I cheer for the Azkals because Azkals
(A rejoinder to Miguel N. Bermundo)
Where are the linkages between the street football communities and the Philippine national team?
That's a good question. That's a question folks outside Manila has been asking, too, for years before the Azkals came into prominence.
But, I tell you, a player from Cebu, Tacloban, Davao or Mindanao has more chances, now, of making the national team than before. Before, it was all about the Air Force, the Army or the Navy, or, if you're lucky, you'd get noticed if you happen to know a friend who knows a friend who knew about the national senior team tryout. Was that better than getting the Fil-Foreigners abroad?
For the age group national teams? If you're from outside Manila, forget about it. You simply won't make it. And oh, that one time they had a group of Ilonggos and Bisayas in the national U16--culled from the Coke competition--didn't the players get to blows?
Now, if you're good, you'll get your chance—regardless of where you live.
Here's an interesting qoute from Coach Berumundo's article, “The most important thing is to be patient. If you are making good progress with home players, the supporters will understand if it is not a good year because next year they will have, say, 3 home-grown players. In 6 years, it might be 11 home-grown players."
Do you know why we're getting Fil-Foreigners for the senior team? And why we are succeeding internationally?
Because we failed at grassroots. The Kasibulan, the CFE and what else, everything failed because the future of Philippine football then was so bleak that everyone but the naïve fool who gets involved in a grassroots program knows it's all about the money and who gets it.
The Kasibulan project in 2001? Poof! The Center For Excellence project, the one designed to win the country's first gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games? Heck, the CFE coaches complained that after forming their teams, they didn't get a single centavo of support. If you doubt me, go scour the PFF financial records for the Kasibulan and CFE projects and compare how much was spent and what was (not achieved).
We get Fil-Foreigners because, except for the exceptional players, we simply failed to give this generation of players the structure and support that would have made them competitive with our Southeast Asian neighbors.
And oh, in the first PFF BOG meeting pre-2010, the technical director knew that. That's why their goal then was to give the youngest national team the same experience and football culture that those raised abroad would get, so we could realize that ultimate dream of fielding a competitive national team of homegrown players.
And it's not about being biased for homegrown players, it's simply about getting to the point where they would be as good as those who learned their football abroad.
How do we get there? How do we sustain support for the sport? How do we get the massive players in the grassroots? The UFL, the NCAA, UAAP?
It's the Azkals and its continued success. Go ask a newbie footballer what he wants to be and you'll get your answer, perhaps that linkage too?
And grassroots is not about discovering the next Ronaldinho in this week's sports clinic and expecting him to get a cap in next week's national team's friendly. Our grassroots program is essentially, only three years old, if you want to judge how effective it is, go check our U15s or U16s success, internationally, not the Azkals.
Grassroots football in this country isn't ideal, it isn't the best. But it is certainly better than the failure of yesteryears and yes, some of the folks that led to its failure are still there, holding positions.
Why? Because in four years you can't get rid of all the scalawags who are in football just for the money. Just check the next PFF BOG meeting and look for officers who go to Boracay, or whatever fancy hotel it is held, and check-in four days before the meeting and charges everything to the PFF.
Yet, despite that, we are setting milestones in the age group that are also not as publicized as the Azkals' success.
In four years, Philippine football has taken more strides than the previous 16 years combined because of the growing interest brought about by the Azkals.
Pre-2010, you can count the number of coaches with AFC C licenses on one hand, now, everyone it seems, has an AFC license.
And that's why I cheer for the Azkals. Because if not for them, we won't be having this discussion.