Say what you will about the S.League, but there's definitely still talent coming through the system. Gary Koh profiles Balestier Khalsa starlet Ho Wai Loon, who looks likely to make Singapore's SEA Games team...
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: August 20, 1993
- Place of birth: Singapore
- Height: 1.63 m
- Position: Left-back, left midfield
- Club(s): Balestier Khalsa (2011-2012, 2014-Present)
- International: Singapore U21
The 22-year-old Singaporean emerged from the fringes last year to become a leading player at Balestier Khalsa this season in his second stint at the club. First signed from Home United’s Centre of Excellence in 2011 as a raw 17-year-old, Ho Wai Loon showed potential as he became a central figure in the reserve team’s FA Cup success the following year before leaving to complete his National Service commitments. Despite his promise, a first-team appearance remained elusive despite former head coaches Salim Moin and Darren Stewart naming him among the substitutes on several occasions.
Following the completion of his active military service, Ho returned to the Tigers and made his senior debut in their 4-1 league win against Hougang United in August 2014. After playing his part in their Singapore Cup success at the end of last season, this year saw him establish himself as Balestier's first-choice left-back. His performances in domestic and continental club competitions have seen him emerge as a late contender to take a place in the Singapore Under-23 team in the upcoming biennial Southeast Asian (SEA) Games football tournament on home soil.
Why you need to know him
At the start of the 2015 S.League season, FFT singled him out as one of ten locals to watch out for after excelling at left-back in pre-season. He has not disappointed and his consistent performances in all competitions this year has seen him emerge from nowhere to be part of Singapore Under-23 coach Aide Iskandar’s plans in the final phase of preparation ahead of the SEA Games in June.
As one of several Chinese Singaporeans in the first team (Balestier have the most of any local professional club), the stocky defender has displayed remarkable work ethic and determination to prove that a local Chinese player can go far in the game when he chooses to.
Initially signed as a left midfielder, Ho's versatility has seen him become a key figure in Balestier coach Marko Kraljevic’s plans. The youngster has now established himself as the first choice left-back for his club and could conceivably soon do the same for country. Despite being disadvantaged by his height (he is only 1.63 metres tall), he compensates for it with a good reading and anticipation of the game in the first third. His trusted left foot means a wide range of passing and crossing possibilities at both ends of the pitch.
The lack of height and pace makes Ho vulnerable at the back when stronger and taller wingers utilise their physical advantages to outrun or outmuscle him in a dash to the ball. Tackling is a concern too, with the defender often accumulating cautions after poorly-timed challenges. However, he's still learning at this level and it's something that can be fixed.
"Wai Loon is a hardworking player who is willing to go the extra mile and take on the additional load for the team," Kraljevic said. "His dreams are to play international football in the SEA Games and for the national team. He has a great future ahead of him, and I think he will go very far as he has a positive attitude, is willing to improve and has a big heart."
Young Lions head coach Aide Iskandar seems to have taken a shine to Ho too, in what is probably a good sign for the young defender.
"He is a natural left footed player, something that is quite hard to find in football," Aide said. "What I like about him is that despite his size, he is very feisty and is unafraid to go into tackles as I have seen in many S.League matches with Balestier. This boy brings a level of tenacity which is good and you can see the winning mentality in him."
Did you know?
This is not Ho's first experience in the national set up. V. Sundramoorthy called him up to the National U21 squad that participated in the Newspaper Cup in Vietnam back in 2011.
What happens next?
Depending on Ho's level of involvement in the SEA Games, interest in the full back could increase should he shine when given the opportunity. While he is set to see out the remainder of the year with the Tigers, his short-term future could lie elsewhere especially if bigger local clubs or the LionsXII come calling. Don’t rule out his chances of coming face-to-face with idol Jack Wilshere on the same pitch at the National Stadium in Sports Hub too, should he also be included in the Singapore Selection side to take on Arsenal in the Barclays Asia Trophy 2015 match on 15 July.