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

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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).

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3 Comments on “beyond the azkals: the way forward for pilipinas futbol (the view behind the scenes)”

  1. cj says:

    I remember bringing a lot of these concerns on my comments on the Filipinofootball blog and I am glad to sse that the PFF are addressing these concerns. I am still disappointed that we did not use some of these surplus funds to join the youth AFC competitions(one of the very AFC few countries who have not joined even one) as we now have plenty of U-20 youth players who have played high level youth football in Germany and the US to help make our youth teams competitive. I also hope they help guide the setting up of a really professional national league that will help develop our players and so that the products of the various grassroots and youth programs will have something to look forward to when they they finish their schooling. By an large, though, I think the PPP is doing an excellent job and I would like to commend them on a job well done.

  2. cj says:

    Hi critical eye,

    PFSA(aka Paul Weiler) just lambasted your article and the PFF, in usapangfootball under the PFF thread.
    His ideas doesn’t make sense and he comes up with this conspiracy theories that have no basis in reality.

    cj

    • criticaleye2 says:

      Thank you for the heads-up. Unfortunately, there will always be people who will never be satisfied. It is not really important who I am. I am just a lover of the game who decided to volunteer pro-bono my time, effort and resources to promote and help develop the game in the country. It is understandable that the jury is still out with regard to whatever outcome is finally attained with all this activity at PFF.


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