- South Africa’s Luther Singh has won the golden boot at his last two international tournaments
- The winger is currently on the books at Braga B in Portugal
- The Amajita face a tough group containing Uruguay, Japan and Italy
Resplendent in yellow, a colour so synonymous with skill and natural footballing intuition, it is easy to draw South American assumptions about Luther Singh. Remove the badge on his jersey and you would not be surprised to hear he has found his way to the fringes of the big time via the streets of Sao Paulo or beaches of Bahia.
However, despite a distinctly Brazilian flair, Johannesburg is where Singh calls home and it is South Africa’s left flank which will be lit up by the forward’s attacking prowess at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. His pedigree was on show as he impressed at the CAF U-20 Africa Cup of Nations, with Singh netting four times in Zambia, his two assists clinching him the golden boot, as the Amajita reached the semi-finals.
Following on from topping the scorers’ charts at the regional COSAFA U-20 Championships too, the gold-toothed goal-getter is unsurprisingly full of confidence – a fact underlined when FIFA.com asked what makes him stand out.
“Taking on players, beating people one-v-one and I have an eye for goal,” he listed, reeling off some of the notable strengths in his arsenal. “I’m also very skilful, fast and intelligent.”
Now plying his trade in Braga’s B team in the Portuguese second tier, Singh inhabits the style of football he has been honed to play for the best part of a decade, since joining the Stars of Africa Football Academy aged ten.
“Portugal is the place to be. The style of play suits me very well,” the 19-year-old explained, having made the move in January. “I’ve always grown up in the academy with the type of football that they play – keeping the ball on the ground, triangulation, changing the point of attack, limiting touches – and you can see it’s the kind of thing players do here without being told.”
A Brazilian education
Had a young Luther been unsure of the merits of this style of play, he got the chance to see them at source as a wide-eyed 14-year-old, spending three months in Brazil training with the likes of Palmeiras and Vasco de Gama.
“It was a great honour for me to go there at that age,” he recalled of his spell in Rio de Janeiro. “I went there for an experience and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to go than Brazil.”
Joined by coach and mentor Farouk Khan, a name Singh litters our conversation with and a man he clearly holds in the highest regard, he was able to absorb some of the futbol lifeforce that flows through the city so readily.
“It’s amazing how people love football there," he said. "They love football and they will die for football. Everywhere you look you’ll see a Fluminense shirt, Botafogo shirt, Flamengo shirt. Even when they’re on the beach, every chance they get they play football. It was amazing to see.”
Now on the Iberian peninsula following a fruitful but tough spell in Sweden with GAIS, overcoming the challenges of alien language, weather and football, Singh sees all the past wisdom he has been given suddenly clicking into place. Just in time, too, as he made his debut for South Africa’s senior side in March, starting the 0-0 draw with Angola.
“It wasn’t something I planned for!” he admitted, having been initially set to turn out for the U-20 team. “But it was a dream come true. I’ve just kept telling myself that it came so soon because I have kept working and there will be many more should I continue at it.”
That drive will be crucial later this month as South Africa are set to face some serious opposition at Korea Republic 2017. Uruguay (South American champions), Japan (Asian champions) and Italy (European runners-up) all lie in wait.
As always, though, confidence is not in short supply: “We’re going to have a good squad, boasting the best we have in South Africa. We’ll be fighting for the country," he said.
But when it comes to the Amajita’s hopes of success at the tournament, and the pressures of being his country’s leading figure, Singh signs off philosophically. “It’s not impossible. This is football. You make the best of the things you can control; the other things will fall in place. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.”