Ex-Tampines Rovers youth player Hari McCoy to join Portugal's Rio Ave
Ex-Stags youth player Hari hopes to be the real McCoy at top-tier Portuguese side Rio Ave
Former Tampines Rovers youth player Hari McCoy is about to embark on a professional career in Europe, in the junior ranks of top-flight Portuguese side Rio Ave.
The 17-year-old British national, who has lived in Singapore since 2010, has an agreement to sign for the Primeira Liga side when he turns 18 in September. He cannot play in competitive fixtures until then.
The midfielder has been training with Rio Ave's Under-19s since last July, but returned to Singapore last month due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Rio Ave were fifth in the league before it was suspended last month due to Covid-19 control measures.
They are coached by Carlos Carvalhal, who managed Swansea City in the English Premier League in 2017/18, as well as Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas.
Their youth system has groomed the likes of ex-Real Madrid fullback Fabio Coentrao and Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson.
Last season, Rio Ave's U-19s finished fifth in the North group of Portugal's Campeonato Nacional de Juniores.
Table-toppers Porto went on to win the competition.
Their U-23s, meanwhile, finished top of Liga Revelacao during the regular season, but eventually finished third after a play-off among the top six teams.
Rio Ave's latest youth product Hari has several links to Singapore.
His parents were both born here and his paternal grandfather was formerly a British navy officer stationed in Singapore. The McCoys returned to Singapore from England in 2010.
Hari, who can play on both wings and as a No. 10, started out at private football academy JSSL Singapore, before joining Tampines' U-19s when he was 15.
He counts current Stags coach Gavin Lee as the most important coaching influence of his fledgling career. Lee coached Hari from 2013-2018, both at JSSL and Tampines.
Hari told The New Paper: "I get along very well with Gavin, he's been my coach from a very young age... and he's helped me improve massively.
"He is the one who got me into Tampines and helped me start this journey of becoming a professional football player...
"I feel like he's been the most influential coach for me. He's been able to understand the way I play, from the Under-10s all the way up..."
Despite Hari being the youngest player in his U-19 team and one of the the most junior in the Centre of Excellence Under-19 League, Lee said "he was good enough" to play above his age group.
"Hari came through the JSSL ranks and I saw him good enough for the Tampines U-19s then," said Lee.
"As the cliched saying goes, if you are good enough, you're old enough...
"Hari is (someone) that can play between lines and produce solutions that many do not see.
"He is very brave to take defenders on, capable of solutions to come out of tight spaces and is capable of very explosive actions in the final third."
Lee did not want to be drawn into comparisons with other young players he has coached or making any assessments on Hari's chances of making it in Portugal.
But he did highlight that seven of Hari's JSSL teammates have had stints overseas, including Felix Goddard at Manchester City and Denis Parkinson at Porto.
Said Lee: "A big difference is access to Europe or (clubs) outside the country. I think Hari and Co have got easier access out there...
"When they are young, Singaporean boys have the same amount of desire to become the heroes they idolise. There are players with as good ability (as the foreign boys)."
When asked what changes when budding Singaporean players move beyond their teenage years, Lee replied: "Reality. The foreign boys are always more likely to move back... when they are older.
"So their passports are not going to be an issue."
Hari's father Dave disagreed, saying a football education in Singapore can prepare you for a crack at Europe, regardless of the national crest on your passport.
The 54-year-old consultant, whose younger son Max plays for Tampines' youth team, said: "I believe anyone from Singapore, whether you got a passport that says Singapore or wherever else, you can make it.
"I think a lot of people need to see that because a lot of people think Singapore is a (footballing) backwater and no one is going to make it from there.
"But you can make it, because you've got the clubs, you've got the facilities and you've got the coaches...
"I've managed to get an awful lot of contacts in the football world. I'm happy to help people get trials at various places, point them in the right direction.
"I'm not looking to be an agent, I just want to help out. There's plenty of room at the top for everyone, if you are good enough."
Other British players with Singapore connections
Rio Ave-bound Hari McCoy had his football education in Singapore with Tampines Rovers' youth team. The New Paper looks at some other Britons with Singapore connections who are plying their trade in Europe.
The Sunderland midfielder cum right-back traces his Singaporean roots to his late grandfather Lim Cheng Siong, the younger brother of former Cabinet minister Lim Kim San.
Black Cats legend and former England striker Kevin Phillips last month said that O'Nien has been Sunderland's Player of the Season.
The 25-year-old has also become a bit of a star off the pitch, featuring heavily in the acclaimed Netflix documentary Sunderland 'Til I Die.
He is eligible to play for the Lions via his grandfather but would require a Singapore passport to do so.
O'Nien told TNP last January that despite his interest in playing for the Lions, it might be too "complicated" considering he would have to give up his British citizenship and career in the English third tier to move here.
The 23-year-old defender plies his trade one rung lower in the English fourth tier with table-toppers Crewe Alexandra.
But he might not be there for much longer, having featured in several League Two Teams of the Season.
Ng has been linked to big Championship sides such as Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Birmingham City.
Pending citizenship, he is also eligible for the Lions via his late grandfather, James, who was born in Singapore but later settled in Liverpool.
He told TNP last January that he would consider giving up his British passport and representing the Lions later in his career.
The 19-year-old former Singapore youth player, who plays for Fulham's youth team, pledged his international future to Thailand last October. He defaulted on his national service commitments in February last year.