A FEW years ago, disabled football coach Sohail Abbas got media attention and praise from some of football’s elite for being one of the first wheelchair coaches in the world.

He was able to spread awareness of his disability and received recognition from Sir Alex Ferguson, Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho.

Keighley-born Abbas, who manages amateur Bradford side Route One Rovers and Silsden’s Under-23s, gained the opportunity to first speak to Mourinho courtesy of former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech.

He said: “Jose Mourinho is one of the greatest managers to ever manage in football, and I met him through Petr Cech.

“Someone got me in touch with Petr and he was supportive. He was at Chelsea at the time and said he had mentioned me to Jose, who invited me to training. They had won the league that year and being around Jose, he is just a tactical genius.”

Abbas also spoke about his friendship with Manchester United star Pogba and receiving recognition from their legendary former manager Ferguson.

He said: “Paul is one of my closest friends outside of football, to even have people like that is through networking and you meet people who open up a lot of doors for you, and I am grateful.

“Getting a letter off of Sir Alex Ferguson was a big thing for me, for him to take time out of his day to take notice of me, that was my greatest achievement.

“Even if I have down days where I wonder if I can really do this, I look back at that letter and it’s great motivation for me to push on.”

Fast forward to 2021, and Abbas, 28, is continuing to pursue his passion, ignoring the crazy media attention that once circled him and is focusing on improving his skills, now with Silsden’s Under-23s.

He and Connor Thompson moved from being coaches to joint-managers last week after former boss Jacob Mistry left to become a first-team coach at Barnoldswick Town.

The trio have helped solidify Silsden as one of the best sides in the West Riding County FA Development League.

Abbas did once play football with his friends at Sunday League level, but was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy when he was 13.

This ended his playing career, so he turned his attention to coaching.

Speaking about coaching with a disability, Abbas said: “The main barrier is the fact that you can’t demonstrate what you want to do.

“What I found in the early days was that, with the youngsters, you need to demonstrate a lot more and I couldn’t, so I found that a lot more difficult.

“If you can’t play the game, how are you meant to coach the game?

“The other barrier was, when I sat my coaching courses, a lot of the older people there kind of looked at me and one of them joked, saying, ‘is this a hobby?’, but I told him I saw it as a career path.

“He looked at me in a wheelchair and I could see from his face he was wondering how it would work.”

Abbas first came across the Silsden Under-23s opportunity by helping to recruit players for the first team, but soon found himself involved in a new youth set-up.

He said: “We built it from scratch. I think we had about four or five regulars and then kind of built everything around it. We’ve got a really good squad now and a few players have made the first team.

“Jacob was spot on tactically and I’m good with the recruitment side, I know how to build a team. We always had a similar understanding of the style we wanted to play too.”

At grassroots level, before joining Yorkshire Amateur League Supreme Division side Route One, Abbas was at FC Sporting Keighley.

They play in the Craven League Premier Division, and he managed to steer them away from relegation to fourth in the table, before departing for pastures new.

Abbas explained: “Route One came about and offered me the chance to work at a higher level, and you’ve got to take it.

“They felt right, they have got plans to move on to semi-pro soon and it is just the perfect set-up.

“I’ve only had a few games because of the pandemic, but it’s a good level and I’ve always wanted to take the step up gradually.”

Abbas hopes he can act as an inspiration for young, disabled athletes or coaches who may doubt their future in the game, with his incredible journey showing nothing is impossible.