beyond the azkals: the way forward for pilipinas futbol (the view behind the scenes)

Shirt badge/Association crest

Image via Wikipedia

MAKATI, Philippines – While the focus of the Filipino nation has been on the Philippine Azkals, the wheels are actually turning furiously behind the scenes as the Philippine Football Federation (PFF)  and its new administration seek to build a robust foundation in a bid to sustain the gains that have been made in the past year. Given the sad state of affairs (no money, no tournaments, no grassroots programs, politicking, etc.) that the current PFF leadership inherited when it took over late last year, the challenge is difficult but time is of the essence.

Admittedly things could be better but we have to start somewhere. Let us look, however, at what has been achieved in the past 6 or so months.

The PFF currently has 2 youth level national level tournaments going on. The Under-19 championship has completed cluster and regional qualifying tournaments with the national finals set for May 20th to the 29th.

The Suzuki Cup Under-23 championship tournament is currently in the thick of the regional qualifying round which are currently on-going in Los Banos and Bacolod. The final four tournament for the Under 23s will be in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo later this month. After that, the top two teams will play a home and away series to determine the national champions.

Holding these youth level tournaments is not easy. A lot of credit has to go to the local (or provincial/regional) football associations who held their elimination tournaments, trained their teams for the regional and national eliminations, arranged to get their teams to the tournament sites and get them back home safely.

Kudos also go to the local associations who hosted the tournaments. Hosting a tournament is no piece of cake. The host association has to find and secure the playing site, arrange for accommodations of the participating teams and take care of the other logistical requirements for the tournament. We also have to thank the PFF technical officials who actually run the tournaments.

Again, things could be better. But then again, after at least three years of no activity, you would expect everyone involved to be a little rusty. But, for the most part, the tournaments have run smoothly and more importantly, new talent has been unearthed and are being developed, which, after all, is the reason we have these tournaments.

The youth program is actually the middle component of a full-blown national program. Below the youth level is the grassroots program. This is where the real challenge lies. Efforts are being made to bring the Department of Education (DepEd) into the picture. The discussions have so far been encouraging and for that we have to extend our appreciation to DepEd Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro. The broad outline of the plan is to incorporate football into the physical education programs of DepEd. PFF will be providing technical support to the DepEd through the provision of equipment and personnel to jump start the program.

The top-end of the totem pole is the establishment of a semi-professional league into which products of our grassroots and youth-level programs can play in. There have been failed attempts in the past to establish such a league. In a sense, the institutional infrastructure or the lack thereof can be cited as a key contributing factor to these failures. We have to strengthen and make sustainable our feeder (youth and grassroots) systems to serve as a continuing source of players for a national league.

In the interim, the PFF-SMART Clubs’ Championships for senior men will be conducted. This tournament is currently in its regional qualifying stages with the national championship being decided later this year. On the senior level, it is also envisioned that we will build on the trail-blazing activities of a group called the Football Alliance who out of nothing have taken the United Football League or UFL to where it is right now – a regular and sustainable league at the senior level.

The current PFF leadership, however, acknowledges that it cannot take credit for the success of the Philippine Azkals. Credit for that rightly belongs to National Team Manager and PFF Governor Dan Palami and his management team (Franco Lorenzo, Chad Pacana, Ace Bright), the coaches (Hans Michael Weiss, Edwin Cabalida, Bracky Bracamonte, Rolando Pinero) and the technical staff (Josef Malinay, Wally Javier and Chester Benedict). Dan has used his own resources to build the Azkals into what they are today – no longer the laughingstock of Asian football.

The use of the so-called “Fil-foreigners” has been taken with some trepidation is some sectors. I think it’s time we stop calling them that. These foreign domiciled players are the sons of OFWs. How can we separate our looking up to OFWs as heroes and yet saddle their off-spring with such an awkward label – “Fil-something”? These players come to play for the country without even the promise of financial compensation. Granted, the National Team management and the PFF pay for their transportation for national team events and arrange for their accommodations but don’t you think that’s the least we can do for their sacrifice of having to leave their families for weeks at a time?

I sincerely hope that we end this practice which smacks of some level of inferiority complex relative to Filipinos living overseas. We have to accept that the best of our nation’s progeny will not necessarily come from the physical geographic boundaries of our country. We, in the corporate world, scour the globe for talent from Filipinos who have lived overseas and have experienced how things can be done better in the hopes of building a better country. It is acknowledged that their experience gained in globally competitive environments will help our country. Why can’t we accord our athletes the same level of respect? These are after all not naturalized citizens, these are players with actual Filipino blood in them (bet you you didn’t know that Rob Jonsson, who lives all the way out in Iceland, speaks fluent Cebuano, did you?).

