Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Azkals play the globalization game

This appears in the Monday December 13, 2010 edition of the Business Mirror.

Azkals play the globalization game
piece and pic by rick olivares

After the Philippine National Men’s Football Team beat Vietnam 2-0 during the Final Rounds of 2010 Suzuki Cup, some quarters around Asia commented that the only reason why the Philippines found success was because of a bunch of “naturalized” players.

The players in question were Fil-Ams Aly Borromeo and Anton del Rosario, Fil-Britons Phil and James Younghusband, Chris Greatwich, Rob Gier, and Neil Etheridge, Fil-Dutch Jason de Jong, Fil-Icelander Ray Jonsson, and Fil-German Mark Drinkuth.

The accusation is wrong on many counts.

First of all, it is not the first time these players, save for Drinkuth, suited up for the Philippines. Several of them have been with the national team since 2004! So why is it that there are only complaints now?

And second, they are not naturalized. They are half-Filipino. Unlike the Singaporean National Team that has naturalized players in Serbians Aleksandar Duric and Mustafic Fahrrudin, Englishman Mark Daniel Bennett, and Chinese-born Shi Jiayi.

Another Southeast Asian eleven that makes use of players of foreign descent is Indonesia. Their national squad has four Dutch-born players in defender Tobias Waisapy, midfielders Raphael Maitimo and Jeffrey de Visccher, and striker Jhon van Beukering.

The “naturalization” phenomenon isn’t new. In fact, in this world made more variegated with globalization and immigration, countries have naturalized different people for different reasons. It just so happens that in sports has evolved with the times and football, the world game, is the best example of athletes without borders.

Guiseppe Rossi was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, yet he is a backup striker with the Italian national team and played for the Azzurri in the recent World Cup in South Africa.

Germany’s youth movement during its vastly successful 2010 World Cup campaign featured several players of foreign descent. Midfielders Sami Khedira is born to a Tunisian father and a German mother while Mesut Ozil is a third generation Turk-German.

Jerome Boateng is of Ghanaian descent yet plays in the backfour for Die Mannschafft. His half-brother Kevin Prince Boateng plays for Ghana. Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose were both born in Poland but immigrated to Germany at an early age. Both could play either for Poland or Germany but they chose the latter.

One country at the forefront of the naturalization movement is Brazil. The world’s fifth largest country counts among its biggest exports (aside from its natural resources) supermodels, badass mixed martial arts fighters, and football players.

Former Arsenal and current Shaktar Donetsk midfielder Eduardo Alves da Silva is Brazilian born and bred. But after success playing in Croatia’s top-flight league, he was naturalized in 2002 for the national side.

And more than a decade ago, Japan naturalized Brazilian Wagner Lopes who played for their 1998 World Cup team.

As for Team Philippines, ranked 151st in Fifa’s rankings, it’s also about playing the global game.

Jonsson, who plays for Grindavik in the Iceland Premier League, spent the first eight years of his life in Cebu before his family moved back to Iceland. He doesn’t express himself well in Filipino but can speak Visayan fluently. Jonsson, who once played in a UEFA tournament where he scored a goal against Austria, first suited up for the Philippines in the 2010 Long Teng Cup in Taipei.

Gier, who plays in the back four for Ascott in the English Hellenic League, has played for the Philippines since the 2009 AFC Challenge Cup.

Greatwich, who now coaches football in New Jersey, USA, has played for the Philippines since 2004. He was a part of Brighton and Hove Albion’s Youth Squad in 2002 and has played in other league. Greatwich, who now coaches soccer in New Jersey, USA, has two other brothers, Philip and Simon have also suited up for the country.

De Jong, currently plays midfield for Dutch second division team VB Veendam. He was offered an opportunity to play for the Netherlands but instead chose to represent the Philippines.

Etheridge, whose mother is from Tarlac, is a backup goalkeeper for Fulham in the English Premier League. He first started out with the Younghusband brothers in Chelsea’s Youth Academy and rejoined the brothers in the Philippine national team in 2008.

The Younghusband brothers, perhaps the most famous of all the Fil-foreigners with the Philippine team, have suited up for the country since 2005. As children, they were already exposed to Philippine culture as their mum would take them to Filipino-British events in London. Phil was with Chelsea from 1997 to 2005 while James was with the current English Premier League champion’s youth and seniors reserve team from 1996-2006.

Del Rosario and Borromeo were both born in San Francisco, California a year apart where they played high school and college ball in the area. They made their national team debut in 2004 with Chris Greatwich, current team co-captain Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong, Peter Jaugan, Roel Gener, and Ian Araneta.

National team head coach Simon McMenemy believes that the inclusion of Fil-foreigners significantly improves the team’s standings and chances at international competition but doesn’t do much for growth in the grassroots level. “Their experience to top-flight competition and training is an asset,” said McMenemy. “But since they play abroad they are only able to train with the national team about a few days or even sometimes a day before we go into competition. That’s why we haven’t changed our formation or tactics because there wasn’t enough time to do so. That requires constant practice to get familiar with it and for everyone to know their roles and how to react when the situation calls for it. Hopefully, our national team’s success spurs real change and growth for the sport on every level.”


