Friday, October 07, 2011

Fair Play: A new chapter in PHL football begins today

This is a draft of my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu on Oct. 8.

TODAY (Oct. 8), I hope, is the day  Philippine football fans will look back and say, “this is the day that Philippine football changed.”

And I hope they’d brag to their sons and daughters, or grandsons and granddaughters that, “I was there.”

Sure, today, could be the day after we finally beat Singapore—a statement I wouldn’t be comfortable writing just 10 months ago but am now confident enough to write 18 hours before the match—but that’s not really it.

A win against Singapore is a game changer but it’s not a “football landscape” changer.

I’m talking about the UFL Cup, which kicks off today.

Now on its third year, the UFL is no longer the same because of what the Azkals have done—the attention and the appeal of the league has grown by leaps and bounds.

While Philippine football is lucky to have a Dan Palami, a guy crazy enough to spend millions for a team at a time when even sponsoring the uniform of a college squad was considered a lost investment, we were lucky, too, that in 2008, a bunch of visionary folks launched the UFL.

A league that was no different from the Sunday football tournaments prevalent of the time.

That was then.

Now, it’s a league that most weekend footballers aim to be a part of, just three short years of its launching.

And today is essentially when the P150-million partnership between the UFL and TV 5 starts. A deal, that sealed the future of a domestic league.

A league that essentially allow guys like Chieffy Caligdong, Aly Borromeo, Phil and James Younghusband to be full-time paid footballers in the Philippines.

A league that should essentially provide the training pool for future Azkals players.

A league that could eventually be the ultimate goal of young kids who are just learning to play football, now.

Scenarios that, a year ago, was unlikely.

Just a year ago, a football career was not an option for most members of the national team, unless, of course, the player plies his trade in the English Premier League, the Bundesliga, the lower tiers of European football, or enlists himself with the military.

But the UFL is changing that.

For sure, that option, for now, is limited to those who make the cut in the first division teams but the fact that the chance is there for the players is a good enough change for me.

That’s why, today, for me, is very significant.

It’s when Philippine football, finally, puts in its new face.

The salaries that most of the top players are making this season—thanks to the new TV deal—are enough to make everyone drool.

But, because of the nature of football and the setup of the UFL, these are not high-paying jobs that will be limited to the Azkals.

Every Juan who’s good enough can land a job in a first division team and call himself a full-time footballer.

That’s why I love the UFL and that’s why I want the league to grow.

That’s also why the stint of Cebu Queen city United is very important.

The UFL may change football in the country, but Cebu Queen City United could change the landscape of the UFL, too.

As the only the team that is carrying a regional identity, Cebu’s stint in the country’s premier league could prod other regions to field their own teams, or could lead to some of the UFL teams to adopt a regional identity.

So, to the Cebuano football fans, let’s support the Cebu Queen City United, a pioneering team who have dared to put Cebu in the football map of the country.

To the rest of the football fans, back the UFL. Support your favorite teams.

Because this is when the country’s football landscape changes.

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