UPDATE (3/15/16): After impressing in Chelsea’s youth system for a couple years, Faiq Bolkiah just signed a three-year pro deal with Premier League-leaders Leicester City. According to ESPN sources, Leicester City thinks highly enough of Bolkiah that they’re signing him with the intention of integrating him into the first team. Go on, young sultan.
On the face of it, Faiq Bolkiah looks like any other up-and-coming English Premier League youth prospect. His profile on Chelsea’s website shows a taut-faced U18 player, his bio clocking in at an innocuous 39 words.
Faiq Bolkiah is originally from Brunei and was at Southampton and Reading before moving to Chelsea in January 2014. He’s an attacking player who predominantly plays wide-right or wide-left and likes to cut inside to create and score goals.
A source told TopDrawerSoccer.com this week that U.S. U17 coach Richie Williams took a recent trip to London to scout an unidentified “Chelsea winger.” Bolkiah is of Bruneian heritage but was born in Los Angeles, is a Chelsea winger and was born in 1998, making him age eligible for the new U17 cycle starting later this year. Williams may well be looking at someone else on his trip, but there’s a good chance it’s Bolkiah.
If the story ended there, we could toss Bolkiah’s name onto the heap with the rest of the promising string of dual-nationals and move on. But it doesn’t, primarily because of Bolkiah’s family. His uncle is the Sultan of Brunei, one of the richest men on the planet (in 2008 Forbes reported his net worth at $20 billion). And according to Vanity Fair, his father, Prince Jefri of Brunei, has “probably gone through more cash than any other human being on Earth.” Prince Jefri might be the most notoriously lavish playboy in modern history. And his son could soon be in an American national team jersey.
At one time, Prince Jefri’s retinue of material things was almost unfathomably broad. Before many of his assets were sold after it was discovered he’d personally blown through $14.8 billion from a government oil investment fund he was purportedly overseeing, his list of possessions included but was certainly not limited to:
— 2,300 cars, most of which were Bentleys, Ferraris and Rolls-Royces
— A helicopter and eight private planes, one of which was a Boeing 747
— Five diamonds estimated at $200 million
— $1.3 million worth of “erotic fountain pens”
— A fleet of yachts, including a mega-yacht with an, ahem, “interesting” name
— A $7 million gold rug embroidered with 25,000 precious stones
The roll of excess is unfathomably long. It was alleged Prince Jefri (his full name is His Royal Highness Pengiran Digadong Sahibul Mal Pengiran Muda Jefri Bolkiah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien) was spending in excess of $500,000 a day for 10 years to maintain his lifestyle. He once had a stadium built and paid Michael Jackson $17 million to perform for a birthday party. Jillian Lauren’s memoir Some Girls details her time in Prince Jefri’s harem, which was reportedly around 40 women strong for several years. As of 2008, Jefri had been married five times and was still married to three of those women, through whom he has 18 children.
In 1998, the year Faiq was born, Prince Jefri’s lavish lifestyle finally boomeranged back on him. The Asian market underwent a severe spasm in 1997-98, which caused Jefri’s Amedeo Development Corp, which he used to funnel his money, to collapse. He’d been the Finance Minister of Brunei since 1986, but the Sultan, now suspicious of the country’s gaps in its celebrated oil revenue, dispatched a team of assessors to examine their books. This is how things turned.
Ever since, Jefri’s been in a protracted battle with the state of Brunei he’s largely been losing. In 2000, he was reportedly court ordered to return more than 500 properties. The next year, 10,000 of his own personal lots were auctioned off in what was called at the time “the sale of the century.” Since losing a legal battle in 2010 against a pair of financial advisers to the tune of $21 million, things have been quiet on the Prince Jefri front. He reportedly still has an active warrant out for his arrest in the UK for failing to attend court to give evidence at a hearing. If he wanted to watch Faiq play for Chelsea, he’d likely have to do so clandestinely.
What this all means for Faiq Bolkiah’s soccer career is probably minimal. Prince Jefri may be a caricature of excess, but the number of teammates and coaches he’ll run into who know anything about it is probably in single digits. And Chelsea’s academy doesn’t trifle with legacy players in exchange for the promise of money or residual prestige. It has all the top-down capital it needs from another embattled billionaire, who’s now dealing with the specter of Financial Fair Play. Considering Chelsea just won the UEFA Youth League and is two legs against Manchester City away from winning the FA Youth Cup double later this month, it’s an earn-your-way academy. If Bolkiah (Prince Jefri named one of his many yachts after him in the 1990’s) can make it, he’ll have done so on his own merits.
But that doesn’t make the story of Bolkiah’s contentious family history any less interesting. If he turns up in the next U.S. U17 camp – or even residency – he’ll immediately be the most fascinating dual-national prospect in U.S. national team history.