Eight promising Singapore youth footballers were awarded the inaugural Unleash The Roar! Overseas Scholarship in August 2023 to further their football development in either Spain or the United States. The talented male and female footballers, who are between the ages of 15 and 17, have been training hard at the IMG Academy in Florida and the ESC LaLiga & NBA in Madrid. In this series, we hear from these athletes on how they are coping with life overseas.
Uchenna Eziakor, 15, ESC LaLiga
It's been a few months since I settled into life at ESC LaLiga and some days I still can't believe how fortunate I am to be on the Unleash The Roar! Overseas Scholarship.
It is my hope to one day play professional football and I believe that playing and training in Europe is an important first step towards me realising my dream.
I feel the level of football in Spain will help me develop into a better player. By testing myself against European players every day, having to match their intensity, physicality and technical skills, I feel my level of play has already increased. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.
Ever since I went to Spain on a training tour with the Lion City Sailors in 2022, I knew this would be a great place for me to develop and I am so happy that I am here now.
The whole experience of being here in ESC LaLiga is everything a young footballer could want. It is hard not to wake up every morning and not feel motivated to learn as much as I can during my time in Spain.
The facilities are amazing and our coaches are all very encouraging and eager to help us improve. Occasionally, we also get to meet star players like David Villa and Dani Carvajal and that's a great inspiration that if we work hard, maybe we too can one day be a professional player like them.
Q: Can you walk us through what a typical day or week looks like for you at the academy?
A: First I’ll wake up, shower, and pack my bag and boots for training. Then I’ll head down for breakfast ,and go off to classes.
From 8.45am to 12.15pm, I’ll have school. Then it's football training from 12.30pm to 2.00pm.
After that , we have some time for a shower and lunch before classes from 3.00pm to 4.45pm. After that I would either have gym or another training. But on days when we can rest, I’ll have free time to do my homework or study.
Life at ESC LaLiga is well balanced between studies and football. All of the kids here want to pursue sport seriously and that contributes to a really conducive environment to develop both in studies and football. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.
Q. Tell us about the matches you've played and the level of football of the teams you've faced?
A: The first match was great as we won by a big score. But since then, the matches are getting tougher and we saw the high levels of Spanish football, which I’m really happy to experience. I'm really excited about going to Valencia in December for a tournament.
Q. What is the first thing that hits you about the difference in the approach to football in Singapore and in Spain? Intensity? Approach to the game?
A: The games move at a much faster pace compared to Singapore; they are more physical and really technical with the ball. You have to be mentally and physically prepared or it can be quite hard to compete.
Q. When it comes to Singapore, what do you find yourself missing the most? Is it the food, the weather?
A: I miss the food a lot. Nothing beats Singapore food!
The weather - it depends, as Singapore is hot and Spain is cold, so either is fine. But mostly, I miss my family and my friends and I can’t wait to see them again.
Q. How are you building connections with your teammates?
A: As we all come from different backgrounds and countries, I feel that it is an amazing opportunity for us as we get to bond and learn about different cultures. One way to build connections is through football, we understand each other when we are with the ball and have formed great relationships with each other.
Q. On and off the field, what aspects are you most excited about or looking forward to?
A: I hope to become a role model and leader for my team on the field and off the field. I feel I am disciplined and am dedicated to my game and studies and hopefully I can be a good example for others.
It was nice to have some familiar faces around last month when the National Development Squad players came to ESC LaLiga. My fellow UTR! Overseas Scholarship recipients, Natasha, Kai Sheng and I, were happy to share with them about life in Spain. Photo by Ng Chrong Meng.
Q. What has been the most memorable moment of your stay here so far?
A: It is when I went on a once-in-a-lifetime experience to watch a Champions League match at the Atletico Madrid stadium. Seeing the top players in the world play on a grand stage and also seeing and taking pictures with footballers such as David villa and Dani Carvajal were really amazing and inspires me to hopefully one day, follow in their footsteps.