As long as you are good enough, the door is open.
That is the message Singapore national team head coach V Sundramoorthy has for players like Luke O’Nien and Perry Tan, who are born overseas but possess Singaporean lineage.
O’Nien, a 22-year-old who has plied his trade in England’s fourth tier with Wycombe Wanderers for the past two seasons, recently affirmed his desire to represent the Lions on the international stage.
“I’m not sure if the FAS is aware of who I am or if they have an interest in coming to watch me play, but I really hope they do… it would make my mum so proud (if I played) for Singapore,” Sundram said.
The midfielder is born in Hemel Hempstead in east England, but qualifies to play for Singapore through his Singaporean maternal grandfather, the late Lim Cheng Siong. The latter is the younger brother of the late Lim Kim San, Singapore’s former Minister for National Development.
O’Nien, who started his career at Watford before joining Wycombe in 2015, has forged a reputation for himself at Adams Park.
Voted the club’s Young Player of the Year for the 2015/16 season, he signed a new three-year contract last April and Sundram, who has watched video footage of the youngster, is impressed by his ability.
“He’s an enthusiastic, box-to-box midfielder who never stops running, which is a great asset to any team,” Sundram shared.
“Attacking-wise, he takes up good positions and likes to make late runs, which makes him a decent goal-threat. But he can also do the dirty work and is not afraid to get stuck in, making him a versatile player.
“He can still improve on his game and has time on his side, and the fact that he has been a first-team regular at Wycombe in his two seasons there, despite his young age, is testament to his ability.”
O’Nien has suggested that he will “highly consider” an international call-up from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), and Sundram welcomes the possibility.
“He has good potential and he’s a talent,” he said.
“I am open to any player who is good enough, especially those who have a Singaporean background. If he can contribute to the nation, why not consider him?”
However, the situation may not be so straightforward.
One of Fifa’s statutes regarding nationality entitling players to represent more than one association is if the player’s “grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant association”. While O’Nien fulfils this condition, he holds British citizenship.
As dual citizenship is not allowed under Singapore law, O’Nien would have to give up his British passport and apply to be a Singapore citizen if he wants to be eligible for the Lions.
This would also hold for other players with Singaporean lineage, such as Crewe Alexandra defender Perry Ng, whose paternal grandfather is Singaporean.
According to the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA), one of the criteria to be considered for Singapore citizenship is a “Singapore Permanent Resident (PR)…and has been a PR for at least 2 years”. O’Nien could also be subject to National Service (NS) liabilities if he takes up citizenship.
Furthermore, given Singapore’s low Fifa ranking, it may be difficult for O’Nien to receive a work permit to continue playing in the United Kingdom. If so, that may mean him having to ply his trade elsewhere.