MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine national men’s football team will begin their campaign in the Philippine Football Peace Cup on Tuesday against Guam, but the tournament has been somewhat overshadowed by some issues off the pitch.
On Sunday, the Azkals management unveiled the team’s roster for the Peace Cup, and many football fans were shocked to see that the influential Younghusband brothers, Phil and James, have been left out.
In a statement, the Azkals management and coaching staff explained that commitment issues led to their decision.
“We have asked the players to give their unequivocal commitment to participate fully in the preparations… We expect our players to work harder than ever this year,” they said.
“Unfortunately, not everyone in the team could assure us of this; a few have already signified their unavailability for some crucial activities leading up to the tournament,” they added, but did not name any players.
“The coach staff will instead make adjustments in the game plan and in the roster of players, starting from the Philippine Football Peace Cup.”
Grateful to Younghusbands
In a press conference Monday, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) emphasized that the Younghusbands were not being sanctioned and that they were grateful for the brothers’ contribution to the national team.
“The coaching staff decided not to put them in the line-up,” said Ebong Joson, head of the PFF’s Marketing and Communications Department.
“I’d like to state that the PFF is very, very grateful for the contribution of the brothers. We are thankful for what they have given, on a personal and professional basis, on all levels of Philippine football and the national team,” Joson said.
“But at the same time, the coaching staff needs to put in the best team and field the strongest roster. Unfortunately, the PFF cannot meet some of the demands of the brothers. They are economic, even half of which the PFF cannot match,” he added.
The PFF added that they “cannot answer today whether this is a permanent or temporary separation with the national team.”
Azkals coach Michael Weiss said that he has been understanding about the Younghusbands’ numerous commitments off the pitch, “but now they over-stretched a little too much.”
Confusion during exhibition game
According to the Younghusbands, the trouble started when the Azkals played an exhibition game against the Loyola Meralco Sparks of the United Football League.
Phil and James, who both suit up for the Sparks, were asked to play for both squads.
“It’s fair to play one half in one team and one half in the other team, that’s fair. So okay, I brought uniforms for both games,” Phil said.
But when he arrived, Phil said he got a call from Weiss saying that he can just play for the the Sparks.
“I’m not happy about this, but this is football. He told me to tell James. Next thing, we spoke to some of the players, and the talk was that Phil and James have chosen to play for Meralco, and obviously it did not sit well with the players and the staff,” Phil said.
“They thought we abandoned the Azkals, which was not the case. We were asked to play with Meralco, and upon requests we followed the coach’s orders. So that caused friction between myself, James and the players,” he added.
After that, the brothers received a text message from Weiss telling them that they were not included in the Azkals’ line-up for the Peace Cup.
Both Phil and James acknowledge that they asked for a larger allowance from the PFF, but when informed that the organization could not afford it, they agreed to the original amount offered by the federation.
“They offered all the players contracts, and rightly so, you don’t just sign a contract right away. We let our lawyers look at the contracts,” Phil said.
“We negotiated, then we had a meeting with the PFF and they said that our request is unacceptable. We said fine, we’ll base the numbers with whatever you said before. They said we couldn’t afford it. Fine, let’s go back to the numbers you said,” he added.
“James and I made this clear – we played for the national team for free for seven years.”
The Younghusband brothers were part of the squad that made history in the 2010 Suzuki Cup, which sparked the Azkals’ rise and the development of football in the country.
The Younghusband brothers and the PFF are set to discuss their issues anew tomorrow.
Without the Younghusband brothers as well as the Europe-based members, the Azkals will now take on three rapidly improving sides in the Peace Cup this week, starting with Guam.
Last year, the Azkals finished second in the Long Teng Cup. With the event being re-named the Philippine Football Peace Cup this year, the host squad hopes to improve upon their performance and win the tournament outright.
But in their opening match, they will face a dangerous Guam squad that is on the rise in the FIFA world rankings. Guam are currently ranked 185th after wins over Macau (3-0) and the Northern Mariana Islands (3-1).
Guam hope for a strong performance in the Peace Cup, which will likely fuel their continued rise in the FIFA rankings.
The marked man for Guam is their team captain, Jason Cunliffe, who has scored nine goals in fiftenn matches. At 28 years old, he is the veteran voice in the young squad. Cunliffe made his debut for the Guam senior team in the 2006 AFC Challenge Cup.
The Philippines beat Guam, 3-0, in their latest meeting last June 12 at the Panaad Stadium in Bacolod City.
After Guam, the Philippines face Macau on September 27 and Chinese Taipei on September 29.