Football fans in Burma are bristling with anticipation. Hopes are high that winger Kler Heh, who signed recently for professional English club Sheffield United, will be able to consolidate his ambition of playing for the Burmese national team in the near future.
Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, but brought up in the UK, it is by no means certain the 18-year-old Karen soccer sensation can acquire the documentation required to become a Burmese citizen. But we remain hopeful.
In the meantime, the rising star spoke to DVB about his upbringing, his football career, and his dreams for the future.
Question: Please tell us about your upbringing.
Answer: My full name is Kler Laweh Moo Heh. I am 18, turning 19 in October. I was born in Kwekalu [refugee camp] but our family later moved to Umpiem camp. When I was 10, we were resettled in the UK through UNHCR.
Q: How easy was it for you to adapt to life in the UK?
A: Everything was strange to me. It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t used to the food so I had to take my own packed lunch to school every day. My family ate rice – for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But in England, it was nothing like that; the food was completely different – fish n’ chips, jacket potatoes, all that. It took me about a year to get used to it. But not just the food – almost everything was new to me. I missed my friends and my family in the [refugee] camps.
Football-wise, in Sheffield they had a football academy – we never had anything like that in the camps.
Q: So how did you get into the football academy?
A: I played football regularly with the school team every Sunday. I must have caught the eye of someone from the football academy, because they recommended me to enrol. Actually I played trials three times. I was rejected on my first and second attempts, but was selected after the third trial. But I was dedicated to it. I really wanted it.
I was just 15. I would train in the morning and rest in the evening. I trained every day. I played matches in different counties and overseas, so I gained valuable experience. After passing 11th grade, I was offered two years with Sheffield United and, after that, I signed up for a one-year contract with the team as a professional player.
Q: Are you able to continue your education as well as being a professional footballer?
A: Well, I have to be honest – I never liked studying. I would much rather train than revise.
Q: What would you say your strengths are as a footballer, and in what areas do you need to get better?
A: My finishing [scoring goals] is not the best yet. I could definitely improve on my finishing. My understanding of the game could be better; but I’m only 18, so I’ve got many years to learn.
Strengths? Well, I can get past players, get good crosses in. I can play on either side [right or left wing], or in the centre. At Sheffield United, they usually have me playing on the right wing at the moment.
Q: There have been media reports saying you expressed a wish to play for the Burmese national team. Is it true?
A: Originally I wanted to play for the Thailand national team, but they didn’t invite me. However, the Burmese team did. I want to give it a shot. I want some experience playing in Burma and Asia. But I have a British passport, so the Myanmar authorities are in the process of dealing with my Myanmar status.
Q: So when will Burmese or Asian football fans get a chance to see you play?
A: I don’t know yet. At the moment, officials in Burma are preparing the necessary paperwork and if everything goes well, I can hope to play in the match against New Zealand in September. I pray for that to happen. If I truly deserve the chance, I’ll get to play.