IN the next edition of our ‘U23s in profile’ series, where we get to know the career path to-date of our young players, we speak to winger Dillon De Silva.
Like many aspiring professional footballers, the 18-year-old knows as well as anyone the hurdles you have to overcome to reach your ultimate goal.
After finding his love of the game in an after-school club, the soon to be Sri Lankan international Dillion hopes to inspire a generation of Asian footballers.
Quick fire questions:
Favourite Position: Winger
Best quality: One v Ones
Sum yourself up in 5 words: Family Orientated, Religious, Hardworking, Dedicated
Idol: Mbappe and Ronaldo
Favourite type of music: Drake
Something we don’t know about you: I am a big fan of Formula One
Having grown up playing cricket, Dillon was following in the footsteps of his father and uncle. But at the age of seven a football session after school changed everything for the young man.
Fast forward 11 years and after facing many rejections, the quick winger has finally found himself at Queens Park Rangers, with a call-up to the first-team in December only being pipped by a call-up to his native Sri Lanka – a pinnacle moment of any young professional’s career.
“My parents have worked so hard to be able to provide me and my brothers with the lives we have now and a call-up just shows that anything is possible.
“When I was younger I didn’t play that much football, my family were more into cricket. But then at about the age of seven I went to an after-school football club with my friends and I just fell in love with the sport from there.
“Four about four years I just played Sunday League football and was loving it, but one tournament changed everything. I was scouted by Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, QPR and Chelsea.
“At that point Arsenal were my local club so I initially went to them, however after a three-week trial I didn’t get in. Funnily enough I then went to QPR, who offered me a place, but the travelling at that age was just too much, so I went to Spurs.
“I then spent three years at Tottenham, but by the end of Under 14’s I was released. They said I was too small and they didn’t see me as a scholar type player.
“But, I took it on the chin and went in search of a new club, I trialled everywhere I could, but only faced rejection after rejection.”
After continued disappointment, Dillon almost turned his back on his dream of making it with a professional club and switched back to grassroots football, hoping to fall back in love with the game.
“Eventually it got to the stage that I decided to give up. I needed to start enjoying football again and went back to Sunday League football with a club called Barking.
“We just played to win and I was loving being on the pitch. But by the start of the next season we were playing in a cup game and thankfully QPR were there and scouted me once again. After a 4-week trial, I was offered a schoolboy contract and then the rest is history really.”
Someone who has had a major impact on Dillon's relatively short career is QPR’s Academy Director, Chris Ramsey.
“Chris has had a massive impact on my career and is someone I will forever be grateful to. Obviously, he was at Tottenham beforehand and we knew each other from then.
“But after so many rejections, he saw something in me and gave me a chance here. Along with the other coaches Furs (Paul Furlong), Micah (Hyde), Paul (Hall), Imps (Andy Impey) they have all been fantastic to me and even though I have a long way to go have helped me become the person I am today.”
Since arriving in west London in 2017, the winger has quickly risen through the youth ranks at the R’s, having featured heavily for both the Under 18’s and Under 23’s sides before receiving the call that many young players dream of.
“I first played at Loftus Road as it was called then back in 2018, in the FA Youth Cup. I was only a first-year scholar at the time and to come on was the most amazing feeling. I was really nervous, but once I got on the pitch I just realised this was where I want to be.
“Obviously there were fans at the time as well and I just loved every moment, I played well and then from that game I feel like I have really pushed on and have made a lot of Under 23’s appearances now, but that cup game was the start of the journey really.”
After an inspiring performance in an Under 23’s game earlier this season, R’s manager Mark Warburton quickly promoted the young man to the first team squad. With a place on the bench for Rangers’ clash with Stoke City in the SkyBet Championship in December the 18-year-olds reward.
“Throughout lockdown and pre-season, I have suffered with a few injuries, so it took me a while this year to get fit. But, by the November we played Hull City at Harlington in my fourth game of the season and the gaffer (Mark Warburton), John (Eustace), Les (Ferdinand) everyone was watching.
“I didn’t even really know about that, but I seemed to have one of the best games of my life. Everything I did seemed to work and from that game the gaffer noticed me and told Chris who called me two days later that he wants me to train with the first team.
“From then on I trained with the first team for three weeks before I got my first opportunity on the bench against Stoke City.
“The gaffer has always said that he really likes my work rate and that I should just keep working hard, your young and your time will come, I am sure those words will stay with me."
Away from the football pitch, Dillon has recently been accepted to study Psychology at University an ambition of any young man. Whilst continuing to inspire the next generation of Asian Footballers.
“Off the pitch I have been keeping myself busy. I have been mentoring young Asian footballers. There aren’t many Asian role models in football so breaking through and setting an example for the younger generation is very important to me.
“I want to make it easier for them and show them that it is possible no matter what your background is, if you’re good enough, you can make it.
“Added to this I have also completed my Extended diploma in Sports Science and Psychology and have recently been accepted at University to study a Psychology degree.
“My mum has also been on at me to make sure that my education doesn’t slip, because no matter what I will always have that and I feel like that will be something that will really benefit me in the future, getting a degree is something I have always wanted to do.”