The Philippine National Football Team, or more commonly known as the Azkals to Filipinos, have garnered much praise from the country because of their success in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup. Their long run in the tournament was well documented by the media in the Philippines, bringing a much excitement to not only the Footballing community in the country, but also to those who turned a blind eye to the sport. Throughout social media today, one can see many Filipinos from all around the country praising the Azkals and many even desiring to play football. Yes, the success of the national team has ushered a pride towards the team that I have never experienced when I wore the jersey, yet this pride is blind to the fact that the state of football in the country will only decay as fans continue to praise the team amidst of their poor performances in tournaments and friendly matches. The public will continue to support a group of foreign players while the Football Federation of the country is making undersized attempts to create future generations of successful footballers.
I stated that I played for the Philippine National Football Team, which is true. In fact, I represented the country a few years ago in a U13 tournament in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and wore the number ten. The tournament was special for me because I finished as the top scorer of the team, scoring two goals against Cambodia and one against Australia. The tournament was not delightful at all times. To be honest, the tournament was absolutely horrendous. Perhaps looking on the bright side of the tournament is what most people would do, but just winning two games and losing 10-0 against Thailand, 6-1 to Australia, and 3-0 to our Singaporean neighbors makes it very hard to look at the bright side. The tournament caused me to evaluate myself as a player and evaluate what the Federation is doing to bridge the gap in international competition.
An assumption that one can make about football in the Philippines is that the system only supports the wealthy. This was evident in the Palarong Pambansa tournament in 2008 wherein I competed and assisted in achieving a silver medal finish for the National Capital Region. As a late pre-tournament warm up match, we played against the Eastern Visayas Region. The kids that I faced were not equipped with the proper gear to participate in a football match. They had no shin pads, the shoes that they wore were not soccer boots and most of them were only wearing one shoe, clothes were too large, and they were living on Php200 for the whole two week stay.
Globally, football knows no religion, no race, no language, and no social status. People participate in the game because you are only judged on how good you are and nothing else. However, the Philippines has not yet immersed themselves in this truth. Playing in youth tournaments in Manila and the surrounding area, I was approached by a club in Makati that offered me to play with them in their yearly European tour. The club asked me to join them four times throughout my childhood and even proposed to pay 1,000 dollars to assist me to take part in this great opportunity, but my family just could not afford to pay for the trip. It’s heartbreaking to win numerous MVP awards, be top scorer of my club and school team, get a high school scholarship and yet I can’t take my talents to Europe just because of financial problems.
If you look at the roster of the Azkals, one can see that there is only a minute number of players coming from the Philippines. The players come from Germany, Spain, England, and the United States. A common fan would not mind the international flavor of our team, but coming from a footballer, this is a massive problem. How is the Philippines going to compete in international football again after these present players retire? How will you continue to attract players to wear the jersey that I love if they know that all the Federation expects is not to lost by ten goals? How are you going to attract youngsters to play the game if all they see is the team bringing shame to the country? The Football Federation should focus on grassroots football.
After leaving the country in early 2010 for the United States, my game matured and I became well-versed in the ways of football success. Club soccer, state soccer, high school soccer, academy soccer, professional soccer, and national team soccer…THERE’S SO MUCH SOCCER in this country! The success of soccer in the United States lies on the opportunity that the country gives to its youth. The opportunities given are available to all who desire to be a top player. Talent is found and it is cultivated to bring out the best from a young man or woman. Now I should return to addressing my country. I am proud of my country, but I will not be a blind fan who praises the team when we lose 10-0 to South Korea. The problems of football should be given a solution early before we go into another stint of football shame. If we continue to ride this wave of temporary small success, the wave will crash on the rocks by the shore. We will go through a footballing circle of long failures in the international scene with petty achievements from time to time. The country will become pathetic once again.