Semi-pro to virtual pro: the former Southampton academy player who achieved his dream through FIFA 19

Southampton Rusher
Premier League
Reece Rusher still plays football at a fairly high level but representing the Saints in the ePremier League will be a special moment for him

The first ever ePremier League has allowed some of Britain's best FIFA players to represent their favourite Premier League clubs but none have come as close to doing the same on a real football pitch as Reece Rusher.

At six years of age, Rusher was scouted by Southampton's academy while playing at an after school club and he would go on to sign with the club. He spent around six years in that academy, playing with the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Ward-Prowse and Matt Targett.

Unfortunately, he was released by the club and it looked like his dream was over. However, life finds a way and, 10 years since he represented Southampton at academy level, Rusher will now represent Southampton in FIFA 19 with the ePremier League.

It's not how Rusher pictured it, but this is a dream come true for him. Rusher said: "I've always followed Southampton, I had a season ticket there for 10 years. My main team is Man United but I've always followed Saints since I was a young boy. Representing them is really cool, it was my boyhood dream and now I have done that on the pitch and virtually."

Competing in FIFA requires a lot of mental tenacity, you have to keep calm while also outsmarting your opponent. With years of football experience, Rusher believes that could give him a slight edge, saying: "My football experience does transfer over to FIFA, I suppose, I pick up on stuff that other people do quite quickly and I read the game well. I'm a quick winger and in FIFA I'm very attacking too. Defending is a strong point of my game but I'm at my best when going forward.

"I do practise pretty hard, though I don't grind as much as some people because I don't feel playing seven hours a day is actually good for you. You need to stay sharp and, after a certain amount of time, you start to wear down - you're then just playing for the sake of playing."

On top of representing the Saints, the 850 Global Series Points on the line could salvage Rusher's FIFA season. "I've been in and around the scene for three or four years now and I had a really unfortunate end to last season," he said. "I missed out on qualification for the Manchester FUT Champions Cup by the narrowest of margins. The top 64 went through to the event and I was 72nd but, because some people dropped out, the person in 71st got invited, I was one place away.

"I think I'm somewhere between 80-100th in the rankings, if I can do well here and in my next qualifier I should be able to make the top 64 and make my way to more events. There's no pressure on me whatsoever, the Southampton guys behind the scenes told us to go there and just enjoy it but I'm here to win. I'm a professional so I want to win it all."

Rusher has competed in FIFA for numerous years and, while he's beginning to find success, he still plays football to a relatively high level, too, competing in the eighth tier of English football with Melksham Town in the Evo-stick League South Division One South. For now, football is still his number one priority.

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He said: "I play football at a decent level so I can't always make the FIFA qualifiers on the weekend. I have to put football first because, at the moment, it's the higher paid job for me.

"When I won the Southampton FIFA qualifier, that was a thrill, it was really good. But, earlier on this year, I went on a really good FA Cup run with Winchester City to Torquay away in front of nearly 3,000 people with all my family there. In my eyes, nothing compares to that. That is my dream."

While his family won't be down in London to cheer him on in the ePremier League, they will all be down the pub watching his games live on Sky. Rusher will be hoping he can give both them and Saints fans a reason to celebrate this week.