Volte-face in Philippine soccer?
The soccer in the Philippines did nearly not exist within the last ninety years. It was only a marginal sport which from time to time was particularly played at universities.
Good takeoff position in the past
At first, the prospects of success for the soccer play in the Philippines were historically quite favorable. The ball game “sipa” was already performed in the country for centuries. This game is similar to volleyball and resembles soccer in the point that the rattan ball may not be played with the hand.
At the turn of the last century the country even was pioneer in Asia with regard to soccer plays. It was in 1913, when the Philippines organized the first unofficial Asian championship. The team won 2:1 against China. The next drum beat followed when Japan in 1917 was defeated with 2:15. Member of the Philippine winner team was also Paulino Alcantara, which is still hold in high esteem to this day in Spain and the Philippines. Alcantara was born 1896 in Iloilo, he played for a short time in the Philippine national team and later he made his career as player and director at the FC Barcelona.
Slipping down into unimportance
With the Americans – the new colonial power - the soccer play then lost his primacy to the basketball and became for a long time stunted into lethargy. There were no greater considerable successes within the next decades, neither in the in the FIFA World cup nor in the AFC Asian cup. The rock bottom was achieved in 2006 when the Philippine national team slipped on place 195 of the FIFA international ranking list. For the critical soccer magazine “Spox.com”, the Philippine national team was “not without reason the worst soccer nation of the world" although there were still other national teams beneath the Philippine ranking position (1). So, it appears unnecessary to mention the third-class games of the national team before 2011. The “Azkals” - this is the nickname of the national team and means “street dogs” – were only pubs running almost hopelessly after the ball.
The dominance of the basketball as an important reason for staying behind
If we examine the possible reasons of the decline of soccer we have first to discuss the role of the basketball in the Philippines. Certainly, basketball is still the top-level sport number 1 in the Philippines despite the fact that the smaller size of most Filipinos is not so favorable for the practice of this sport. Presumably it is for small persons much more arduous to get the ball in the more than three meters high basket. No barangay and hardly any better yard without a basket ball installation. The basketball game has more abundance of action and the throw-ins are coming quicker. Because of and fewer goals and its bad and return passes the soccer game can make a more boring impression. Private commercial television stations prefer kind of sports with more breaks to palm advertising spots to their spectators. We are sure that the supremacy of the basketball is closely associated with its medium presence. If the soccer wants to get more spectators, it has to break the medium supremacy of the basketball.
Insufficient occasions of training and infrastructural deficits
To raise the Philippine soccer on an internationally comparable level, more constituency-level work must be done. For the poorer population football boots and shirts are regularly too expensive. It is often played shoeless. The villages have in general no better suited place of ground with fixed goals where children for example can play soccer. Because of this lack of adequate soccer grounds, soccer is often played on playing fields for basketball. In this case the number of player is often reduced (“five a side” soccer). There are some sport grounds in the Philippines. But these are frequently suited more for track and field athletics and quite often in poor conditions. Investments have to be done - for example the installation of goals, stands and floodlight.
Necessary training facilities
We can suppose that the set of rules of soccer play is unknown to most young Filipinos. Therefore, potential players must be instructed. They have to learn for example dribbling and ball taking. In this context we have to make mention of the former German sport correspondent Obermann, who guided in the Philippines in the nineties training courses with support of the German government. The FIFA supported the training of referees and is still granting U.S. $250,000 each year to the underfunded leading PFF (Philippine Football Federation).
The being absent of a national league
One cause for the weak performance of the national soccer team in recent past is the lack of a broader pool of qualified players. There was only an insufficient performance competition by team competitions; the scarce remunerations could not mobilize top energies. For some time, there was only a semi-professional league in the region of Manila with eight teams, recruiting their members particularly from colleges and universities. For some years the organization of national championships stayed away. There was a national league at short notice in 2008 but already shortly after its opening it was closed again. We do not know the reasons. Perhaps the costs of travelling were a decisive factor. Anyhow - the Philippine Soccer Association was in 2011 very happy in finding a sponsor, who financed the air fares for the national team when they started for trainings in Germany. To this day, there is not an operating national league yet. At present, new attempts for the foundation of such a league are done again, since the few competitions on national level are considered as not sufficient.
