As the most recent edition of the FIFA World Cup came to an end a few days ago, emotions varied among the few Filipinos who followed each game closely. They were either ecstatic if they were fans of La Furia Roja (Spain), as the team had lifted their first ever World Cup trophy. Then the supporters of the Oranje (Netherlands), would be heartbroken as their team, for the third time in its history, reached the finals but failed to win the title. They would be even gutted if they were supporters of the teams that had to pack up and go home early in the tournament. But the typical emotions one Filipino should bear are desire and hope. The desire to see their own flag being waved in the world’s most popular sporting event, and the hope that the day that desire will become a reality won’t be too faraway.
So far in our nation’s footballing history we have met no notable success in the sport other than being champions in the 1913 Far Eastern Games, although at that time we were flying the flag of the United States being part of their Commonwealth still. This is a big surprise as our country was the first Asian nation to establish a national football team, but despite this our country has never qualified even for Asia’s most premier footballing tournament, the Asian Cup and has only qualified once for football in the Asian Games. Not even the premier trophy of arguably Asia’s weakest footballing region, South East Asia, the Philippines managed to win. These statistics sum up a massive disappointment for our country.
Even one of our neighbors, Indonesia, who aren’t even ranked top 20 in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), have accomplished something our national team haven’t even gone close to achieving, and that is to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. And note, they didn’t have a formal national side until after the second World War.
It is foolish to assert that Filipinos “are not footballers” and therefore it is useless to dream of success from this sport. Mind you, the all-time top goalscorer of one of the world’s finest team, F.C. Barcelona, is a Filipino. He was a Spanish-Filipino named Paulino Alcantara, born in the Philippines and plied his trade with FC Galeno in Spain before being discovered by an agent and signed for F.C. Barcelona. He was the first Asian to ever play for a European club.
And the backbone of our country’s national football team have been Filipino-foreign players. Footballers who are half-Filipinos or Filipino immigrants and have plied their trade in other countries. This is good development by the Philippine Football Federation (PFF), our country’s footballing body, however, how often could we find a player of such criterion that is good enough to play internationally? And even if we do, the best Filipino-foreign players would normally opt to play for their second country if it has a better chance of success in football or if they have a good program for the sport. The best breakthrough the country has done in finding Filipino-foreign players was to discover the Younghusband brothers, James and Phil, who both used to play for Chelsea F.C. (yes, the English team) reserve team.
The Azkals, as our national team is fondly called, may attribute their failures to inadequate support from the national government. In a country where basketball is the national past-time, it is difficult to financially aide two sports especially when education and social services dictate a greater portion of the annual budget.
There are means however, the country’s rich corporations could be tapped to foresee the development of the sport in exchange for sponsorships or promotions just like what companies are doing in the PBA (Philippine Basketball Association). The most basic requirement Philippine football would need is organization, a proper leadership in the Philippine Football Federation to appoint a proper coaching staff. The coaching staff would in turn seek to establish a proper training regime that would guarantee long-term fitness and training to Filipino footballers. And of course, all these have to be done as soon as possible to be able to achieve the benefits as soon as possible as well. Who knows, maybe Brazil 2014 might be sooner than everyone thinks it is.