football-pitch

OPINION: Double whammy of concerns in Philippine Football

This past weekend has been quite an eventful one for “The Beautiful Game” in the Philippines.

LICENSE TO PLAY – LICENSE DENIED!

With just exactly a week ahead of the kickoff of the Philippine Premier League (PPL), the Philippine Football Federation released an official statement that three clubs, namely Mendiola FC, Philippine Air Force FC, and Espana United have been denied licenses that would technically forfeit their participation in the upcoming league.

The decision can be considered a major concern for now especially for fans as it would mean that the pool competitors in the upcoming domestic league is now further lessened down to five.

Five is such a low number when it comes to competing clubs in a tournament. That’s only one team more for an outright semifinal stage, while two more compared to an outright podium finish. If this proceeds which such a number of teams, then this league is going to be – sorry for the word- nothing else but farce. Chances are, even most school-level intramural tourneys may even boast more teams.

So, will the PPL proceed with just five teams then? Most probably not. Contingencies could come into play for the league to push through with the initial seven clubs (which is already quite a few).

It will be quite an interesting next few days as the PPL gets closer to commencing its maiden season, and the few football fans in the country are surely on a high in terms of the anticipation for the wrong reasons (but it still generates interest, probably).

Also, many fans seem to be pointing the finger to PFF for this issue, but there could be some legitimate reasons behind the denial of licenses. The PPL is still not giving an official statement regarding it and is not airing any reflex negative reactions so they maybe are aware and receptive of the federation’s decision.

In spite of this unpleasant development, here’s to hoping still for the PPL to overcome this challenge and be able to push through with reviving an already ailing domestic club football scene. Because a five team league won’t cut it and may have repercussions that would reach the country’s standing when it comes to eligibility of Filipino clubs to compete in the AFC competitions.

THE PLIGHT OF OUR FOOTBALLING YOUTH

On other fronts, the Philippine U-23 Team has just completed two matches in the ongoing AFC U-23 qualification tournament in Malaysia. So far, the results have been far from desirable (diplomatically speaking). 

The team opened its campaign with a 3-0 defeat against hosts Malaysia. The scoreline may have been a dominant one for the hosts on paper but actually, Malaysia were lackluster. They could have scored more if not for some squandered gilt-edged chances. 

And with goalkeeper, Michael Asong, the best player for the Philippines in that match with several key saves, it tells a lot that the national team could be in for a very long day come their next match against China.

Indeed, it has been a nightmare that won’t be easily forgotten against the East Asian powerhouse made it a no-contest with an 8-0 mauling, putting the Filipino squad virtually out of the running to qualify for the main event in Thailand.

With such a lopsided result and a doomed campaign after just two fixtures, the hard fact comes to the forefront once again: The Philippine football setup for the youth is far from ideal to produce an internationally competitive squad.

The current team is mainly composed of student athletes in a program that is not football-centric in terms of development.

Our players, naturally gifted and physically sound as they are, are still raw when it comes to competitiveness in junior international levels.

We may have Dylan de Bruycker, Jordan Jarvis, Dean Ebarle and Troy Limbo who have experience in football academies and/or professional level, but they won’t suffice if the opposition are already in reserve or even starters (even stars) in their respective senior club teams. It’s actually a no-brainer. The difference in quality is obvious on the pitch!

For now, it’s no wonder that the senior team, the Azkals, still scout overseas-based eligible players to play for the squad.

The longer one sees the current situation of Philippine youth football, the more it seems like a “chicken and egg” scenario. It’s not even a grassroots thing. The problem lies in the transition from grassroots to the elite level. The setup to bridge that gap is where the challenge lies.

Presently, typical local-based young Filipino footballers playing either in the streets or grassroots programs who have potential to take their talents to the next level just don’t have the means to receive sustained training and development to being an elite or professional unless they have the financial means to go overseas for trials in the hopes of being accepted into academies.

Only Filipinos, or kids with Filipino heritage, based overseas (mainly in a footballing nation) can have such an opportunity to be able to further their footballing abilities and qualities towards a more advanced phase.

Currently, there are football training centers locally that are starting to raise the bar in terms of developing talent, but they are still far from the levels of other footballing nations (even in comparison to our Southeast Asian neighbors).

So, it seems the domination of local born-and-raised talents in the national teams is still far from happening. It might even occur that our youth squads will have the same setup as the senior side in the near future.

A “Chieffy” Caligdong doesn’t come by regularly (Jovin Bedic could be at closest thing at the moment), while chances for a Pinoy kid lighting up the streets somewhere in the province being discovered and plucked by a massive foreign club is quite impossible yet at this point in time.

Until we produce youths who went up the ranks in the football development ladder and not through the usual (at least in the Philippines) school varsity system, expect our junior national football teams to get regularly schooled in international football.

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