We spoke to the Queen Mary student playing international football for Pakistan

Imran Kayani made his debut against Saudi Arabia in the World Cup Qualifiers last November


While most students in their final year are struggling as larger workloads and exams loom, Imran Kayani, a computer science student at Queen Mary, has added international football to his timetable.

Imran plays for semi-professional Whitehawk F.C. and hopes to continue with football after he graduates.

We asked him about his career, the call-up for Pakistan, and how he balances student life with the sport. 

Academic and sporting success has usually gone hand in hand for Imran.

“I’ve always been hardworking in both aspects – from football, I’ve learned discipline and I think that’s built in me the ability to do well in my education. I’ve also always been unbelievably competitive, which I think translates into a pursuit of success in whatever I put my efforts towards.”

Imran has been balancing sport and studies for some time – he had both a footballing and academic scholarship for Sixth Form and achieved straight As in both A-Levels and GCSEs, all whilst working towards a career in the sport.

He explains: “I think I’ve got used to it from doing the same thing in primary and secondary school, I’m almost on autopilot – but I’ve been disciplined and driven to just put my head down when I need.

“There have definitely been challenges, it’s been draining, and you can sometimes get back at one o’clock in the morning after training or a game, but it’s just about having that drive and willpower to keep grinding.”

In November, Imran got the call to play for Pakistan in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

“It was surreal – within two days of the message I was flying out.”

Imran explained the chaos he encountered the day before his departure: “I had a full day of uni and then a match, so I didn’t get back until after midnight, I was scrambling trying to pack everything last minute! I think I only managed two hours of sleep because I had to be up early for the flight, I probably struggled to sleep from the excitement, too.”

“It didn’t feel real until I had landed in Pakistan and met my teammates and the manager,” he said on arriving to the country.

“It didn’t feel real until I had landed in Pakistan and met my teammates and the manager,” he said on arriving to the country.

Imran also elaborated on other surreal details of the experience, including tight security.

He said: “We were getting transported to games by security with guns, it was crazy… The experience of playing in a stadium like that – it was so loud and I think I enjoyed that.

“I also remember seeing Mancini and Yaya Toure in the dugout to my left, all figures I’ve looked up to as a kid. Representing your country and putting on that shirt is a dream come true, I just wanted to give my absolute 110%, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

Imran seemed surprised at how suddenly things had changed for him.

“I was watching Saudi Arabia play Argentina on TV, and a year later I was playing against them in the World Cup qualifiers.”

Despite his time away, Queen Mary was quite forgiving due to his unique circumstances.

Imran explained: “I was away for almost three weeks, but my module organisers were happy for my achievement and really understanding – I did get some ECs (extenuating circumstances) and they gave me some time to catch up on my work.

“Throughout my whole time at uni, I’ve missed a few lectures, but I’ve always ensured I’m catching up, staying disciplined, and keeping on top of my work. This summer I’ll graduate, and with my degree as a backup, I’m going to keep pushing on with football and try and get to the highest level that I can.”

Although Imran’s time on his degree is nearly finished and he is definitely “looking forward to focusing on football more”, we asked his advice for anyone with other commitments studying at uni.

He said: “Have the best work ethic out of anyone if you have dreams you want to achieve.”

“When you’re balancing two full-time schedules, you have to be pretty meticulous with your organisation.

“In my field, you have to sacrifice things like going out, partying late at night, or drinking in order to have a chance of being successful.”

Imran told us to “control the controllables” – in his case, nutrition, doing extra training and sleeping well – “and the rest will fall into place.”

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