Bernardo M. Villegas
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Soccernomics in the Philippine Setting (Part 3)

          In addition to qualifying for the Asian Cup for the first time, the national team reached the semifinal in the 2018 Asian Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup under the guidance of the recently hired coach, former England manager Sven Goran Ericsson, who had coaching jobs in Italy, Portugal, UAE and China.  Mr. Ericsson met the national team in its training camp in Doha, Qatar, and liked what he saw not only in the specific players but in the potential of Philippine football in general.  I can easily surmise that Mr. Ericsson accepted the job not for financial considerations (we have very little to offer) but because of his generous desire to help the Philippines exploit fully its potentials in the sport. 

         We are among the few Asian countries with a young and growing population.  Fifty percent of our population are less than 23 years old.  As the Philippine Government increases significantly its investments in both education and health of this young population, we have so much human potential to produce our own Luka Mordic (star player from Croatia which has a population of only 4 million compared to our 104 million today) or Lionel Messi (arguably the best football player on the planet today). 

         Unfortunately, despite the relative success of our national team, club football remained unstable in 2018.  There are only three remaining clubs (from the original six) that are participating in the Philippine Premier League (PPL) (which took the place of the Philippines Football League).  As Mr. Tupas reported, the home-and-away format of the PFL proved daunting for the clubs logistically and financially, with almost zero return on investment.  PPL commissioner Bernie Sumayao said it all: “There was no revenue, no national sponsorship, no television media and limited attendance at stadiums with numerous restrictions enforced.  The PPL is a new neutral independent league whose main objective is to contribute to the development of football in the country.  We have to stay positive and never lose hope.”

         As an active consultant of a good number of LGUs, I am appealing   to my friends in Palawan (Governor Pepito Alvarez); in Bataan (the Garcias); Quezon Province (the Suarez family); Batangas (Governor Dodo Mandanas); Rizal (the Ynares family); and Lanao del Norte (the Dimaporos) to do everything possible to convince their stakeholders from the business community, civil society, academe and LGU units to put together the resources to be able to organize a club that can participate in the next round of competition of the Philippine Premier League that starts in March 2019.  A football club representing a specific city or province can be an effective way of developing a certain brand that can be used by the city or province to market itself to investors and tourists from all over the Philippines as well as to the world.  There is no question that one of the most famous football clubs in the world, FC Barcelona, has done much to promote its home city Barcelona.  Or the two Manchester clubs (United and City) that have contributed a very positive image to Manchester City in the U.K.  In the local scene, already the Ceres Negros Club (champion of the Philippines Football League) and the Kaya Football Club (champion of the Paulino Alcantara Cup) have promoted the brands of Iloilo and Bacolod respectively.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

         Over the next twelve years, as we aspire to qualify for the World Cup competition in 2030, let us build on our strengths, overcome our weaknesses, exploit the opportunities and make the threats irrelevant by devising the appropriate strategies to promote football as a major national sport in the Philippines (which is the main mission). Let us not be discouraged by our defeats in the AFC Asian Cap of 2019. The vision, in addition to qualifying for the World Cup in 2030, is to have a thriving competition among regional football clubs all over the Philippine Archipelago.  I think it is not asking too much if we plan to have at least ten regional football clubs in the next five years (which will see Philippine GDP growing at a minimum of 6.5 percent yearly and a possible 7 to 8 percent as we implement more aggressively the Build Build Build program and open up the Philippines to more Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) by amending our Constitution).

         Realistically, football will have to play second fiddle to basketball for some time to come.  We are faced with more than a hundred years of U.S. presence in the Philippines which led to our literally “being brainwashed” to make basketball our top sport.  This will not change overnight.  What we have to do is plan long term to also “brainwash” the Generation Z (those born after 2000) with increased exposure to playing (if not watching) football.   The advantage of football is that children as young as four years old can already start playing futsal (a modified form of football with five on each side and played in a smaller space).  I have seen this with my grandnephews who are passionate about football because they are already exposed to futsal in their respective schools or clubs that they join.  Tens of thousands of very young children are now being helped to develop the skills of handling the ball with their feet, passing, scoring, goal keeping, etc. through futsal by an increasing number of company-sponsored programs, parishes involved in sports development, private foundations working especially with children in the public schools or depressed areas as well as exclusive private schools such as Ateneo, La Salle, Southridge, San Agustin, Everest, etc. (To be continued)