Azkals vs. UFL All Star: A victory for PH Football

Perhaps it can be considered as the most exciting exhibition game in the history of Philippine football. The PH Azkals fell short against the United Football League (UFL) selection with a score of 3-4 last June 5 at the University of Makati. It was a see-saw battle filled with suspense as both teams tried to outwit and outplay each other with UFL All Star scoring the final goal to break the deadlock with less than a minute left in the game. 

The venue was filled with an estimated 5,000 spectators and the match was televised live on Studio 23 earning a 1.9% ratings considering that it was on a UHF channel and it was not really advertised. Ofcourse, the crowd drawer was the Azkals but people were treated with fanstastic football game.

Many were expecting the Azkals to walk with an easy victory but the UFL All Star were more determined to win considering that the game was their opportunity to showcase the quality of football of their league. It was the UFL’s coming out party proving that there is an abundance of football talent in the Philippines outside the national team. 

Although the UFL All Star won, the real winner of the game is Philippine football. The UFL is the only club based football league in the country started by LBC Express, Inc. long before the rise of the popularity of the Azkals.  Half of the members of the Azkals are playing for a UFL team including its team capatin, Aly Borromeo who comes from the Kaya FC in the UFL.

UFL is a training ground for future Azkals and with the quality of play that was witnessed last Sunday, the future of Philippine football is very promising.

My Rule of Thumb on Azkals vs. UFL All Star: THUMBS UP.

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Azkals vs. UFL All Stars: The future of PH football

 The birth of Filipino football consciousness began when our national football team more popularly known with the brand name, Azkals, pulled off an upset against Vietnam in the Suzuki Cup last year.

Philippine Football Icons

Suddenly, football is part of Philippine pop culture particularly the good looking Fil-European players of the Azkals who now enjoy the adoration or even obsession of many Filipinos whether a real fan of the sport or not.  Right now, the state of football in the country has been focused more on the players of the Azkals. It has yet to transcend into its full potential as a sport that Filipinos can really excel internationally.

All the funding by advertisers and private sectors have been placed into the national football team or Azkals but not into the actual development of the sport at the grassroots level.  The advertisers are buying in and cashing in into the brand recall of the Azkals but not to really help football.

Yet, even before the sudden surge of the popularity of Azkals, one company already put its money on Philippine football development by gathering all existing football clubs and forming a league that no one advertisers wanted to support when they were still starting.  Several years ago, LBC Express, Inc. already initiated the formation of a football alliance that gave life to United Football League or UFL.

Prime mover of UFL: LBC's Santi Araneta (in red)

Unlike its basketball counterpart, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), only the real fans of football knew about the football league. Yet, because LBC is passionate in supporting real football development, it became the real commercial backbone of UFL for several years now.

 We did not read about game results in the sports pages of the national dailies because no one in the sports media wanted to cover it. UFL had no commercial value during the first years of it birth. Yet, half of the members of the Azkals came from the UFL.

The popularity of the Azkals slightly pushed the commercial value of UFL as well to a certain degree. On June 5, 2011, the UFL and football development will say hello to the consciousness of the millions of Azkal fans. The real potential of the Azkals will be tested locally as they face the best players of UFL in what is coined as “UFL All Stars versus Azkals”.

 The football game on June 5, 2011 will be televised live on Studio 23.

 The development of football lies in the league such as UFL  where future players of the Azkals would come from eventually. Football as a sport in the country is still in its infancy stage and a league such as the UFL which needs the support of the Filipinos will help nurture a bright future where we can have a crop of Azkals generation after generation.

My Rule of Thumb on Azkals vs. UFL All Star: THUMBS UP.

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The Myth of Phil Younghusband

Phil Younghusband in action

The public first saw him in a celebrity duet singing contest a few years ago on national television. He was described then as a Pinoy football player from Chelsea. He became an instant celebrity after that gig not because of his singing prowess but because of his guy-next-door image considering he is a half-Filipino and half-Brit.  Several endorsement deals followed after. He was on billboards, print and TV commercials.

But who is Philip Placer Younghusband or simply Phil Younghusband?

Actually this was my question when our agency proposed him to become the endorser for Alaska Powdered Milk Drink, the carrier brand of our Alaska Football Power Camp and Alaska Football Cup. I never heard of him prior to his celebrity duet gig. My only concern at that time was his legitimacy as a football player. Can this guy, who first blossomed into the public consciousness through a singing contest, really play football? And at that time, no knows about our national football team.

This is important to Alaska Milk simply because we want truth in our communication materials and credibility in our sports development program. We have the Alaska Aces to lean on for our youth basketball program and professional Spanish football player Tomas Lozano for our 15 years-old youth football program.

Can Phil Younghusband really play football?

After a thorough research and based on the info gathered, Phil Younghusband can play football. We inked him to endorse Alaska Powdered Milk Drink.  But to be honest, I was still skeptical. We know he can play football. We know he is a good football player. But we have to understand that we haven’t seen him play an actual football game since there was no opportunity at that time.

Then came the biggest youth football event in the country, the 13th Alaska Football Cup in 2008 where we invited him to be part of the awarding ceremony.  I asked him to stay inside the Alaska tent while waiting to finish the games. I was then with my four years old daughter Raine (she is six now) at that time. Raine brought her inflatable beach ball designed as a football and kicked it around inside the tent. I went out for a while to check on the games. When I got back and to my surprise, Phil was playing football with my daughter using the beach ball.  And boy, they were having fun.  

Phil and Raine with the beach ball during the 2008 Alaska Football Cup

Phil has a soft heart for kids. He loves being with them and moreover he loves playing with them. I guess that’s because he has a little sister.

Then the awarding came. I escorted him out to go to the stage. Who is Phil Younghusband? The 3,000 kids in the Alaska Football Cup certainly knew who he is. He was literally mobbed. And young girls participating in the tournament were shouting their lungs out upon seeing him. “Oh my God, it’s Phil,” they shouted.  He was like a rockstar. Well, those kids who love football look upon Phil as a hero, a football hero. I even heard an echo from some female voice box from the other side of Alabang Country Club shouting “I will marry you when I grow up.” I was simply amazed, astonished and shocked. Young footballers knew him even before he joined that singing thing on TV.

And this was in November 2008, two years before the emergence of the PH Azkals into national consciousness.

So Phil became the brand endorser of Alaska Powdered Milk Drink and our football ambassador. He did a TVC, posters, print ads, TV guestings and others. More than his great skills as a football player, his fondness and the way he relates to kids made him fit to the brand. The other factor was his sincerity that he believes in what Alaska Milk is doing in supporting youth football development in the country for 1 and half decades. It was more than a business relationship, it’s a partnership.

In 2009, Phil and his brother James were in our office for a visit. I asked him about his plans whether he will pursue a career in the entertainment business and alike. He said no. He doesn’t see himself in showbiz. He doesn’t like the entertainment culture. He doesn’t want to be a TV or movie star.

He said his passion is football. He wants to help kids play football. He wants to be a catalyst in the development of football in the country. And so he  pursued his passion. 

 A few months later, he and James again made a visit. We talked. And what interested me was that he and his brother James were trying to go back to the national football team. Phil said that it was not easy going back. He said that the team has a new foreign coach, Simon Mc Menemy.  Phil revealed that Mc Menemy said to them that “we don’t need models here.”  My reaction was a burst of laughter.

Eventually, they proved their worth in the field and became part of the national football team now called the PH Azkals.  

The next thing I knew, the football team was competing in the Suzuki Cup.  Honestly, I just hoped that they would  fair in that tournament. After the game against Vietnam, an officemate CK Kanapi posted a video of the Azkals win in her FB account.

Can Phil Younghusband play football?

What I saw was what I wished of seeing since 2008. Phil actually playing. That second goal against Vietnam was a highlight reel for many Filipino football enthusiasts. Phil kicked that football using his left leg with ease after shaking off two defenders. That was pure talent.   

Yet that goal made him a target in the games that succeeded. Against Indonesia in Game 1 of the semis, Phil was being guarded and even tackled by three Indon players. In Game 2, there were already 5 defenders against Phil. Even his Ronaldo-liked-dribbling couldn’t get through those many defenders.

Phil chose the right path of serving the country first by being part of the national team. His new found fame not only in the Philippines but also in Indonesia is better than that of Christian Baustista. Phil Younghusband is now in the national consciousness not because of his individual football skills but because he is part of the team that we Filipinos are proud of.

 He is not Phil Younghusband. He is a PH Azkal.

My Rule of Thumb for PH Azkals: THUMBS UP!

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PH Azkals: The Birth of Filipino Football Consciousness

Phil Younghusband of the Azkals vs. Vietnam during the Suzuki Cup

For  many decades, Filipinos have always been indifferent with the rest of world during World Cup. Football as a sports in the Philippines takes the backseat behind basketball, boxing and billiards. Our version of World Cup fever, the street celebration and the sudden surge of nationalism, happens only during a Manny Pacquiao fight or an Efren “Bata” Reyes billiards championship match.

Why the indifference with football? It’s not that we don’t like football per se but simply because the most popular sports in the world is not present in the consciousness of many Filipinos.

The lack of a concrete football program by the local governing body, funding from national sports authorities and dirty politics contribute greatly in the unpleasant state of football in the country. Moreover, despite the attempts of a few football enthusiasts to resurrect the interest in the sports, it does not get enough attention to reach the level of national awareness.

Planting the seed of football consciousness at a young age for these aspiring footballers
Amazingly, football exists in this country as a youth sports. It’s very popular among kids as seen during the Alaska Football Cup which is the oldest and biggest youth football event in the country. For 15 years, Alaska Football Cup attracts 280 team nationwide with 3800 players and they play in 25 football fields simultaneously in one weekend every November.
I have not seen this kind of interests in football except in tournaments for the youth like this one. This event molds not only the interest and consciousness of the youth in football but  develops their fundamental skills as well. Yet the question for most, if not all, participants of the Alaska Football Cup is “what’s next” after graduating from youth football competitions.

The buck stops there.  It’s a dead end.  

There is nowhere to go for these aspiring football players. The only option they have is to join local football clubs that compete in the local tournament called United Football League (UFL) which many don’t know about  or the national team.

Football in this country can only get the full support it needs from the government and private sectors if it can build an equity as sports entertainment.  Meaning, football should have a commercial value which many Filipino can patronize.  This is the only way it can get a mainstream status and entry into the national consciousness.  

 A few days ago, a spark happened. The Philippine Football Team also known as the PH AZKALS did the impossible by defeating ASEAN football powehouse Vietnam in the Suzuki Cup, 2-0. The victory of the PH Azkals is considered as one of the biggest upset in the history of Asian football.

The PH Azkals became an overnight sensation and front page material. They were in all media especially the internet. They were with the President. They were in congratulatory ads. Funds for the team started to pour. Everyone wants a piece of the PH Azkals. Yet, the most phenomenonal thing about it was not the victory itself but the reaction of the Filipinos both home and abroad.

The reception was like that of the World Cup. That victory sparked the bandwagon that have spread into the minds of Filipinos like a wild fire. Their monicker Azkals suddenly became a brand. The players were regarded as heroes. But more than the PH Azkals, the winner here is football itself.

The football fever has finally arrived in the country. Football is finally in our consciousness.

On December 16, 2010, the PH Azkals will face another powerhouse, Indonesia, in the semi-finals of the Suzuki Cup. Though they are homecourtless, the entire nation will be watching and supporting the PH Azkals. I can already sense street party celebration and surge of nationalism regardless of the outcome.

To the PH Azkals, good luck.

My Rule of Thumb: THUMBS UP!

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