Singapore U-16 goalkeeper Karan set for second trial with Cardiff City
But, first, he will keep goal against HK today in AFC U-16 C'ship qualifier
In August last year, the Philippines and Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge made history when he became the first player from South-east Asia - a region fanatical about English football - to feature in the English Premier League.
Inspired by that, Singapore Under-16 custodian Veer Karan Sobti is determined to follow in his footsteps. And he may even get to do it with the same team as Etheridge - the Bluebirds.
During a training tour with the Turf City Academy in Prague, Czech Republic, earlier this year, the 1.78m Karan caught the eye of talent scouts. He was invited for a trial with the Under-18 side of the English Championship team in June.
The 15-year-old, who moved from Hong Kong to Singapore when he was three and is a Singapore citizen, impressed enough to earn a second, six-day stint with Cardiff next month.
Karan, who is an Arsenal fan but idolises Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, told The New Paper: "The professionalism there really showed me the levels and standard that I should be aiming for.
"If they (Cardiff's coaches) like what they see, then there could be an opportunity of a scholarship signing in the summer of 2020 but nothing at all is certain. Nothing is finalised with Cardiff at the moment.
"Hopefully, I can move to a European club. That is my dream for sure."
While Cardiff will have to wait till next month to get a second look at Karan, football fans here will be able to catch the United World College student at the Jalan Besar Stadium tonight.
He will play against Hong Kong in their first match of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-16 Championship 2020 qualifiers. The qualifiers are until Saturday, with Singapore grouped with Hong Kong, North Korea and Guam.
Karan is part of a 23-strong squad selected by coach Philippe Aw.
Another player hoping to impress is Geylang International youth winger Seng Hong Kai.
While his peers picked up the sport much earlier, Hong Kai's first kick came when he was nine. Before that, the Anglican High student had been a badminton player.
Even then, his interest was piqued through a football trading card game, Topps Match Attax.
Said Hong Kai: "My friends introduced me to the game and I just enjoyed playing that. I can't really explain, but it just clicked."
In his current school, football is not offered as a co-curricular activity. He decided to take up the harmonica instead.
Hong Kai's late start, however, has not impacted his technical ability, according to Aw, due to the player's hard work and desire to learn.
"Both Karan and Hong Kai are examples. They show a strong desire to learn and improve," said Aw.
"Karan is always asking me what more he can do to improve. During training, Hong Kai is always asking me why we do a certain drill this way and not another way.
"They are both keen to learn and they work hard - something you need at this level."
This year's qualifiers will be the first time that players are from a myriad of clubs and academies since the centralised National Football Academy, which was set up in 2000, was shut down in January.
It has led to Aw being able to select players like Hong Kai and Karan. He revealed that he had run the rule over 90 players.
"One aspect that is different is that teams and academies have different ways of playing football," said Aw.
"In a national set-up, we have a philosophy, so sometimes it is difficult for the boys to juggle both."
With qualification for the 2034 World Cup the Football Association of Singapore's goal, fans are expected to keep a close watch, especially as most of the squad are likely to figure in the senior national team then.
Said Aw: "Singaporeans can expect to see the boys fight till the end. This group have a fighting spirit. We want to be competitive in all the games.
"I hope people's expectations of the boys are fair. We must understand that there are no short cuts to development.
WHAT: AFC U-16 C'ship qualifiers (Gp I)
- 5pm: North Korea v Guam
- 8pm: Hong Kong v Singapore
- 5pm: Guam v Hong Kong
- 8pm: Singapore v North Korea
- 5pm: North Korea v Hong Kong
- 8pm: Singapore v Guam
WHERE: Jalan Besar Stadium
Tickets priced at $8 (Cat 1) and $4 (concession) are on sale on www.fas.org.sg/tickets.
Bundled packages are also available.