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Karen football star wants to play for Burma

Kler Heh in action for Sheffield United FC. (PHOTO: Myanmar football Federation)

Aspiring Karen footballer Kler Heh, who recently signed a professional contract for English league team Sheffield United, has pledged his sporting allegiance to Burma.

The 18-year-old soccer star was born in Umpiem refugee camp in Thailand. He moved to England with his family four years ago.

But the sought-after talent says he would play for Burma’s national team, if selected.

That’s good news for Burmese fans and the Myanmar Football Federation (MFF), because Kler Heh does not have Burmese nationality but does hold a British passport.

Spokesperson Soe Moe said Kler Heh had responded on 30 July to an invitation by the MFF, in which he confirmed he would pull on Burma’s white strip if given the call.

“First, he will be auditioned by MFF coaches who will decide where he can play best – whether in the Under-20s, U-21s or U-23s team,” said Soe Moe. “He is still young, so we would be delighted to have a capable player like him representing our national side.”

Soe Moe said the MFF would seek confirmation from concerned government ministries to ensure that the Karen soccer player, who will be 19 in October, is fully eligible to represent Burma.

Kler Heh is known to be a skilful winger and will play in Sheffield United’s U-21 side this year, while pushing for a first-team opportunity with the “Blades”, who made the semi-finals of the English League Cup last season but narrowly missed out on promotion back to the second tier.

He went back to the Thai-Burmese border in 2012 to visit family and friends at the Umpiem Mai Refugee Camp, which is home to almost 13,000 people.

Kler Heh said he is was happy to carry the weight of expectation for all back home in a region obsessed with the English Premier League and desperate to see one of their own play in the lucrative championship for the first time.

“I know that I am representing myself, my family, friends and everyone in Myanmar and Thailand,” Kler Heh said.

“I want to be a positive role model and a symbol of hope that there is life outside the refugee camps.”