Former PFF leadership
Also the FIFA was not happy about the missing success of the Philippine soccer under the presidency of Jose Maria Martinez. But the international football organization still hold on Martinez, when rumors already circulated that the president falsified documents and made money out of his office. Martinez was replaced by Mariano Araneta in January 2011. It is too early for general judgments. But he and his manager Stephen Palami have been acclaimed for their activity.
There was not only a disreputable president on the top of the Philippine soccer association. There were and there are also personalities which strongly engaged themselves in promoting the Philippine soccer. We have to mention the Englishman MacKinnon who was an honorary trainer in the ninety years and who introduced the soccer game even in more remote areas. - The Bavarian Alfons Schunk, a former confectionery representative, committed himself also to the Philippine soccer in the eighties. His main task is now the Scouting of new talents. With help of a network he is looking for soccer players with Philippine line of descent, which could be integrated in the national soccer team. His network established contacts to Stephan Schröck of the SpVgg Greuther Fürth, who is now also playing for the Philippines.
Cadre replenishment by Western European players with Philippine roots
Today, some Western European players are at times part of the cadre. We mentioned already Stephan Schröck Others are for example Manuel Ott of FC Ingolstadt, Neil Etheridge, reserve goalkeeper at the FC Fulham and the brothers James and Phil Younghusband, which were trained earlier at FC Chelsea and which today as “stars "make advertising for underwear.
The new German coach Michael Weiß
The successes especially of the soccer teams of Indonesia and Singapore showed the Philippine officials that a good planning could bring about successes. A qualified coach had to be found. Ads were placed in soccer magazines. Out of round about thousands candidates the 46 years old Michael Weiß was chosen as trainer of the national team.
After getting the soccer teacher license and work shadowing at Manchester United, FC Arsenal London and Real Madrid Weiß worked in abroad. With the following foreign activities he follows the footsteps of a Werner Lorant or a Rudi Gutendorf. In the years 2001-2004 he was co- coach with a Japanese soccer team. Here he became acquainted with his present Japanese wife. The next two years he worked as co-coach of the Chinese junior national team. From 2007 – 2010 Weiß was technical director of the football association in Rwanda.
Michael Weiß decided to accept the Philippine offer. “Before I earn my money somewhere in the 4th league, I prefer to go to the Philippines”, he told and he was surely conscious of the enormous difficulties he took over. In interviews he talked about the superb potential that Filipino players have and he emphasized again and again that much basic work still has to be done. It would be necessary to have patience and a sense of realism, he explained (2). Since January 2011 he looks now after the Philippine national team. It is his intention to bring the Philippine national soccer team under the first one hundred of the FIFA world ranking list. In June 2011 the Filipinos were still on rank position 162.
Hype around the first play against Mongolia
The first play against Mongolia in the context of the AFC Challenge took already place on February 9th, 2011. The Panaad stage in Bacolod City which allows only 15,000 spectators is full with 25,000 spectators. Hundreds if not thousands followers must remain in front of the entrance gates. The police is already afraid of an escalation and panic break out. Around 200 media representatives want to watch the play. The TV giant BBS-CBN manages to outdoor other TV competitors. The station televises the play and repetitions are shown several times the next day. Even the British BBC sends a TV and radio correspondent. The reporters take notice of the young female spectators rejoicing and shrieking. The Play ends 2:0 in favor of the Philippines. Fireworks are ignited in the stadium. After the verdict of many the country is celebrating an event of historical sport importance. A sport correspondent nearly hyper-ventilated and gasped out the following words:
Philippines - a nation is really uptight ... mass hysteria, media madness and in the center the German Michael Weiß ... A new area seems to start and new national heroes are ready ".
