Changing directions in grassroots development

After an impressive start, earning four points in its first two games with a win against Timor Leste and a draw against Vietnam, our U23 squad inexplicably faltered in its last two games, losing to Myanmar, 3-2, and to Indonesia, 4-0. That loss against Myanmar was really painful as we had the lead at half-time, 2-1, but slow reaction by the defense and keeper allowed back-to-back goals in the second half.

The Azkals Developmental Team, which Dan Palami said was inspired after a conversation we had years ago, allowed our U23 to be better prepared compared to pre-ADT days. And the results showed as in 2019, we were in semis contention until the final game and this year, with a great start.

TURNAROUND. After opening their campaign with a 4-0 win against Timor Leste, the U23 Azkals exited the Southeast Asian Games with a 4-0 loss to Indonesia.

So, I’m pretty sure ADT management will be looking at where the team fell short this year and address those changes.

But I also hope, with another election for the Philippine Football Federation presidency next year, the PFF will be changing gears when it comes to grassroots development. For other countries, a strong showing of their senior team is a reflection of the strength of their grassroots programs. That has never been the case for the Philippines, since our senior team learned their football all over the world, Europe mostly.

For years, our grassroots program are simply age group tournaments, with the PFF expecting the regional football associations to have their own grassroots program before it can form its age group team.

But that’s not really what’s happening. The grassroots programs of the RFAs merely introduces the next generation of players, most of whom are younger siblings of players from established football schools. The programs don’t result to an exponential increase on the number of footballers.

The biggest obstacle is the lack of football facilities and I hope the next PFF president will address that. No, he doesn’t have to go on a spending spree to establish football fields all over the country. He just needs to think a bit out of the box. In every town, especially Spanish-era towns, there’s a plaza between the Municipal Hall and the Church.

They are not the size of a football pitch, but I believe they can be used to introduce football in the municipality. The PFF could encourage the RFAs to identify five or even 10 such towns under its area meet with the mayors for such plaza to be used as football fields and to provide equipment.

To encourage that, the next basic coaching program of the PFF should be for coaches that come from this municipalities, identified by the mayor hopefully, who will be then trained to start their own grassroots programs for their towns.

I believe that will increase the number of footballers in the country exponentially. And of course you encourage kids to play the sport if they see other kids playing the sport. Right now, football is still an exclusive sport, I hope the next PFF president will change that.

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