Ugur Tasci, the amiable owner of the Cebu Football Club who always has a smile on his face, was dead serious when I asked him what his goal for the team is this season.
“We want to win the title or finish in the top two so we can represent Cebu in the AFC Cup, said the 55-year-old Turkish-born owner who first visited the Philippines as a tourist in the mid-90s.
A lofty goal for a club yet to play its first regular season game in the domestic league. However, a rookie the club may be in the domestic scene, the team owner and the people behind the club are certainly not newbies.
After deciding to migrate to the Philippines to set up a food business, Tasci first got involved in the football scene in Laguna, coaching the Laguna Football Club for one season with Allan Paison.
Sixteen years ago, he decided to transfer to Cebu for business and set up Leylam. Three years later, he put up the Leylam Football Club and in 13 years in the Cebu domestic scene, it has evolved into becomingthe best men’s team in Cebu, winning the prestigious Aboitiz Football Cup an impressive four straight times, even beating an Erco Bro team that had as Chieffy Caligdong and Darren Hartmann as reinforcements.
His dream to put Cebu in the domestic league was finally realized last year, after years of costly groundwork. He finally put up the Dynamic Herb Football Stadium, the home of the Cebu Whale Sharks.
After a decent run in the Alcantara Cup, where they set a series of milestones, Ugur is eager to play the team’s home game in front of the Cebuanos. Ugur, the CFC coaches and players, having seen the vocal support for the home team in the PFF U19 competition, can’t wait to play for the Cebuanos.
“The fans were impressive,” said assistant coach and CFC academy head Levant Ozturk of the U19 tournament. “We are waiting for the Cebuanos to watch the team. This team is owned by Cebu.”
Aware that Cebu football, sometimes, is generally associated with Cebu City football, Tasci wants to everyone to know that this team is for every Cebuano and not just those residing in the province of Cebu but the Cebuanos who have relocated all over the world for work.
CFC’s presence in the U19 competituion was not by accident.
“We want to support the Cebu team in the regional competition, in the same way that when it comes to club-based competition, we want them to support us, whether it will be the U17 or the U19,” he said.
Establishing youth teams is already in the pipeline for CFC, which started its academy recently.
“The response was overwhelming, we had over 100 kids,” Tasci said.
Coach Ozturk, the academy head, wants more. He said his vision for the academy would be for it to become a go to place for young Cebuano players.
“We want to see your children, your nieces and nephews in the academy,” he said.
Their Turkish imports also know the value of not only having an academy but seeing academy graduates play for the local pro squad, having seen hi home team in Turkey lose support because of the practice of having foreign players in the first team instead of locals.
Arda Cinkir, Cebu’s top scorer so far with four goals in the Copa, assured fans that the team will always give their best.
“We just can’t ask for their support, as much as possible we have to perform. We will always give 100 percent effort for the fans because they are our 12th man,” said Cinkir, whose personal goal in the regular season is to tally 30 goals.
Cinkir said the adjustment in training wasn’t that big because of the presence of the Turkish coaches. As to the language barrier, he has been learning English, while the non-Turkish players have been learning Turkish phrases.
On the other hand, midfielder Mert Altinoz, the other Turkish player in the team, admitted he thought he would have it easy playing in the Philippines.
“I thought it was going to be easy, that I could easily score but when I came here it was complete different,” said Altinoz, as translated by Tasci.
One thing he doesn’t like though is the physical aspect of the play in the Philippines, saying it’s a hindrance.
“The more tactical, the more technical the game is, the more fun it is for the fans and the players, he said.
You know me, why should I aim for something small?CFC team owner Ugur Tasci on targeting the PFL title on its maiden season
For team captain Baris Tasci, he admits being the captain and son of the team owner adds pressure but as a team player, he wants everything to be about the team.
“My personal goal is to win the league with the team, it doesn’t matter who scores,” he said.
And being part of the Cebu football community, he also knows how discerning Cebuano fans can be and how the team’s attitude, not necessarily their titles, will be a factor in their getting support.
“Wa sad ni’y problema bata-a,” said a coach who accompanied me in the interview and who’ve seen Baris grow up as a football player, “Wa ni’y libog. Di sad hambugero.”
Ugur said with the PFL transfer window closing at the end of the month, the team will announce its lineup for the season soon.
However, and this is something that should delight Cebuano fans, he said there will always be a spot open for Azkals captain Stephen Schrock, whose Cebu-raised mother has expressed a desire to see her son play for Cebu before he hangs up.
“I told Schrock that there will always be a spot for him in Cebu, anytime. Though we might not be able to offer him a high salary, he is always welcome,” said Ugur.
But, let’s temper our expectations. Sure, seeing Schrocky play for Cebu is a dream come true but at this stage of his career and with a young family, Schrocky will serve his goal best if he chooses a club that gives him the best offer. If he chooses Cebu, then good for us, if not, then we wish him well.
As for Ugur and the CFC, let’s all rally behind the team as they aim for the lofty goal of winning the PFL title in their maiden season.