How did a player who once faced Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger end up with Home United in the S.League? Kenneth Tan chronicles Ken Ilsø Larsen's remarkable football adventures around the globe.
Having connections is handy in football, as Ken Ilsø Larsen can attest to.
- Full name: Ken Ilsø Larsen
- Date of birth: December 2, 1986
- Place of birth: Hvidovre, Denmark
- Height: 1.83m
- Position: Attacking midfielder/Striker
- Current Club: Home United
- Previous Clubs: SC Heerenveen, SønderjyskE, FC Midtjylland, Fortuna Düsseldorf, VfL Bochum, Guangzhou R&F
- International: Denmark U21 (2 caps)
- Instagram: @kenilso
The 28-year-old Danish forward first visited Singapore in May last year after ending a short three-month stint with Chinese Super League (CSL) side Guangzhou R&F – not to sign a football contract, but simply to catch up with sports performance coach Dirk Schauenberg, whom he knew from his days at Fortuna Düsseldorf.
“I kept in contact with Dirk even though our time there ended,” he tells FourFourTwo. “We were talking then and he asked me ‘why not you come and visit me?’, thus I came here in the summer. I had just ended my time in China but I wasn’t exactly looking for options.
“I met some people behind the club and spoke to them, but it wasn’t anything about me playing here. I also watched a game which they played against the Courts Young Lions at the artificial pitch (which ended in a 1-1 draw).”
Little did he know then that he would one day be playing in the S.League.
“In the winter time, Dirk and the club wrote to me about the possibility of joining them,” Ilsø continues. “Then I came here and spoke to the people connected the club, including lawyer Chris Chong and team manager Badri (Ghent), before coming to an agreement.
“A lot of times, the football world’s like that – connections are very important. For example if there are special places you want to play in, it’s good to have people you might know who can help you get there. Just like coming to Home, I didn’t count on coming here, but it ended up like that after speaking back and forth with them.”
Singapore is the latest stop in Ilsø’s decade-long journeyman career, which has taken him to countries like Holland, Germany and China. There has only been one constant to date – his eagerness to get out of his comfort zone and immerse himself in new environments.
A Scandinavian education
Born in Hvidovre, Copenhagen, young Ken Ilsø could have worked his way through the Danish youth system but chose to leave in order to gain more exposure – joining Dutch Eredivisie side Heerenveen as a youth player after impressing on trial.
While opportunities to feature in the first team were limited for a 17-year-old, Ilsø believes the experience enriched him as a budding young player.
“When I look back, I can have no regrets,” he says. “A lot people asked why I didn’t work my way up through the reserves, but they did not understand that circumstances were just different 11 years ago. Today there’s this huge focus on bringing up youth players in terms of letting them play with the seniors in the first team and really developing them from an early age.