SINGAPORE: Fitting in seamlessly, 17-year-old Ben Davis did not look out of place during national team training at Geylang Field on Tuesday (Mar 20).
There was hardly time to catch up with his friends in Singapore having touched down at Changi Airport earlier this week, as the Fulham Under-18 player was put through his paces in his maiden training session with the Lions.
The national team are preparing for their first game of 2018, where they will face Maldives in a friendly at the Singapore Sports Hub on Friday. They will also face Taiwan in their final Asian Cup qualifier away next week.
Having seen Davis – whose father Harvey owns the JSSL Arsenal Soccer School in Singapore – in action up close during training, national coach V Sundramoorthy had a positive assessment for the teen, based on what he observed. “Ben is a talented young player and I wanted to see more of him,” said coach Sundram.
“In training, we can see that he has good technique as he keeps the ball well. As for the tactical and physical part of him, we can definitely work on it.”he added. “I don’t think he looked out of place in training, give him a couple of sessions and he should be okay.”
Davis, however, admitted to feeling the jitters in the beginning, which he soon overcame during the session. “I felt a little awkward at the start as I was the youngest and they’re all really big,” said the Singaporean. “But on the pitch I felt more comfortable. I just need to build more chemistry with the rest and I think I can play really good once I built up that understanding.”
Feeling honoured to be given his first senior call-up, the former Singapore youth international is aware that he has much to prove and that he may not be guaranteed a start against Maldives. “I’m really looking forward to the friendly and hopefully I can get some playing time,” he said.
OWNING THE MIDFIELD SPACE
After the training session on Tuesday, coach Sundram was overheard discussing with Davis on how to bring out his best.
Playing regularly as a defensive central midfielder with Fulham’s youth team in the Under-18 Premier League in England, Davis says he is adaptable to a number of attacking roles.
“I’m currently playing as a holding midfielder, but when I was with the Singapore Under-16s I was playing as a ‘false-nine’ striker, left midfielder and central attacker,” he explained.
“But my best position is the central midfield area, as I can control the game better from the centre and that’s where I play regularly in Fulham as well,” added Davis.
That space in the starting 11 with the national team, however, is currently occupied by stalwarts Hariss Harun, Safuwan Baharudin and Shahdan Sulaiman, who are almost certain starters for the Lions.
It is, though, a welcome selection headache for coach Sundram, who will be looking to best utilise Davis, should he decide on playing him. “He plays in centre mid, and we will try to use him more as an attacking player because of his ability,” he said.
“Let’s see where he slots in well, and we’ll see in future,” added Sundram.
FINDING HIS FEET IN FULHAM
While he is currently enjoying regular game time in the U18 Premier League in England, that was not the case when he first arrived last July. He is currently on a two-year scholarship with Fulham, who are third in the second-tier of English football.
“Back in Fulham, I was down at the start and then there were days when I went up,” revealed Davis. “It’s really unpredictable as you can be high in one moment, and the next you’re down again.”
“There were days when things simply didn’t go my way a lot of times before, and even I thought it was never going to end. But if you keep going things will get better, that much I know,” he added.
Knuckling down was the only way for Davis, as his abilities soon became apparent with the youth coaches at the club. “Right now I’m feeling really good because the coach has been happy with me, and I’ve been getting regular playing time by starting regularly,” he said.
“I hope to just do well and carry on playing to get more experience.”
His progress is certainly good news for Singapore coach Sundram, who is hunting for his first win of the year to lift his team out of its winless funk. “The boys that are playing abroad are coming back and some are playing locally, and so it’s about integrating them together,” he said, on the task he has at hand.
He added: “We don’t have much time, as it’s only a couple of days before the Maldives game … and so we have to organise them and see how we move toward the game on Friday.”