SINGAPORE – Like many young players around the world, his dream is to play in the English Premier League (EPL).
Last Tuesday (July 11), national youth player Ben Davis took a huge step towards realising his ambition, by officially signing for English side Fulham FC on a two-year scholarship.
The 16-year-old, a former Singapore Sports School student, will now train at Fulham’s academy, which is rated among the top 24 in the country and has helped to produce the likes of Manchester United defender Chris Smalling, Celtic striker Moussa Dembele and former Tottenham Hotspur player Sean Davis.
Fulham play in the English Championship, a tier below the EPL.
The last Singaporean to play professionally in England is national defender Daniel Bennett, who turned out for Wrexham in 2003.
Ben was one of 10 players who signed a scholarship with Fulham on Tuesday, with academy directory Huw Jennings remarking: “We’re delighted with the class of 2017. We were very encouraged by the profile of the players.
“There’s a big mixture of boys who have been with us since Under-8s…others have joined us very recently…and Ben Davis is the first scholar to sign from Singapore. There is an interesting cohort this year and we will see.”
Born in Phuket, Thailand, Ben became a Singapore citizen in 2009, and has since represented the country at the youth level.
The midifielder, who previously trained at local football school JSSL Singapore, has been based in England since last year, where he is studying at Harrow High School, He managed to impress Fulham’s coaches during trials with the club, which eventually offered him the scholarship.
Ben’s father, Mr Harvey Davis, who is the managing director of JSSL Singapore, said: “I am extremely proud of my son. He is now the first Singaporean footballer to have an opportunity to play at the highest levels in England.
“Fulham have one of the best academies in England and their players go on to represent top English clubs.”
Harvey added that he is currently in contact with the various authorities, including Mr Baey Yam Keng, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) over a possible deferment of Ben’s National Service (NS).
TODAY understands that the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will lend their support to Ben’s appeal for NS deferment.
Ben is expected to return to Singapore in October to join up with the national Under-18 squad for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Under-18 Championship qualifiers.
FAS technical director Michel Sablon told TODAY that he is looking forward to seeing how far Ben would have progressed by then.
“We’re currently in contact with Ben and his father, and we’ve arranged for him to come back to participate in the AFC U-18 championship qualifiers,” said Sablon.
“I’m interested to see how he’ll perform after playing in the youth league in England. With his ability, it shouldn’t be a problem for him there.
“But I will only be able to evaluate him better after watching him play in the qualifiers, and then it’ll be much clearer what his progress and potential for the future will be like.”
While acknowledging that it was encouraging to see Ben join a club like Fulham, he warned that not all players would benefit from overseas training stints.
“Sometimes, I’m a little bit reluctant to send players to European clubs for training,” said Sablon.
“We’ve done that before but what we realised was that some of these players didn’t progress much because they were too far off the level of their peers over there.
“This made them struggle during their time there, which impacted on the amount that they learnt from the stint. So we’re now focused on improving our young players’ physical and technical abilities to better cope with the level of football overseas.
“Only when we feel that they’re properly prepared and are capable of competing with their peers will we send them overseas.”