From the Bundesliga to the S.League – How Ken Ilsø's wanderlust led him Home
The self-styled traveller lasted a further season with Dusseldorf before deciding it was time to experience life in a new league. However, possible opportunities failed to materialize as Ilsø decided to join VfL Bochum – a decision which he admitted he now has regrets over.
“I actually killed my own hopes there to be honest,” he says. “After Dusseldorf, I was just tired of Germany and I wanted to get out and see different parts of the world. I’ve been backpacking for many years and I was starting to feel that’s not enough; I want to be on a journey not just vacation-wise, but also life-wise.
“There were uncertainties over the possible places I could go to; either these were places where [I was uncertain] of being paid on time, or places that I wasn't that keen on. I still had that mindset then that I was afraid of walking around without a club, thus I went to Bochum who was the most interested of all clubs.
“However the eagerness to change my football path really came up during my time there; it was like a fire which I just about managed to turn off by putting some water, but the sparks were still there.”
Ilsø’s stay at the club lasted just seven months, recording two goals in 16 appearances as he soon secured a move to CSL side Guangzhou R&F in February 2014.
A first taste of Asian football (that soon turned sour)
Things looked promising in the beginning, with the transition to Asian football made all the smoother under former England coach Sven-Göran Eriksson, a fellow Scandinavian.
However Ilsø was never in the good books of R&F chairman Zhang Li, eventually leading to the forward leaving the club after just three months.
“There were no problems settling in except only one issue,” he says. “Unlike in Germany where one person is only allowed to have up to 49% of stocks in a club or a lot other places in Europe which does not allow one man to own the club, it’s different in China.
“One man owns everything and he make the decisions. Sven really wanted to keep me and I kept talking to the owner a lot of times regarding that; he thought I was good for the team, but the owner wanted a big target man as an attacker instead. In the end, there was nothing he can do. There were a total of five foreigners at the club, including me. The rest had longer contracts, while only mine had a clause in the contract that can be bailed out, which was unfortunate.”
Of course a disrupted pre-season did not help his cause, with a glaring miss from three yards out in the Guangzhou derby perhaps summing up his brief time there.
“I never really got into the rhythm,” he remembers. “I came in one week before they started the season then got injured soon after. I waited two to three weeks to get back in and that wasn’t the best. I always felt like I was lacking a bit physically and mentally.”
Two goals in 10 appearances later, Ilsø was released from the club.
A new lease of life
Despite attracting interest from up to eight clubs (including four from his native Denmark and two from Thailand), Ilsø was eventually sold on the youth development philosophy at Home United – something which he believes will lay the foundations to achieve success at the top.
“The reason I got attracted to this club is because it’s an interesting new project going on here,” he shares. “I’ve heard a bit about the club from Dirk and I know the club has been making interesting steps in recent years, especially with the launch of the Home United Youth Academy (HYFA) and promotion of (former Prime League coach) Philippe (Aw) to head coach.
“He’s young, but it’s not a coincidence that you don’t lose a game the whole season without doing your homework. It’s not something you just do, it’s because you really had something in you.”
Unwavering in the belief that his new club has what it takes to achieve multiple honours, Ilsø is aiming to make his impact felt in the S.League as well as to gel as soon as possible with his current teammates.
“I’m a very creative player and a lot of times, I see things that the defence don’t see coming,” he reveals. “I also have a good eye for the pass and I’m usually aware of what’s happening behind me; it’s like an extra sense of sorts. Now the key thing is to work together and to be in sync with my co-players; if not there’ll be situations where I think it’s a brilliant idea, but they think it’s not.”
Thus far Ilsø is settling in well, with three goals in five friendly matches – the most notable effort being a superb half-volley from outside the box in a 4-2 loss against Thailand’s Port FC.
The Protectors faithful will certainly hope that he do more of the same as the S.League season kicks off in March.