Bear in mind, that while our national team program incorporates looking for talent all over the globe, we are also not being remiss in our goal of finding and developing talent within the country. So let’s show some level of open-mindedness and maturity and just get on with it.

What have been mentioned so far are just the programs focused on player development. The PFF is also in the process of helping the local associations strengthen themselves. Beyond that, the direction for the PFF is to open its membership not just to geographic associations but also to other stakeholders like football clubs, referees and coaches and others. The membership committee under the leadership of PFF Governor Atty. Anlu Carpio is in the process of finalizing amendments to the PFF charter that will allow these and other reforms to be codified and aligned with FIFA statutes. It is expected that these amendments will be presented for approval at a special meeting of the PFF Congress on July 2nd.

Training and development programs are also currently being conducted for referees, coaches and other match officials which are essential for the growth of the sport in the country.

Inside the PFF itself, the PFF Board of Governors at its meeting on April 30th confirmed the appointment of a new Treasurer coming from the private sector as well as policies and procedures governing its financial transactions. Even before the approval of these policies, PFF finance officials had already begun to incorporate these new policies to ensure transparency and accountability in line with best practices in corporate governance. These words may seem self-serving and some might think, too high level, but the PFF takes its responsibility of being good stewards of the resources that have been generously provided to it very seriously. As a result, the PFF Finance Committee was able to present to the PFF Board of Governors its first-ever quarterly financial statement which showed the organization having a substantial operating surplus (the equivalent of operating at a profit in the private sector).

We understand the importance of fiscal responsibility and the exercise of prudence in the judicious use of the resources that we have been entrusted with. The PFF will spend what is necessary to promote the development of the sport while at the same time having a critical eye towards the potential for waste and unnecessary expenses.

If you have been paying attention, there has so far been only implied mention of programs for women’s and girl’s programs. Actions are being taken to upgrade the standard of the women’s side of Philippine football. We believe that our senior women’s national team has the potential to dominate in the Southeast Asian region and be competitive with the rest of Asia. This will come in due time as the organizational structure for women’s football is strengthened and re-focused.

Plans for the continued development of futsal and beach football are also in the works.

Phew!

A lot has been done but a lot still needs to be done. The PFF national headquarters is composed of just under 30 people who have to cover and oversee all of these programs all over the country. To say that the PFF is stretched is to minimize the work that these band of committed people have done in the past 6 months or so. But they do it for the love of the game.

All throughout these months of non-stop activities, mistakes have been committed and there will continue to be mistakes. But the PFF will learn from these and do better. As was said earlier, things can be better and every effort will be made to make it so. The PFF also acknowledges shortcomings in certain areas (non-functioning website, among other things). Rest assured, the federation is working on it.

To those who will see this as nothing more than a “puff” piece, well, in a way, it is. But, somehow, we have to get the word out. All these things that have been done are not merely for the people who are doing it. More than that, the aim here is to gain the trust of the “newbies” who have just come to appreciate the game that we love and in many cases, also to regain the trust of the “oldies” and “diehards” who have been disenchanted through those dark years that pervaded Philippine Football.

And in so doing, maybe just maybe, we can prove to Manolo Inigo and his ilk that the Azkals rage will never be stilled. Not if we can help it anyway (smiley).

Advertisements

philippine football, the azkals & understanding how far we have come & how far we still have to go

Joseph Blatter announcing 2014 World Cup will ...

Image via Wikipedia

MAKATI, Philippines – With all the hoopla that’s surrounding the upcoming home and away World Cup qualifying match pitting the Philippine Azkals and the Sri Lanka Lions, it’s difficult not to get carried away by unrealistic expectations. I had an interesting conversation with Bert Honasan, the Philippines’ Mr. Football in 1977 and currently one of the technical coordinators at the Philippine Football Federation. Bert shares the same lament. He feels that the mainstream media does not know enough about the relative standing of Philippine Football in the global football community and therefore may be feeding the unrealistic expectations of the casual fan.

The current qualification campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is the first one that the Philippines has participated in since attempting to qualify for the 2002 World Cup jointly hosted by Japan and South Korea. We did not participate in the qualifying rounds for both the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa.

In trying to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, the Philippines was placed in a group which included Oman, Syria and Laos. In the double round robin group competition, the Philippines did not win a single game – losing 5 and drawing 1 (a 1-1 draw with Laos in the only game played in Manila). To say that the campaign was an embarrassment is to understate things. In the 5 games that we lost, the scores were – 12-0, 5-1, 7-0, 2-0 and 2-0. Including the drawn game, the Philippines scored 2 goals (Jimmy Dona and Yanti Barsales – yes, the same indomitable Yanti Barsales who still plays for the Azkals).

The Challenge Cup is a tournament among second-tier Asian countries whose winners eventually qualify for the Asian Cup (where powerhouses like Japan, Australia and South Korea, among others play). To get to the Asian Cup, the Philippines has to win either the 2012 Challenge Cup or the 2014 Challenge Cup. The Asian Cup is held every 4 years while the Challenge Cup is held every 2 years.

To even get to the Challenge Cup tournament proper, we had to go through an initial pre-qualifying round (the one against Mongolia) and a final qualifying round (that tournament in Myanmar where we drew with Myanmar and Palestine and beat Bangladesh). The reason for the multiple qualifying maze was the dismal ranking of the Philippines. The Challenge Cup tournament will be held from March 3rd to March 18th next year at a still undetermined location.

The other recent tournament that the Philippines participated in was the Suzuki Cup which is basically the Southeast Asian championship. This was the tournament where we lost to Indonesia in the semifinals while beating defending champion, Vietnam, along the way.

To put things in perspective, this is the first time we have qualified for this level of the Challenge Cup since it was shifted to the current format in 2008 and the semi-final finish was the highest ever achieved by the Philippines in the Suzuki Cup.

Going back to the World Cup qualification campaign, Sri Lanka will be our first roadblock. Do we stand a chance?

The last FIFA rankings released April 11th showed the Philippines ranked #155 while Sri Lanka was ranked #171. But as coach and current PFF Technical Committee head, Aris Caslib, said – the rankings don’t really tell the whole story. Sri Lanka did participate in the Challenge Cup final qualifying round (albeit in a different group from the Philippines)  and finished dead last in its group losing even to war-torn Afghanistan.

Most of the players of the Sri Lankan team play in their premier domestic league called the Dialog Champions League. A couple play in Maldives which has a slightly better domestic league than Sri Lanka and one player (Defender Dennis Maharajan) who plays in England for Edgware Town FC, a team that participates in the Spartan South Midlands League – a low-level league in England.

Half of the Azkals play in the UFL while the other half play overseas. Of those who play overseas, most of them play in credible leagues including goalkeeper Neil Etheridge who plays for Fulham in the English Premiere League – one of the toughest leagues in the world.

So from what can be gleaned from all these, the Azkals should win over Sri Lanka.

If they do, they go up against Kuwait in the next round in another home and away series. Kuwait is ranked #101, 54 places ahead of the Philippines. Forget about the Challenge Cup, Kuwait played in the Asian Cup (although it did finish last in its group). Kuwait played in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Almost all of its players play in their domestic league where competition is miles ahead of any Asian domestic league except Japan and maybe South Korea.

The Azkals have already accomplished a lot. They look like they will add another feather in their cap in the fixtures against Sri Lanka. A reasonable and fairly knowledgeable football fan will probably say that’s probably as far as we can go for now. That Kuwait will end our run. But don’t tell that to Dan Palami. Dan thinks the Azkals have a decent chance against Kuwait and should at least acquit themselves fairly well.

The bottom line is this – the Azkals have done us proud by achieving what they have achieved. It has been a long, hard and definitely rocky road. Philippine football is alive and kicking but there is definitely more work that needs to be done to ensure that the foundation that has been built will not be wasted.

In the meantime, GO AZKALS!

WE BELIEVE!


philippine men’s national football team (azkals) training schedule

Joseph Blatter announcing 2014 World Cup will ...

Image via Wikipedia

Philippine Men’s National Football Team Training Schedule – 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying First Round

May 9 – May 22 Alabang, Muntinlupa

May 23 – May 24 Iloilo City/Barotac Nuevo (Practice Game vs. Central Philippine University Football Center)

May 25 – May 31 Cebu

June 1 – June 11 Manila (Rizal Memorial Sports Complex)

June 4 – Launch of WE BELIEVE campaign

June 12 – June 26 Germany (5 Practice games vs. 2nd/3rd Division Bundesliga Teams)

June 27 – June 29 Sri Lanka (June 29 – First Leg of First Round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)

June 30 – July 3 Manila (July 3 – June 29 – First Leg of First Round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifier)