Kelvin Leong reckons Benjamin Davis may have to make the hard decision to trade Singapore for Thailand in order to continue his football dreams.
Singaporeans cheered when news broke last week of youngster Benjamin Davis signing a professional contract with English club Fulham FC. The Cottagers will be playing in the English Premier League (EPL) next season after gaining promotion and the thought of a Singaporean in an EPL game whetted the appetite of local fans.
But just a day later, Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said Davis’ request for deferment of National Service was rejected because it failed to meet its criteria, and that dreamy bubble had burst even before it began.
While Singaporeans are up in arms over it, the more worrying issue on hand is if the talented youngster decides to take his boots across to regional rivals Thailand, for whom he is eligible to play for. Davis was born in Thailand to a Thai mother and British father, before taking up Singapore citizenship in 2009, making him eligible to play for one of the three countries under FIFA’s regulations.
He is due for enlistment as early as December this year, and if the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) deferment appeal does not bear fruit, then the Davis family will have a big decision to make.
Renouncing citizenship is a possibility – although Singapore law will come into play – and Thai football authorities have already cast their eye on offering Davis an escape route to continue his dreams.
“The Thailand National Teams are constantly and continuously scouting for players locally and overseas who are eligible under the FIFA rules to represent their association or Thailand. So we will be open about such opportunity given to these players (including Ben) provided that he’s able to impress the coaches over here in Thailand. Having seen him played, he will definitely be an asset,” said Benjamin Tan, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Thai League and Director of Club Licensing.
“If Ben’s family are exploring options to keep his football dream alive, I will be more than happy to facilitate discussions and take this forward.”
Should Davis eventually choose to take the Thai route and keep his career alive, it will definitely be seen as a kick in the teeth for Singapore football, especially since Davis can potentially become the first Southeast Asian player to make an EPL breakthrough. After all, the former Singapore Sports School student had been nurtured by the FAS since he was a boy, through its Junior Centre of Excellence and National Football Academy.
Former Singapore rugby national team player Ridzal Saat hopes the authorities will find a solution that benefits the youngster and give Singapore football a much-needed shot in the arm.
“To be offered to play professional sport in what is arguably one of the best professionally football leagues in the world is an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. Especially for someone from Southeast Asia, let alone Singapore,” Ridzal explained.
“It’s a tough one beyond the NS liability and citizenship. I don’t know him nor his family but I would think they would have weighed up what’s best for him and of course for the family. I would encourage anyone who can have a crack to play and experience a top level professional environment to go.
“I think what this episodes tells us is that the world is changing and hopefully increasingly we have younger athletes having this opportunity not only in football. I hope that the conversations and discussions around this conundrum should be ones we as a sporting fraternity should continue to have with the government to see how we should not let our young athletes missed out on their opportunities at this golden age of development.
“Maybe what comes to mind is flexibility as we move forward in order to achieve the best possible sporting dreams as an individual, as a team, as a nation.”
As it stands, the Singapore football fraternity will wait with bated breath to see how the appeal for Davis’ deferment by the FAS pans out but should we lose such a talented youngster to a regional rival, it will be a hard one to take.
We came close with Hariss Harun almost joining Portuguese top-flight club Rio Ave in 2013, while the Fandi brothers are still constantly trekking across Europe to attend trials as they continue chasing that elusive dream.
And here we are with that dream already in our hands. Do we really want to let it slip or are we going to break the boundaries and find a workable solution to make it happen?
Make no mistake about it, this is no longer just Davis’ Premier League dream. It is now a nation’s football dream that is at stake.