Thursday, May 04, 2017
Lessons To Be Learnt From Non Footballing Philippines
This weekend sees the start of a new football era in Philippines with a new national league, called Philippines Football League, kicking off. The league boasts eight clubs and unlike the Manila based UFL that we have seen in recent years, the PFL will have teams based around the country with three in Manila, one just outside and the remaining four spread around the country.
Kaya FC - Makati kick off the new league when they entertain Ceres Negros on Saturday afternoon with Stallion Laguna playing Meralco Manila later in the evening and there will be a further two games on the Sunday. Each team plays each other home and away before going into a play off system and deciding the winners by a grand final.
It has been a remarkable few years for Philippine football fans. To all intents and purposes the game outside the islands was little known and even at the regional AFF Suzuki Cup they were perennial wooden spoonists. From 1996 until the start of the 2010 event they had won just one and drawn one out of 21 games played.
All that changed that year under Simon McMenemy, who astutely tapped into the large numbers of overseas based players with mixed parentage, when they reached the semi finals for the first time in their history, losing 1-0 over to legs against Indonesia even though both games were played in Jakarta, Manila lacking a decent venue at the time. Suddenly people in the Philippines began to sit up and take notice of the football in their own backyard.
The innovative thinking McMenemy introduced continued after he left. Realising there was little hope of making an impact in the region on the back of a weak domestic league, clubs started looking overseas and in 2012 Loyala Meralco entered the Singapore Cup for the first time, reaching the semi finals before being crushed by a strong Tampines side. A year later Meralco were joined by Global who went on to reach the semis, losing narrowly against Tanjong Pagar United. They repeated the feat two years later, losing to Albirex niigata over two legs in the semi. Last year saw Ceres reach the semi finals.
Singapore football may not be that popular at home but its teams have been part of a valuable learning curve for Filipino sides as they strive to build on 2010.
In 2015 Ceres and Global qualified for the AFC Cup with the former being knocked out of the qualifying round by Maizya and Global winning just one of their group stage games to finish third. Again, it's all about experience.
A year later, Ceres finished top of their group, unbeaten against the likes of Tampines Rovers and Selangor. before going out in the Round of 16 at home to South China after extra time. Kaya finished second n their group but were thumped 7-2 by holders Johor Darul Ta'zim.
In 2017 both Global and Ceres have finished top of their groups, Global defeating JDT and losing just once in their six games. Ceres finished level top with Hanoi but netted 16 goals in their six games including nine against Tampines Rovers. In the next round Global play Home United and Ceres face JDT.
If the rise of Philippine football over the last seven years doesn't act as a wake up call for other more established countries in the region like Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore then I fear nothing will. Despite a poor showing at last years AFF Suzuki Cup it is easy to see the Philippines begin to challenge Thailand for regional supremacy. JDT are on their way to being a regional powerhouse but they have long since outgrown domestic football. The Philippines suckled at the nipple of Singapore football and have grown but Singapore itself is walking sedately through treacle to its own uncertain future after years of neglect and institutional apathy and it remains to be seen whether the recent election will change anything. And Indonesia? Are they even aware of what happens beyond their shores?
Fair play to the Philippines. A non football nation has made massive strides in less than seven years thanks to a shared vision and dream.