The return match takes place in the very cold Mongolia. Almost 50 degrees difference in temperature was to withstand. The result was a 2:1 in favor of Mongolia. The Philippine president Arroyo was nevertheless touched and conferred awards to the team.
The following matches in the qualifying round to the Asian championship do not dampen the soccer enthusiasm - despite partial modest results. The matches against Myanmar and Palestine ended in a draw and the soccer team of Bangladesh was defeated with 3: 0.
The matches for the WM-Qualification in the middle of the year were also emotionally charged. The match against Sri Lanka in Colombo ended 1:1. The return match in Manila resulted in a 4:0 triumph of the Filipino team. A strong opponent still waited for the Philippine team. It was Kuwait team. The Philippine team was defeated 3:0 in Kuwait. In the return match, Stephan Schröck scored the first goal. However the final result was 1:2 for Kuwait. The WM-qualification found an end for the Filipinos.
We should still mention that training plays in Germany preceded the WM- qualification tournament. The German DFB sponsored and sponsors a little bit the Philippine team. The Team of Düren as well the U-19 team of Bonn was defeated 4:1. On the other side the games against Ingolstadt 04 and Darmstadt 98 showed clear German winnings with 0:4 and 0:5.
In March 2012 the Philippine team reached with wins against India (2:0) and Tajikistan (2:1) the semifinal in the AFC-Challenge-Cup. It was stopped by the team of Turkmenistan by a 2:1 defeat. So only a third place remained for the Filipinos.
Are there other improvements?
There are some matches game exits which give cause for optimism. However, Coach Weiß warns of too high expectations again and again. Meanwhile the Philippine team enjoys a high media attention and admiration. The coach has to put his soccer team under quarantine before important matches.
New soccer clubs are founded. A web site already lists more than 326 soccer clubs (3). Some clubs are associated with the Armed Forces (Air Force Rider, Army Fritz), others get obvious support by companies (Globe Smartmatic, Macziol IBM, Loyola Meralco Sparks).
Persons, who know some remarks of the president of the FC Bavaria, Uli Hoeneß, are informed about the importance the money in the professional soccer area. With regard to the Philippine team the financial situation has improved easily. The officials of the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) have found new sponsors (Power Supply company Meralco, Water provider Mayniland, Media group Cignal TV5 , Hyudai Corporation). The Smart Communications provided the federation with almost two million US$ for the period of ten years. The money should be used for the setting up of a national league. Also Mike Velarde of the religious community El Shaddai (4) was generous and offered a 4.5 hectares area in Paranque for the building of a new soccer stadium.
There exists also a female soccer national team in the Philippines. The team has the name “Maleditas” – that means “cheeky“, also “dirty”. The team has also two players from Germany with Philippine descent roots. It is Cristina Kreuter and Lorrene Bayani. The woman team wants to follow the success of their male “Azkal" colleagues.
We hope that the enthusiasm for the soccer play, which flared up does not stop in the long run. A good sign will be, when more Philippine children and teenagers can be seen in the streets playing soccer.
(1) spox.com, Aus the precipice of the world soccer, 19,10,201, in: http://www.spox.com/de/sport/fussball/international/1010/Artikel/philippinen-manuel-ott-alfons-schunk-stephan-schroeck-paulino-alcantara-david-alaba-dan-palami.html
(2) Alexander Haubrichs on the traces of Rudi Gutendorf in: http://www.express.de/sport/fussball/auf-den-spuren-von-rudi-gutendorf/-/3186/8576354/-/index.html
(4) Details to El Shaddai: Wolfgang Bethge, the promised happiness, Mike Velarde and his charismatische El Shaddai Bewegung, in: http://bethge.freepage.de/el _shaddai.htm
© Wolfgang Bethge, 2012