will soon have to cope with the skill of a player who regularly scores hat-tricks and has notched up 12 goals in 23 appearances for English schoolboy sides 

Chopra's debut for Newcastle's first team will be a significant moment in the history of multicultural Britain. Despite the huge numbers of Asian youngsters who play the game, none has ever made it as a professional footballer. Now the son of an Indian newsagent in Gateshead is poised to make the sort of breakthrough on behalf of British Asians that Cyrille Regis and Viv Anderson did for British-born black people a generation ago. 

"There's pressure on me to become a really good footballer and extra pressure from family, friends and the Asian community for me to be the first Asian player to break through,"' said Chopra. 

His ambitions are bold: to win the Premiership with the club he has supported since his father took him to St James's Park as a six-year-old, and to lift the World Cup while wearing the three lions of England on his shirt. 

Les Reed, the Football Association's director of technical development, believes he could do both. "He's a natural goalscorer with, great technique, superb balance and two good feet, and he's lethal in the six-yard box. The way he dribbles the ball and gets behind defenders reminds me of Michael Owen." 

Chopra is represented by SFX, the agency that looks after Owen, Shearer and David Beckham. If he fulfils expectations, the money he already earns from wearing Adidas clothes will seem small change beside lucrative marketing and sponsorship deals. 

The Geordie teenager is the brightest prospect among a number of up-and-coming British Asian players. At West Ham, strapping centre-half Anwar Uddin is making a name for himself in the reserve team and disproving the notion that Asians are too weak to make the grade. At Leeds United, the top scorer for the under-19 team last season was Pudsey-born left-winger Harpal Singh, whose parents came here from India in the Seventies. 

'Asian kids love football yet there's no Asian star they can idolise, watch on television or have as the name on the back of their shirt,' said Singh, 19. 'Whoever is the first home-grown Asian to make it will be massive.' 

There are 70 British Asian youngsters aged 14 and above attached to the academies that league clubs use to nurture their stars of the future. Two of them, Zesh Rehman of Fulham and Kalam Mooniariuk of Manchester United, have already played alongside Chopra for the England under-18s. 

But some believe Asian players are not getting a fair chance. 'It's encouraging that there are 70 at academies, but the fact that there are very few who get a contract when they turn 16 is a concern,' said Piara Power of Kick Racism Out Of Football. 'That's partly because football is competitive, but also because some hard-bitten, old-style coaches still have stereotypical attitudes about Asians, like they're not physically suited to the rough and tumble of the British game.' 

Denis Campbell

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Page last updated 24 June, 2009