A Singaporean's quixotic search for football stardom

Karan Singh Banga, attached to QPR has no professional experience but that hasn't stopped the pursuit of his dream that straddles eagerness and the possibility of emulating Ali Dia
The name Karan Singh Banga may not ring a bell for Singapore football fans, but that's hardly a surprise. The 23-year-old has never made his mark in the local football scene at any level, which by his own account is no fault of his, citing failed promises and curbed potential. Others, however, spell a much simpler story.

The lack of professional credentials at an age when most players are firmly establishing their career has not stopped the aspiring Singaporean footballer from chasing his wildest dreams.

Today, he is into his first week of training with English Football Championship side, Queens Park Rangers (QPR). While far more heralded names in Singapore football struggle to even find a club within the domestic scene, news of Karan's attachment with a team in the second-tier of English football drew a combination of awe and incredulity.

Even more so, when news reports circulating online proclaimed the aspiring footballer as a Singapore Under-23 international who had previously been signed to Italian club Brescia Calcio in Serie B.

How could it be possible that a football scene so closely knitted and fervently followed by fans had failed to recognise a mercurial talent who has apparently been stamping his credentials in Europe?

Singaporean footballers leaving the country in search of greener pastures is not an uncommon phenomenon and is well documented. Mahatir Azeman and Adam Swandi, two of the nation's brightest young talents ply their trade in Brazil and France respectively, but both are teenagers still relatively in their football adolescene. The likes of Fandi Ahmad and V.Sundramoorthy famously had their day in Europe as well in their prime.

On the quirky end of overseas stints, David Low most recently in 2012, spent an atypical summer with Mongolian side Khoromkhon FC, becoming the first, and almost certainly the last, Singaporean to play professional football in the landlocked East Asian nation.

Local missteps

Approached by Goal, Karan readily opened up, even sharing a copy of his National Registration Identity Card (NRIC) showing his full name and place of birth to quell questions over his real nationality and identity.

When asked about his alleged footballing exploits and sudden brink of striking the football lottery, Karan distanced himself from the online credentials, despite having endorsed and tweeted at least one report by a UK sports site which had made the outlandish claims.

"I'm not sure who is going around saying that I even played for the Singapore Under-23," said Karan who also claimed to hold permanent residency in the United States.

"Mr Aide Iskandar was kind enough to let me train with them to get my fitness up as I hadn't played for nearly two years being in National Service (NS)," he added, pointing out he had served his NS from late 2010 to December 2012.

"This was maybe around end of February 2013, I wasn't really fit and didn't have the touches and fitness at that point. I didn't make the team because the window was closing and he (Aide) didn't really have much time but I was told by him, if I wanted to keep training with the team to pick things up I could have stayed and it wouldn't be a problem. I then decided I couldn't because my US exit permit was expiring and flew back."

Karan also clarified that he had never played in Italy but had seen arrangements made by an 'Italian friend' to trial at Brescia fall apart from poor and improper arrangements. He also rubbished an account on a deleted Wikipedia page, which he had again endorsed on Twitter, of his first team attachment with Major League Soccer (MLS) side New York Red Bulls. He did, however, claim to having been part of their youth team in the mid-2000s.

His current stint with QPR, he told Goal, was the result of being scouted by Ian Broomfield, one of UK's most sought-after scouts, whilst "playing in a league in US" two months ago. Broomfield was previously Head Scout at QPR but left to join Tottenham Hotspur earlier this month.

Although, Karan's account of landing the plum QPR training attachment varied when asked to clarify.

"About two months ago [I was scouted by Broomfield], I then got in touch with Chairman Tony Fernandes and Vice Chairman Amit Bhatia, who are both following me on Twitter," he said. "Also CEO Philip Beard sorted it all out and had it arranged for me."

On the local front, Karan cited bad luck and politics for being denied a chance to sign for an S.League side. Having been attached to Hougang United prior to trialling for Young Lions, Karan claimed that he went from being on the brink of signing to being discarded after Johana Johari took over the Cheetahs' hotseat from Alex Weaver early last season.

"There was something he (Johana) didn't like because I was apparently an outsider and wasn't local as that was his plans," he claimed. "Mr Alex Weaver had me with the first team throughout that two months and since I was closer to him Johana didn't like it."

Similarly, Karan recalled another failed move at Tampines Rovers while training under Steven Tan and Rafi Ali. However, he made it clear that it was a result of "problems within" the club that again stood in his way.

In total, Karan stated interest from three different S.League sides, but maintained that he was never rejected by any of them, nor did he turn them down, but rather it was circumstances that prevented his move to becoming a professional.

Overstated ambitions and dreams

A photo posted on Karan's personal Facebook in June last year shows a letter from Liverpool Football Club, signed by David Moss, Academy Chief Scout.

"Thank you for requesting trials at Liverpool Football Club," reads the letter addressed to Karan. "As a Premier League Football Academy we are bound by Premier League rules."

The letter of rejection was the result of Karan's request to trial for the club, a bold move, according to friends, he has pulled several times, with varying results. While most would label it as clearly within the boundaries of delusion, Karan himself saw it as another opportunity. "Hopefully everything goes well and I could get this sorted," read his highly optimistic comment on the photo.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, friends spoke of his struggle to make an impact even in the social football scene. When his QPR attachment was mentioned, they expressed their disbelief.

"If he hadn't posted his picture [training with QPR], I wouldn't have believed it," said a former team-mate. "Either he improved incredibly or there's more to this, because he was at best just decent and couldn't even cut it in social teams."

Goal understands that in early 2013, Courts Young Lions had taken Karan on briefly for a trial but was released soon after for not meeting the club's standards. The incident was further corroborated by Weaver, who Karan had alleged to have been close to during his stay at Hougang.

"I didn't want to sign him," the current Warriors FC coach told Goal. "I had already seen he was not good enough for the S.League team. He then went to Young Lions for training but was released. He is nowhere near the level required here."

Attempts to reach QPR to confirm the nature of the current training attachment fell through. Karan stated that he expects to be at the club for a few more weeks to train but there had been no further indication of an extended stay.

Given the UK's strict employment pass rules, Karan as a non-EU national with no international background would find it nearly impossible to make a permanent move to an English club. His former coach Weaver also agreed on the futility of it all.

The predicament however is not lost on the ambitious player, who in a very Don Quixote fashion is adamant about carrying on his quest to become a top professional footballer, however wildly far-fetched his well-meaning attempts may appear to be. He tells Goal, that he has set his sights on competing at the international level.

"It isn't over and I could still be able to pick it up now and be somewhere in a year or two," he proclaimed before adding that he was also in touch with USA Under-23 coach Tab Ramos to take part in a training camp. "Giving up isn't on my mind, that just shows and will only prove that you don't have the desire for it."

For others, however, Karan's story comes too close to failing in spectacular fashion.

"Pursuing your attempts to be the next Ali Dia?" read one Facebook comment from his friend, referencing the amateur Senegalese player who notoriously signed and played one disastrous match for Southampton in the Premier League after pretending to be the cousin of former Fifa World Player of the Year George Weah.