PHL Football 101

Even before the pandemic, I’ve laid low in writing about Philippine football, only picking up during the elections for the Philippine Football Federation president in late 2019 because I felt there wasn’t much discussion from the football beat.

Lately, it’s been fun writing about football again and since I’ve noticed there are new fans who, based on comments and their questions in the PFLU page, the 2020s version of the early 2000s, I decided to come up with some basics about Philippine football. Some are fact-based, some are opinions. So read on.

No PHL in the World Cup in our lifetime

Let’s get that out of the bat since some are wondering when will we ever make the World Cup. Our football-hotbed neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia have never made the cut. I remember in the old forum, someone asked if the Philippines made the 1950 World Cup because a poster he found for it had something that looked like the Philippine flag. Further discussions led to us learning that in Southeast Asia, it’s only Indonesia who made it, as the Dutch East Indies in 1938.

DID WE? A poster for the 1950 World Cup had us buzzing in the forum Is that the Philippine flag?

So given how late we are catching up with our neighbors, we won’t see the Azkals play in the World Cup in our lifetime. Consider how Japan views its long term project for the World Cup. In 2005, it launched JFA 2050, a series of programs geared toward Japan winning the World Cup in 2050, meaning the projected members of that squad were set to be born 20 to 25 years after the program starts. We certainly don’t have that luxury.

Asia only gets four spots and one playoff spots. I don’t see us getting one of those four spots likely in the foreseeable future. Also, as critics of Australia’s move to the AFC pointed out, those four automatic spots became three with the Socceroos entry.

An Asian Cup Spot Is A More Realistic Option

We made it in 2019, and missed it by a whisker this time around. Given the right preparation, we’d probably make the next edition. After making the next edition, the next goal would be to get out of the group stage. So an Asian Cup title, in our lifetime is not a realistic target, an Asian Cup spot is.

The AFF Is A Realistic Target

Now this is something more realistic. We made the semis in four of the last six editions, missing it, ironically when we hosted a group stage in 2016. Unlike the Asian Cup, it’s held every two years so we get more attempts to achieve this goal in our lifetime. However, one thing that goes against us is Southeast Asia’s biggest tournament isn’t big enough to be part of the Fifa windows, when clubs are required to release their players so we can’t rely on our stars who play in Europe’s biggest tournaments.

Why rely on Fil-Foreigners?

Simple reason? Footballers who learned their football abroad are simply better than those who learned it in the Philippines. I think it was Coach Dooley who pointed it out himself back in 2015 or 2016, at a certain age (12 to 14 was it?), the Filipino footballer is as good as anyone in the Asean region but at 16 and above, a gap develops and it gets bigger. Why? There’s a lot of factors, coaching, facilities, level of competition.

A few years ago, a Cebu-based team finished second in a Singapore U10 competition, beating a team from Indonesia before losing to the Spanish Club in the final, I doubt a Cebu-based team would even get past the group stage of a U16 competition in Singapore.

The PFF is trying to erase that gap by increasing the number of youth coaches and holding age group competitions but whether that is working is worth another article, one I don’t have time to write right now.

The PFF, though, did try to try a shortcut. Back in 2011, in the first board meeting post-Hanoi, the PFF thought, if our kids who learn their football here won’t be as good as the kids who learn their football abroad, why not send our kids abroad?

Thus the Little Azkals was born. But again, it was short-lived but still some of the members of the squad are pro players now or have played for the U23 and senior team. Here’s a list of Little Azkals members

What’s the PFF?

The Philippine Football Federation is the national sports association for football in the country, and for me, the only NSA with a truly national presence. Volleyball, Basketball, Tennis are simply Manila-based organizations who pay scant attention to the rest of the country.

To correct a common misconception, the PFF is not part of the Philippine Sports Commission but of the Philippine Olympic Committee. The PSC provides a monthly allowance to national athletes but I’m not sure if this applies to the PFF, why? Simple. Hidilyn Diaz for example. We know she’s a representative for weightlifting for this year and the next. In football, we don’t know who will be in the team in the next tournament.

PFF AND THE PSC. Nonong Araneta (in black) and some members of the Malditas pay a courtesy call to PSC Chairman Butch Ramirez. No, the PFF is not under the PSC, the government agency tasked to manage grassroots sports and the national teams, but is under the POC, a private group made up of national sports associations.

Who Can Join the PFF?

Back in 2005, when I sneaked into the PFF BOG meeting by pretending to a be a waiter of the hotel it was held, I learned that any province that could hold a men’s open for two years running could apply as members, that’s why the membership ballooned and the Mindanao bloc became a powerful voting bloc wooed by wannabe-presidents.

About eight years ago, the membership has been redefined, with neighboring provinces becoming one under a Regional Football Association. I think that’s a better move

Where does the PFF gets its funds?

It gets funds from Fifa, AFC the AFF and private sponsors. However, funds from Fifa, AFC and AFF have strict guidelines and ever since an AFC audit back in 2011 discovered the then AFC president sent P10 million straight to the account of a former PFF president in aid of his medical treatment, AFC, and also Fifa, have become very strict when it comes to releases of funds. (Here’s a 2013 story of how the PFF availed of the Fifa Goal Project to fund its facilities in Carmona)

Though the POC gets a share of the Olympic pie from the IOC every Olympic Cycle, I’m not sure if that is shared to its members like the PFF.

That’s it for now. If you spotted some errors or if you have more questions, feel free to send them via a comment or an email. I’ll try to answer them.

Mike T. Limpag
Mike T. Limpag

Mike T. Limpag has covered the Cebu sports scene for over 20 years, starting as an 18-year-old cub reporter for the Freeman in 1997 before moving to SunStar Cebu in 2001.

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