(L-R) Uchenna Eziakor, Yasmine Zaharin, Ardhra Arul Ganeswaran, Chloe Koh, Seri Ayu Natasha Naszri, Kyra Taylor, Irsalina Irwan and Loo Kai ShengImage Credit : Unleash The Roar!

Eight of Singapore’s most promising young football talents – six girls and two boys – will study and train abroad full-time under the first overseas scholarship by national football project Unleash the Roar! (UTR!). The UTR! project is a long-term roadmap to uplift our football ecosystem and rally the nation behind our shared aspirations for Singapore football.

The UTR! Overseas Scholarship recipients will be heading to two of the world’s top institutions for developing young football talents. Five will be attending the IMG Academy’s programme in Florida, United States of America (USA), and three will be enrolling at ESC LaLiga & NBA in Madrid, Spain.

IMG has produced world stars such as AC Milan’s Christian Pulisic, the USA women’s national football team’s Mallory Swanson, and goalkeeper Bryane Heaberlin who last played with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany’s top tier football league Bundesliga. ESC LaLiga & NBA, the academy project of Spain’s top-tier league LaLiga, has hosted top prospects from around the world, including Manchester United star Alejandro Garnacho.

Mr Eric Chua, Chairman of the UTR! Executive Committee and Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Culture, Community and Youth, & Social and Family Development said, “The UTR! Overseas Scholarship marks a significant milestone for Singapore football. It provides our finest talents the opportunity to study, train, play and compete overseas – full-time on a multi-year basis – under robust football development programmes offered at reputable institutions such as the IMG Academy and ESC LaLiga & NBA. Through this, we hope that our young talents will hone their skills, inspire others to pursue their sporting aspirations, and fly our Singapore flag high.”

UTR2Image Credit : Ng Chrong Meng

UTR! Overseas Scholarship recipients chosen through robust selection process

The eight UTR! Overseas Scholarship recipients – Ardhra Arul Ganeswaran, Chloe Koh, Irsalina Irwan, Kyra Taylor, Loo Kai Sheng, Seri Ayu Natasha Naszri, Uchenna Eziakor, and Yasmine Zaharin – represent the best talents of their cohort.

The scholarship recipients were endorsed by a selection panel led by UTR! Executive Committee’s Chairman Mr Eric Chua following a robust selection process. This process began with an initial shortlist of close to 40 male and female student athletes, based on the preliminary assessments from the Football Association of Singapore and Singapore Sports School. These players were then observed during training sessions and competitions by a technical committee led by FAS Technical
Director Mr Michael Browne, whose members assessed their footballing abilities and potential. From this, a smaller group of players were invited to an in-person panel interview with representatives of the UTR! Executive Committee.

One of the scholarship recipients is 17-year-old Singapore Sports School student Loo Kai Sheng, who trains and plays with the Singapore Under-17s and the Young Lions Under-21s. Kai Sheng said, “I am so happy and thankful to be given this opportunity. This scholarship is a high honour and will help me realise my fullest potential. I am determined to adapt quickly and learn from the best coaches and like-minded players in Spain and from other countries. My goal is to become a professional
footballer and play for Singapore.”

Another recipient, 16-year-old Irsalina Irwan, who has already earned five caps with the Singapore Women’s National Team, said, “The feeling of being given this opportunity to study and train overseas is just as surreal as my first call up to the Women’s National Team. The thought of two to three football training and physical conditioning sessions daily over the next few years with top professionals in the US excites me, and I cannot wait to start and do my very best. I want to learn as much as possible and be a better defender.”

UTR3Image Credit : Ng Chrong Meng


Holistic support throughout scholarship journey

The scholarship recipients can look forward to receiving holistic support from both their respective overseas institutions and the UTR! network throughout their scholarship journey.

The ESC LaLiga & NBA and IMG Academy offer conducive training environments with the integration of sports science, a high-quality competition schedule throughout the year, and suitable academic options that offer flexibility and support future academic aspirations.

Scholarship recipients will also receive the support of the UTR! network back home in Singapore, through mentors comprising football administrators and ex-internationals such as former Lions Aide Iskandar and Goh Tat Chuan as well as Lioness, Fazila A. Latiff. The mentors will have regular check-ins with the student athletes during their scholarship journey to provide guidance and motivation.

On supporting his daughter Ardhra’s move to USA, Mr Arul Ganeswaran said, “It is indeed a bold decision by the family, but we said yes because we know Ardhra can do it. Her character and attitude will serve her well to be disciplined in her training and academics. Also, we feel assured about the support system, safety and administration at IMG Academy. We are excited to see how her experience at IMG can develop her further.”

Speaking about this significant opportunity for budding youth footballers, ex-Lions and former captain Aide Iskandar said, “When I was around their age, I too had stints overseas. Players like Rafi Ali and I benefitted from the international exposure because we were pushed beyond our comfort zones to train hard and excel. This is a wonderful start and future growth of youth development for Singapore football. As a mentor, I hope to encourage them and let them know that I am within reach should they need to discuss their progress, or even just to talk. I am honoured to be a part of
this programme and look forward to supporting our footballers throughout their scholarship journey.”

Upon their return, the scholarship recipients will contribute back to the Singapore football ecosystem, including representing Singapore in international competitions.

UTR4Image Credit : Ng Chrong Meng

This is the first the time the Government is committing to giving scholarships to footballers on an annual basis. Scholarship is the latest initiative that will complement programmes already in place. Key changes already made include, setting up the Junior Development Centre (JDC) for kids aged 8-12, and National Development Centre (NDC) for 13-16 year olds. This will form the pinnacle of youth football in Singapore, where the best young footballers will be groomed, levelling up coaching capabilities across all levels, and the setting up of other pathways like the School Football Academy and SPL COE's. This is to further enhance the playing and training levels for aspiring young footballers. And the best from these various pathways will then be picked for the UTR! overseas scholarship.