(This is my Fair Play column for SunStar Cebu's Sept. 17 edition)
FOUR years after it was first announced in Cebu, the P80 million dalliance of Smart in Philippine football gets another reincarnation as a national U22 amateur championships this time around.
First, Smart wanted a league, with provincial teams competing against each other. Of course, the UFL was already at its height, so it became a de-facto reincartion of the PFF men’s open of yester-years. When it became an extension of the UFL and the pro teams made it their playground, there was discontent from the provincial FAs. This P80 million tournament was supposed to be for Philippine football, not the UFL.
Then last year’s (insert expletive here) edition happened, where 6 UFL teams made the final eight and the other two teams were prevented from getting UFL players as imports at the 11th hour. Had the PFF not done any changes to this year’s tournament, I think the provincial FA will hold a revolt and hold a national tournament of their own and the fans in the provinces would endorse such move.
Hence, the latest reincarnation from a men’s open to an Under 22 and I believe this is the best move yet, as it could lead to the revival of the national Under 19 and national Under 16 tournaments.
Aside from limiting it to U22 players, the PFF won’t be allowing anyone who has played in the UFL first and second divisions to play. Predictably, the NCRFA isn’t fielding a team as the schedule clashes with its college season. That’s interesting because in the past, an aspiring FA’s status in the PFF depended on its participation in PFF organized national meets.
And I hope, this time, the PFF sticks with this format. That experiment of reviving the national men’s open, while it had good intentions, was bound to fail with the NCRFA and UFL at odds and flexing their own muscles, to the dismay of the majority of the members of the PFF. Scheduling conflicts, player availabilty, etc..etc...left the rest of the FA hostage, remember? And Cebu still hasn’t forgotten how Erco Bro was treated in the national finals last year.
The champion of the U22 will form the core of the PHL team that will see action in the Bolkiah Cup in Brunei, an all-expense paid tournament where we used to send our U21 or U23 teams. But I doubt if the champion will be our SEA Games team, that one needs the best players available--from the NCAA, UAAP, UFL or even abroad.
I hope this latest reincarnation of the Smart Cup will succeed, because I think this time, it’s a smart move.