Fulham sign Singapore teen on two-year scholarship
Ben Davis' father hopes 16-year-old can one day play in the English Premiership
Former Singapore Sports School footballer Ben Davis has joined English Championship club Fulham on a two-year scholarship.
The 16-year-old, who can play as an attacking midfielder or striker, is the first Singaporean to sign for an English outfit since national defender Daniel Bennett played for third-tier Wrexham in 2003.
Ben has represented Singapore at the Under-13, U-14, and U-16 levels, and is set to play for the Singapore U-18s at the AFF U-18 Championships in September, and the AFC U-19 Championships qualifiers a month later.
Ben's father, Harvey Davis, who runs the JSSL Arsenal Soccer School in Singapore, said: "As a father, 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 FC have one of the best academies in England and their players go on to represent top English clubs.
"We are proud that there is a chance for Singapore to possibly see its first player in the English Premier League."
Fulham are in the second tier of English football, but were in the Premier League for 13 seasons before they were relegated in 2014.
Their academy has a Category One status - the highest grade possible in England. There are only 24 of such academies.
Ben will be part of a Fulham team that compete in the U-18 Premier League, along with other London clubs such as Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham.
The Cottagers announced the Singaporean youngster as one of 10 new scholars on their website last week.
The only other non-British player is Swiss youngster Elias Frei, from St Gallen.
Said Fulham academy director Huw Jennings: "We're delighted with the class of 2017, we were very encouraged by the profile of the players...
"Ben Davis is the first scholar to sign from Singapore, there is an interesting cohort this year and we will see."
Ben, who was born in Phuket, Thailand, on Nov 24, 2000, has made steady progress over the years.
After gaining Singapore citizenship in September 2009, he played for the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) Junior Centre of Excellence team from 2010 to 2012.
From 2013 to 2015, he played for the Singapore Sports School and National Football Academy.
In 2015, Ben was one of six nominees for the The New Paper-Dollah Kassim Award.
Last year, he moved to England to study at the Harrow High School, a sports college in London.
After TNP broke the news online yesterday, many readers raised the issue of national service (NS) and whether it would affect Ben's development.
Olympic swim champion Joseph Schooling was the first Singaporean athlete to be granted a long-term deferment from NS in 2013 "based on known conditions" - months before he was due to enlist in October that year - to train for last year's Rio Games.
Then, Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen had said that NS deferment "may be granted in exceptional circumstances to individual sportsmen, who are assessed to be potential medal winners at international competitions like the Olympic Games and bring national pride for the country".
However, for athletes in team sports, the issue of NS deferment is not so straightforward.
TNP understands that Harvey has been updating the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth on Ben's progress.
It is also understood that FAS technical director Michel Sablon has supported NS deferment for the youngster.
"We have been engaging with various authorities over his national service deferment," said Harvey.