Bernardo M. Villegas
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Let Us Join Football Mania (Part 3)

          Increasing the number of professional football players in the country is necessarily a long-time process, starting with the grassroots programs we have described previously.  The ten-year-old boy who joins Liga Eskwela, the Alaska Cup or the Gawad Kalinga football program could be a professional football player ten years from now.  Without belittling homegrown talent, we should continue to capitalize on the potentially rich pool of professional football players among the Filipino mestizos all over the world.  We are fortunate that we have more than 10 million Filipinos overseas in more than 100 nations, a good number of them in football-crazy European, Asian and Middle Eastern countries.  The Philippine Football Federation, with the help of the local clubs, should build a rich database of these Filipino mestizos all over the world.  There are many more who can join the ranks of the following Filipino mestizos who are current or previous members of the national team, the Azkals, or of the top clubs in the PFL:  the brothers James and Phil Younghusband, who are British-Filipinos; Neil Etheridge, also British-Filipino; Nick O’Donnell, Canadian-Filipino; Javier Patiño, Spanish-Filipino; Misagh Bahadoran, Iranian-Filipino; Stephan Schröck, German-Filipino; Simone Rota, Italian-Filipino; Jerry Lucena, Danish-Filipino; Alexander Borromeo, Fil-American; Anton del Rosario (Fil-American). Players like these (and there are more who are playing for the local clubs participating in the Philippines Football League like Patrick Reichelt and Kevin Ingreso of Ceres-Negros) have the distinctive advantage over homegrown players of having been exposed to the advanced football culture of their European, Asian or Middle Eastern origins. They can be the strong allies of the coaches in instilling in local players the right skills and attitudes that have been perfected by the best football teams in the world.

         There have been a few occasions during which Filipino mestizos have reached the top of world football.  The most famous one is Paulino Alcantara born of a Spanish soldier and a Filipino mother from Iloilo.  Paulino has become a legend in Spain when he established a record of the number of goals in games he played for FC Barcelona in the 1920s.  His record was broken only in 2014 by Lionel Messi.  Today David Alaba, born to a Filipino mother and Nigerian father in Austria, is one of the top players of Bayern Munich, the number one club in the German league.  David plays for the Austrian national team and has been voted Austrian Footballer of the Year for six times.  He is only twenty-six years old and can still reap many football glories. These two legends can inspire Filipino children to reach the top of world football.

         There should be programs that expose our local talents to world-class football.  For example, just before the opening of the World Cup on June 14, 2018, two selected 12-year-olds from the Philippines will travel to Russia to participate in the 6th Gazprom Football for Friendship (F4F) International Programme.  They will be joined by kids from over 210 countries around the world.  AJ Boy Victoriano from Parañaque City was selected in the role of midfielder in the “Komodo Dragon” team, one of the 32 International Teams of Friendship that will play each other in the Gazprom F4F International Championship.  These young players will undergo a three-day training camp in Moscow under 14 to 16-year-old coaches from different countries.  All the young footballers will participate in workshops and sessions, conducted by renowned celebrities.  At the F4F Programme in Russia, AJ Boy will be accompanied by Matteo de Venecia, who will be acting as a young journalist who will cover all the local and global activities of the programme as part of the International Children’s Press Centre.  Matteo started playing football when he was 4 years, and is now playing for a club called Team Socceroo.  He is studying in PAREF Southridge, the very same school that produced Sandro Reyes who at the age of 9 was invited over five years ago to train at the famous FC Barcelona Escola, the same training school that produced arguably the best football player in the world today, Lionel Messi.  Sandro is now playing for one of the football clubs in the region of Catalunya.

         Speaking of Catalunya, there is a beach resort in one of the towns there, Salou, just an hour away by car from Barcelona, where a Filipino entrepreneur by the name of Frankie Araneta (faraneta@futbolsalou.com) conducts football clinics during the summer for children coming from the Philippines who want to be immersed in European football.  Families who go on tour to Spain can enjoy the attractions of this beach resort, south of the famous Costa Brava, as their children spend time attending the football clinic with others from different parts of the world.  For those families with the financial resources, attending football clinics in places like Salou is another way to expose our youth to world class football.  Needless to say, watching live football games in such stadia as Camp Nou in Barcelona or the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid can also increase the enthusiasm of our young football players to improve their footballing skills.

         I am sure the stakeholders of the football industry can think of many other measures to generate greater interest and participation in the sport of football.  Football fans in the Philippines should be especially grateful to MMC Sportz for having organized the first ever football business conference called “The Business of Football—Philippines”.  In the Message of MMC Sportz CEO Mr. Eric M. Gottschalk, I am glad to note that he shares my optimism that football can be the biggest spectator sport in the Philippines sometime in the future.  In this regard, we can make use of the new definition of business being given by those who refuse to think of business as “exclusively a profit-making venture.”  As I have written time and again, business is a “community of persons who have gotten together to promote the good of one another as they produce or sell a product or service to the market.”  Profit, of course, is a necessary means to make a business sustainable over the long run.  The stakeholders of football should answer the following call to action of Mr. Gottschalk:  “There is so much untapped potential in the football business that it is time to bring the football community together to discuss the state of the game and how we all can contribute to the development of the sport in the Philippines.”

         We should also respond to the challenge posed by Mr. Gottschalk:  “The inauguration of the professional football league in 2017 and the recent international success of both the men’s and women’s national football teams should be a springboard for the sport to finally take off in a basketball dominated country.  But we noticed that key stakeholders are still adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach while government spending into football is limited and corporate investment is needed into the sports infrastructure.  We noticed that retail offerings for football players are limited and the media is still not sure about the angle to make football a regular news feature.”  It is up to us stakeholders of football to mobilize our resources, skills and contacts to realize our dream of making football the biggest spectator sport in the country and to have our national team qualify for the World Cup in 2030.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia