Bernardo M. Villegas
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Soccer Can Unite the Country

           My favorite soccer commentator is Rob Hughes of the International Herald Tribune (IHT).  He never limits himself to the technical aspects of the beautiful game.  He always has some insights into human values and virtues (or vices as in the case of arrogant coaches or dishonest players).  He started his commentary on the most beautiful game I have ever seen, the Spain-Italy final match in the last Euro Cup with:  "The reign of Spain is not in question now.  The world and European champion's 4 - 0 destruction of Italy in Kiev on Sunday leaves no scintilla of doubt.  This was the best spanking the best of the rest.  David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata scored.  But it could have been any Spaniard, because, as the media critics kept insisting, Spain lacks a central striker.  Spain, they said, is boring."  He ends his commentary with well-deserved sarcasm against the critics:  "There is, as they say, no central striker which is possibly why Spain only won the day by a four-goal margin."

          Now, that the cheering is over and people are already looking forward to the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and the Euro Cup in France in 2016, I would like to get the most mileage from this "scintillating" Spanish victory for my  advocacy of more soccer in the Philippines.  I maintain that soccer, if played the Spanish or Barca way, can contribute significantly to an increase in the spirit of teamwork and cooperation that is sorely lacking in Philippine society.  It is often observed that Filipinos excel as individuals in many professions or occupations abroad.  When they are in the Philippines, however, there is a very noticeable lack of cooperation.  Training from kindergarten in playing soccer may address part of this problem.  That is an important lesson we can learn from the stunning victory of Spanish team. 

          The very style that some critics were lamenting as "boring"--the tiki-taka technique perfected by the best football club in the world, FC Barcelona (Barca)--enabled the Rojas to clinch three consecutive world class titles.  The essence of the style is constant passing:  pass and move.  As Hughes commented:  "It was hard work, but far from boring Spain has been doing this since Luis Aragones, the coach before Del Bosque, urged it in Spanish youth teams.  Habits have to be inculcated early.  F.C. Barcelona does it almost from kindergarten level, when its La Masia

academy recruits boys who are brainwashed in two absolute virtues:  to share the ball and to remain modest, whatever they achieve."

          Seven out of the 23 members of the Spanish team are from FC Barcelona.  Fellows like Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas were "brainwashed" from their youth to share the ball and to be modest. Xavi is especially valuable to the team.  As Hughes observes:  "The on-field controller of Barcelona's current side, and of Spain's, is Xavi.  His eye and his mind's eye can move the ball more quickly than most men think."  Xavi, like Lionel Messi--the Argentinian player for Barca and considered the most valuable soccer player in the world--is the quintessential product of the La Masia training academy.  God willing, we may have a Filipino nine-year old who can follow the footsteps of these soccer greats.  Sandro Reyes, a grade school student of the Southridge school for boys, has been accepted into the academy that is preparatory to La Masia.   Sandro tried out and, among 2,400 handpicked players from all over the world, was one of the less than 5 accepted to the FC Barcelona Escola academy, a feeder school to La Masia.  The Escola selects and trains players as early as when they are 6 years old and graduates them when they are 12 years old. Yearly, around 10 of its 60 graduates move into La Masia.  Even if Sandro does not immediately get into La Masia, he can join other Barcelona area clubs before he can try out again for the Barca team. 

          Sandro is the son of Edmund Reyes, Jr., former Congressman from Marinduque and grandson of the present Governor of the same province, Carmencita O. Reyes.  If Sandro finally gets into La Masia, he will be following the footsteps of Paulino Alcantara. a Spanish mestizo whose mother was from Iloilo and is considered one of the best football players to ever have played for Barca.  That was one century ago. Let us pray that Sandro will be given the chance to prove that Filipinos can be world class in the beautiful game even today.

          Winning Euro Cup 2012 showed that Spain is number one in soccer in the world. There is, however, another cause for celebration that I observed after the game was over.  I was happy for Spain when the children of the football players of the winning team came cavorting around the field pursued by their doting fathers.  Especially heartening was the sight of Fernando Torres, one of the scorers, carrying a daughter on one hand and a son on the other.  The sight of these macho players affectionately fondling their toddlers must have sent a strong message to many Spaniards couples that children can be the greatest source of happiness on earth.  I am saying this because it is pitiful to see a country I have come to love condemning itself to extinction by having one of the lowest fertility rates in the world. The Spanish football players did another great service to their country by bringing their little children all the way to Ukraine to be with them to celebrate their victory.  More than any marketing campaign to raise fertility rates, the scene of the players and their children on the football field delivered a most cogent message.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.