There are some striking similarities between the careers of Manchester City superstar Raheem Sterling and Dave Moli. Both were snapped up by Liverpool for big fees during their teenage years and both also played for England at under-16 level. Where the similarities stop though are when the pair reached senior football. Sterling cannot claim to have ever played football in the Maldives.
Moli is now 23 and has recently moved to the fifth different country of his career to sign for Estonian top flight side Pärnu Vaprus but nine years ago, when the forward was just 14, Liverpool paid an undisclosed fee to Luton Town for his services.
“For me, I didn’t really feel any pressure moving to Liverpool,” he says. “I enjoy playing football so much that all I wanted to do was play football I didn’t really focus on anything else outside of that.
“The hardest part about all of that was leaving home at the age of 14 and moving into a new school. That side of it I didn’t really enjoy and struggled a lot, and ultimately, it started to affect me and my game.”
Although he did still manage to impress on the pitch for Liverpool’s youth teams. He scored two hat tricks for the Reds’ under-18s during the summer of 2011 and during his time with the club, he picked up seven caps for England under-16s, an achievement which he still cherishes.
“Playing for any national team at any age group is always a proud moment for anyone so for me playing and scoring for England has to be up there [as the proudest moment of his career so far].”
After three years at the Merseyside club, Moli joined Wolverhampton Wanderers where he continued to do well and had the chance to train with the first team but injuries scuppered his progress and despite a loan spell out at Boreham Wood where he played ten games in Conference South, he left the Midlands club after two years.
A permanent spell at Boreham Wood then followed as well as a period with Hayes & Yeading but it was in 2015 where he made his most interesting career decision so far.
“Moving to the Maldives was more for my fitness,” he says. “I was injured at the time so I couldn’t do any trials so someone advised me to go there for a few months to play a few games, get fit then come back to England and that’s what I did. It was a lovely place and not just for the football.”
There certainly cannot have been many Englishmen to have graced Maldivian football but Moli arrived in the paradise islands in 2015 to sign for New Radiant and play for the club the AFC Cup, Asian’s equivalent of the Europa League.
“Living in Madives was a bit of a challenge because of the warm weather. We trained daily on astroturf and in the extreme heat. It was difficult but it also improved my fitness a lot.
“I’m not really the social type so I didn’t really get out the apartment much unless I had to. Everyday people would come and watch training because they heard about the kid from England!”
Moli played four matches for New Radiant, three in the AFC Cup with home games on the islands attracting over 2,000 fans but the one away game he played with his side against Indonesia’s Persib turned out to be entirely different.
“The standard wasn’t so great but I played an AFC Cup match in front of 30,000 fans which was a great experience for me.”
The former Liverpool man then returned to England before the domestic league begun but he was soon playing abroad again with spells in France for third-tier side Épinal and Polish club Stomil Olsztyn and he admits he prefers playing abroad to playing non-league football back at home.
“I hear it a lot from coaches and some agents that players should go play non-league and score lots of goals in a season and you’ll be back in the pro game. That is true in some cases but it’s not that easy and that isn’t the route for everybody.
“I always struggled in non-league because I’ve been brought up to play a certain way and to have to change the way I play, I wasn’t able to do – I tried but couldn’t. So for me playing somewhere where I don’t feel restricted and I can play freely, truly express myself and show that I have the abilities to play in one of the top leagues is key.”
After returning from Poland, Moli played for Nuneaton Borough in the National League North but he is now back where he loves it most, playing overseas. He recently made his debut for Pärnu Vaprus, playing over 70 minutes in a 1-1 draw in the top flight.
“I find it easier playing abroad now because I’m a lot more mature mentally so I can cope with it now a lot better than I did when I went to France or in Poland. I believe I’ll have my breakthrough season sooner rather than later.”
Moli sees Estonia as the ideal place to kick-start his career and he is determined to show everyone what he has to offer.
“I feel like I’m at that age now that just having the potential is not enough,” he says. “I have to show it and I can only do that through hard work and I believe I will.
“My understanding of the game is a lot better now and I’m physically stronger so now it’s time to work and live up to my potential and expectations of what people once had for me.”
The 23-year-old has shown he is not afraid to travel to progress his career, whether that be as a 14-year-old moving to one of the country’s biggest clubs or as a young pro trying to find fitness with a move to the Maldives. There is still plenty more to come from Dave Moli.