Will The Philippines Just Kick The Ball!
Of the 200 countries that are members of FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), the Philippines ranks no. 168 in the FIFA World Rankings, proudly ahead of countries like Mongolia, US Virgin Islands, Macau, Cambodia, Nicaragua and Nepal among others. Not bad. But then, there’s still a long way to go before it joins the ranks of the top 20. In fact, Israel is the only team from Asia that sits in the top 20, all the rest are from Europe, South America or Africa.
Well, I’m sure it’ll take at least a decade for the Philippines to build a team with enough football talent to actually make an impact on the FIFA world stage, but then I believe it’s a talent that is really worth developing. We do have a Philippine National Football Team, but it really needs a boost! It needs the right resources. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we really suck. In fact, the Philippines has excelled in the sport of football, although it may be less-publicized.
I remember about 20 years ago when the Philippines joined the Under-13 and Under-16 football tournaments in the Gothia Cup and Helsinki Cup in Europe and came back home as the champions of both. I think it was in 1985 when Manila FC became Gothia Cup champions. I recall that the particular Philippine football team, which some of my Southridge schoolmates and classmates were part of, even had their team picture at the cover of Panorama magazine, which goes out every Sunday along with the Manila Bulletin.
I’m also certain that that wasn’t the only success of the Philippines as I’ve heard stories of how the Philippine football team was able to perform well in the Gothia Cup tournament and the Helsinki Cup tournament several years after.
There’s no problem with football during the developmental stage of the sport, say during elementary or high school. The problem comes when these high school varsity players hit college where the priority turns to girls and gimmick rather than training for football. And, of course, along with gimmicks and girls comes the introduction to all sorts of vices. I speak lightly from experience of friends and I suppose that of my own.
That plays a big role, and the fact that there is nothing else after college in terms of professional development with regards to the sport of football. Basketball has the PBL and the PBA, football has nothing else to offer. What is left is a once-in-a-while representation for the country in events like the SEA Games or something, and the Philippine team just doesn’t have the proper training tools to be really competitive.
We’ll get back to that later. In the meantime, let’s take the shining example of Filipino-English brother James and Phil Younghusband. Both kids are professional footballers, who began their careers with Chelsea FC youth and reserve team. Yes, the same Chelsea that is home to the likes of Michael Ballack, Didier Drogba and Andrei Schevchenko. I believe James Younghusband played for other English teams with the last one being Woking FC of the Conference National League in England. Phil Younghusband, I believe, is still with the Chelsea reserve team. Of course, both of them played for the Philippines in the ASEAN Championships, the SEA Games and the AFC Challenge Cup.
In any case, while being born in England made it easier for them to develop their football, and jump-start to a successful football career with the English clubs, it is not a far-fetched idea to think that the opportunity can be made available to Filipinos. The Younghusbands started their “football careers with Chelsea” at about age 10.
Now – if you look at football in general and think of all the leagues and tournaments there are out there. There are several prestigious leagues in almost every country in Europe. Africa, Asia, North America or South America, and definitely more places to land a football playing job than basketball. Maybe dreaming of getting into the Spanish Primera Liga seems far-fetched, but then there’s always the Segunda Liga. There’s also Major League Soccer in the US, or maybe the English Premier League, or maybe something a bit more tame like the Conference National League. There’s also a Turkish Super League or maybe the J-League in Japan. Whatever league it is, one thing is for sure – football clubs pay well! In fact, they pay really well for good talent.
Once upon a time, David Beckham was paid the equivalent of $27 million when he was transferred from Manchester United to Real Madrid. Of course, that’s a bit expensive, but then there are others. The fact is, becoming a professional football player can be a lucrative career with a lot of opportunities to play in various parts of the world.
Also, size doesn’t matter much when the ball is on the ground, and while the average Filipino height of 5’8″ is hoping to become Kobe Bryant, it’s just not going to happen. Football is one sport where the Philippines may excel despite their lack of height.
Of course, while getting inspired to be one may be the easy part, the harder part is in the development of the training within the country. We need proper stadiums. We need proper tournaments, and maybe we need some sort of professional-type league to entice the kids to continue on with their careers past high school. I’m not sure, but can’t we have a Philippine Football Association, sort of like the PBA?
San Miguel FC, GInebra FC, Shell FC, Alaska FC. Anyone? Anyone?