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Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Rise, Fall and Renaissance of Philippine Football

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A Glorious Past

The Philippine national football team had a long and rich history which began when they participated in the Far Eastern Championship Games where they regularly faced future football powerhouses like China and Japan.

The Legendary Paulino Alcantara

The national team won the inaugural tournament and finished as runner-ups seven times. The last time that the national team had a good showing was at the 1958 Asian Games where they caused an upset when they defeated Japan 1-0.

But ever since the 1958 Asian Games ended, Philippine Football was on a downward spiral due to a combination of basketball’s popularity and questionable decisions by Philippine Football leadership at that time.

The Downfall

Although the Philippine national football team was but a mere shadow of their former glory during the 1960s, they were still competing well in the regional level.

The national team at that time were benefiting from the generous Chinese community which funded commercial football leagues in the country which was drawing in Filipino-Chinese football talents.

But Fernando Alvarez, who was the secretary-general of the Philippine Football Association (PFA) at that time implemented the 60-40 rule which states that all teams under the PFA are required to have 60 percent Filipino players and 40 percent foreign players.

The rule effectively drove away Chinese sponsors which caused the leagues to dwindle. While the rule was lifted by the modern Philippine Football Moderation in 1982 the damage done was already too late to repair.

The Spark

In 2005, the Philippine Football Federation received an anonymous tip from a Football Manager gamer which alerted them about the eligibility of two Chelsea youth players James Younghusband and Phil Younghusband.

They were then called up to the Philippine youth teams and slowly climbed up to play for the senior squad.

The brothers would eventually be part of the PH eleven that pulled off an upset against regional powerhouse Vietnam 2-0 in the 2010 AFF Championship dubbed as “The Miracle of Hanoi” which helped sparked the Philippine football renaissance.

The support for the Philippine Azkals had grown ever since the successful 2010 AFF Championship campaign.

The Azkals in the 2010s finished as third placers and runner-ups in the 2012 and 2014 edition of the AFC Challenge Cup respectively.

The national team also made four semi-finals appearances in the AFF Championship from 2010-2018.

The Revival

Taking an inspiration from the Football Manager story of the discovery of the Younghusband brothers, Azkals scout Alfons Schunk took on the task of scouting Filipino talent in his native country Germany.

Little did he know that the players he scouted would be the current foundation of the Philippine Azkals.

Azkal at 2019 AFC Asian Cup

Filipino-Germans Stephan Schröck, Kevin Ingreso, Patrick Reichelt, Manuel Ott, Mike Ott and John-Patrick Strauss along with the Younghusband brothers and former England coach Sven-Göran Erikson would eventually lead the Azkals to a 2019 AFC Asian Cup berth which was the Philippine’s first ever appearance in the prestigious continental tournament.

While the Azkals lost all three of their games, it is a testament that Philippine football is steadily reviving.

A New Hope

In a press release by Qatar Airways on November 26, 2019, they have formally announced that they will be the Official Airline Partner of the Philippine Football League (PFL) until 2022 as part of their growing global sports portfolio.

Qatar Airways formalizes a 3-year deal with the PFL

The three-year deal was inked on January 26, 2020 which solves one of the problems of Philippine football funding.

The system of Philippine football will also change thanks to head coach Scott Cooper. A ‘succession plan’ is about to take place which enables the senior players to mentor the youth players for the national team.

The plan was already submitted to the Philippine Football Federation (PFF). The grassroots of Philippine football continues to progress as the PFF was awarded a silver membership by the Asian Football Confederation Grassroots Charter.

The Future

In what might possibly the best idea that the Philippine Football Federation has come up with, the formation of the Azkals Development Team (ADT) is underway and is set to compete in the upcoming Philippine Football League season.

Unlike professional clubs, the players in the development team are encouraged to move on to bigger clubs eventually.

This serves as a good stepping stone for young players as they are groomed to play not just in the Philippines but internationally as well.

The current pool of the development team includes former Bayer Leverkusen reserve player Kainoa Bailey, former Sunderland RCA player Troy Limbo, former Norwegian youth player Edison Suerti and Ateneo collegiate star Jarvey Gayoso. Foreign youngbloods Gerrit Holtmann, Nico De Vera, Michael Kempter, Raphael Obermair, and Jesse Curran are also set to join the Azkals in what is the team of the future.

The new Azkals photo from Azkals FB page

The football renaissance for the Philippines continues, and with the sponsorships, influx of young players, and a secure plan for the national youth teams, the only way to go for Philippine Football is up.

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