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SINGAPORE — Harry Birtwistle's voice cracked a little when he was asked what he missed about life in Singapore, having left the country four years ago to pursue his dreams of becoming an English Premier League (EPL) footballer.
"I really miss the food – roti prata, chicken rice, char siew rice and carrot cake were my favourites, and I missed going to the food courts," the 17-year-old told Yahoo News Singapore in an online interview on Wednesday (27 October), moments after signing his first professional contract with EPL side Wolverhampton Wanderers.
"Obviously I miss my family there – my mum, my grandparents and my cousins are all in Singapore. And I miss the things I took for granted, how modern, clean and safe everything is."
Despite his obvious fondness for the country where he was born, Birtwistle has made the decision to uproot himself to pursue his ambition since he was 13 years old. He is now living with a host family in Wightwick, a neighbourhood on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, together with fellow Wolves youth talent Kamran Kandola.
While his Portugal-based father visits him frequently, he believes that living on his own has toughened him up and prepared him for upcoming challenges of making Wolves' first team to join the likes of the club's top players like Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho and Adama Traore.
"My life in Singapore prior to moving here was fairly smooth-sailing, but here I have to really man up and do things for myself. I've had to learn a lot of life skills quickly, because my parents may not always be there for advice, given the time difference between here and Singapore," he said.
"But it's what I have to do to chase my dream, and I'm so glad that I am able to realise my dream in signing for Wolves. I hope it inspires other kids in Singapore to do the same. A lot of my friends in Singapore said no one's done it before, but now there's someone who has done it."
First Singapore-born player to sign for EPL club
In signing his Wolves contract, Birtwistle becomes the first Singapore-born player to have signed for an EPL club. Prior to his achievement, Thailand-born Ben Davis had been the first Singaporean to do so, when he penned for Fulham in 2018.
While he idolises Cristiano Ronaldo and how the Manchester United superstar dedicates his life to being the best footballer, as a right-back he feels his playing style is similar to Paris Saint Germain's Moroccan international Achraf Hakimi.
How about Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold, arguably the most well-known right-back currently in the EPL?
"Oh wow, I would like to have his crossing ability. I'm working hard on that," Birtwistle enthused.
"But I've played in many positions already: centre-midfield, centre-back, winger, striker. It just so happens that my coaches felt my speed can be best utilised from right wing-back, but I'll play anywhere my team needs me to."
Having been first spotted by the Wolves academy staff when he was eight years old during a Wolves international training camp in Singapore, Birtwistle is eager to give back by helping the Midlands club in any way he can.
"I just want to help the team I'm in as much as possible this season, play to my best ability," he said.
"I've already got three goals and two assists this season, so I'm just trying to stay injury-free, play my best football, and I feel like if I do that, everything will take care of itself."
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