by Faizan Lakhani
Footballer Zaiba Ishaque has signed a U21 contract at Manchester United women’s team, becoming the first British-Pakistani female footballer to continue progressing up the youth ranks at an English Women’s Super League side.
The 17-year-old defender is also among the small yet steadily growing number of British South Asians breaking through in the English women’s football pyramid.
Other British-Pakistani female footballers to recently emerge include Mariam Mahmood at West Bromwich Albion, Layla Banaras at Birmingham City, as well as Pakistan internationals Nadia Khan (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Zahmena Malik (London Seaward), and Amina Hanif (London Bees).
Ishaque began her football career young when she was noticed by one of her schoolteachers — who was also an academy coach at Burnley FC — playing football and recommended her to join the club’s youth setup.
After a while at Burnley, she went on trials at Liverpool FC where she got selected and spent two years at the Merseyside club’s academy before getting a knee injury that halted her progress for nearly a full year.
After regaining fitness, she spent three years at Manchester City. There, she showed rapid progress across the club’s U14s and U16s before making the switch to the red half of Manchester in July 2022.
At the Red Devils, Ishaque has made strides to increasingly feature in Man United women’s youth ranks and mainly plays as a fullback.
During this period, she was invited to take part in the Professional Footballers Association’s (PFA) Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS). The AIMS program under PFA began in 2021 by coach Riz Rehman — the older brother of former Pakistan international footballer Zesh Rehman — to bring together South Asian origin footballers, coaches, referees, and administrators found across English football.
Upon signing her U21 contract at Man United, Ishaque stated her aim is to become a full-time professional footballer at the highest levels of the women’s game and hopes her progress can keep inspiring more South Asian girls across England to take up opportunities to play.
While Zaiba Ishaque qualifies for the England women’s team, she has yet to be called up for the Lionesses at any age group level. She also remains eligible to play for Pakistan due to her heritage.
Sources confirmed that PFF has made initial contacts with her to find out if she would be interested in representing Pakistan at any stage. However, there are no concrete developments on this.