17-year-old Benjamin Davis broke into the media storm when he became the first Singaporean to sign a professional contract with Fulham youth team.
Davis played football from 2013 to 2015 with the Singapore sports school where he studied. He also played at JSSL Singapore, a youth football academy owned by his father.
THE JSSL & FULHAM CONNECTION
The collaboration between JSSL and Fulham has led to a reciprocal relationship between the two sides.
JSSL in 2017 had fully sponsored Fulham FC’s Under-15s team to play in a tournament organised by JSSL in Singapore. In the same year, Davis joined Fulham FC Academy after impressing Fulham in a trial backed by JSSL’s scholarship.
In 2018, Fulham FC offered professional contracts to the academy graduates, including Davis, where they will play for the Under-18 and Under-23 junior teams.
EXCEPTIONAL TALENT OR JUST ‘GOOD ENOUGH’?
Davis represented Singapore at the youth level, and earlier this year was called up to the senior team but did not play. This begets the question why the Singapore team coach, V. Sundramoorthy, has yet to field the young player. If Davis is good enough for Fulham, surely he can be an asset to Singapore’s international meets? Even the recent friendly match against Maldives saw Davis at the bench for the entirety of the game.
In contrast, Irfan Fandi, the son of Singapore’s footballing legend, Fandi Ahmad, represented Singapore in the same senior team with 12 appearances. He played in Europe during his youth career, rejecting a two-year contract from a top-tier Chilean club to return to Singapore to complete his National Service. Irfan has since ORD-ed and is set to attend football trials with established clubs in Europe.
If compared to Irfan’s track record, Davis’ journey so far feels lacklustre. One then may ask, is Ben Davis an example of exceptional talent, or is he just ‘good enough’? If Irfan can complete national service before continuing his craft in Europe, why can’t Davis do the same?
According to Siang Yee, a former Straits Times sports journalist:
MINDEF has so far been consistent in ascertaining what is exceptional talent and what is ‘good enough’. Lowering the standards to allow leeway for deferment devalues the principles and sanctity of NS.
BEN DAVIS CITIZENSHIP AN ISSUE WITH UK SPORTS REGULATION
To qualify for a work permit in the United Kingdom (UK), non-European football players will need to have played a number of international matches in the previous two years for a country in the Top 50 ranking.
Singapore is currently ranked no. 173 as of 2017, putting talented Singaporean footballers aspiring to play in the English Premier League (EPL) at a significant disadvantage.
TO RENOUNCE CITIZENSHIP OR NOT?
Davis was born in Thailand, to a father who’s a British national and mother who is a Thai citizen. He took up citizenship in Singapore in 2009 although still retaining his UK passport, which allowed Davis to accept Fulham’s offer.
If by choosing to be a Singaporean, his chances of qualifying for the work permit required to play football professionally in the UK will be virtually eliminated. He will also have to complete his NS.
If Davis do not renounce his UK citizenship, his dreams to play in the EPL will be without bureaucratic complications.
Davis’ father has hinted at the possibility of his son forgoing his Singapore citizenship to ensure his son’s future is not disrupted and that he can continue plying his trade in the EPL.
According to Davis Senior on his son, “He’s focused on his football. His willingness is to come back and play for Singapore. But when you have authorities who aren’t willing to give you the support you need, that starts to have an effect.”
Davis will still have to make his ultimate choice when he turns 18 on November 24th this year, on whether he will forgo his UK passport.
Singaporeans will know soon where Davis allegiance lies.
APPEAL WILL BE AN UPHILL BATTLE
It is not known for now if the Davis family will be appealing against the deferment.
MINDEF has said that if Davis appeals without any new facts presented, the rejection would be upheld.
Senior Minister Of State for Defence Heng Chee How said, “We have conveyed the decision with regards to the earlier application, and all applications, all appeals will have got to be based on facts, and we’ll have to evaluate the facts, and if the facts are no different then our position will be consistent,” he said.
Only three athletes – Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen and Maximilian Soh – have met the deferment criteria in the past 15 years. All three had represented Singapore in international competitions and had won medals, both at the youth level and later on with the senior national team.