  1. Great Article but Rossi of Italy didn't play in the recently concluded World Cup in south Africa. He was part of the 30 players but was cut when they trimmed it down to the final 23 and boy did they miss him on that team. He recently captained the azzurri's in one of their friendlies.

  2. The Legendary Skyflakes25December 12, 2010 at 10:35 PM

    this is one bright side of the Filipino diaspora.

    Go, Azkals!

  3. lol, Japan and naturalization is also synonymous with Alex Santos, also of Brazilian descent.

  4. I noticed that Asians in general have a hard time accepting foreign born players in their team. It has been accepted practice in football in Europe since the beginning. Past greats like Alfredo di Stefano who was born in Argentina spent most of his career playing for Spain. Today modern European teams actively recruit players from other nations to play for them. France esp. wouldn't be as successful today without their successful recruitment of players(Zinedine Zidane) from their previous colonies which you can even see in the makeup of their team today. Germany has Turkish players in their team. Other European teams have African players in their midst. They have even convinced players from nontraditional football playing nations like the US and Canada to play for them instead e.g. Giuseppe Rossi(born in US) plays for Italy, Owen Hargreaves(born in Canada) plays for England, and our very own Jonathan de Guzman(born to Filipino and Jamaican parents in Canada) plays for the Dutch youth teams. Today the US has an extensive network set in place to look for players in other countries who can possibly play for their team. At the U-20 level, they have even convinced some players to change affiliation from their previous youth teams(e.g. Alex Zahavi from Portugal, Fabian Hurzeler from Germany to theirs). In the same vein they have lost players from their youth teams to other countries(e.g. the above forementioned Giuseppe Rossi to Italy, American born and raised Michael Hoyos who now plays for the Argentinian youth teams. Because of our colonial history we ourselves have a long tradition of having players of mixed ancestry. Our very own Paulino Alcantara, the greatest Filipino and Asian player who ever lived is of mixed Spanish and Filipino ancestry and holds the records for most goals scored by a Barcelona player, and has played for the Philippines, Spain, and Catalonia. If only other Asian teams wouldn't be so shortsighted, they might be able to contend not only at the Asian level but at the world level as well(e.g. Indonesia have plenty of Indo-Dutch players who are world class and have even played for mighty Holland like Von Bronkhorst). Of course ideally teams need to have a mix of homegrown and foreign based players from traditionally strong leagues in Europe and South America to excel. We really don't have a truly professional league at this time, where we can develop players, so we must depend upon our foreign based players to help us contend. Unlike players in other countries in Asia and elsewhere, this foreign based players who play for us, have very little financial incentive to play for our team. For instance, Vietnam just offered their team millions of dollars if they win the Suzuki cup this year. The same thing goes with other teams in our region. Other nations like South Korean, etc. not only receive financial benefits but are also excused from military service which is a huge motivating factor for a lot of their players. In contrast our players from abroad come here sometimes at their own expense to play for our national team for love of country and for love of football. Can this other countries who criticize us say the same?

  5. let's just hope that the other ASEAN football teams read this article too

  6. As for the lack of playing time together, I suggest that the management of our national team do what the US and other Scandinavian countries do during their long winter break. They hold a camp in January to and play friendlies. They can also do that during the summer break in June or July. This difficulty of bringing players together is a common problem of modern football where the best players end up playing in Europe. The way to go around this is to use the fixtures set up by FIFA through out the year to set up friendlies, where teams can get together and train. When World cup qualifying starts as well, all club teams are obliged to release their players to their national team so we can finally have our full team incl. player like Stefan Schroeck and Jerry Lucena play for us.

  7. Nice except that you need a lot of money to pull that off.

  8. Hey Rick. If we can find somebody like MVP to fund our national team like they do Smart Gilas we can do it. Mr. Dan Palami has done a good job so far but he doesn't have the resources that MVP has, you need to find more sponsors to make this work. In fact I suggest that Mr. Palami run for PFF president next year. With his vision and enthusiasm for the game our country will finally get its act together in this sport.

  9. I totally respect MVP and he has helped pay for the coverage of the Panaad and Barotac Nuevo games before but this is not Smart Gilas nor should it be run like Smart Gilas which is a time bomb waiting to explode. IMHO, if anyone wants to chip in then chip in but no one else save for the PFF leadership should have any say in the way the team is run. Dan has done a great job.

  10. I never said replacing Mr. Palami. In fact I think he is best qualified to run the PFF, which includes running all the other teams(men, women and youth) as well as developing the sport all over the country. He will garner a lot of support with the way he is running the men's team. In fact we need more people like him in the govt. as well. (-: Regardless, I hope whoever takes over from Mr. Martinez will have the sports interest at heart and run the federation in a professional manner.

  11. Great article! It was nice too hear about the roots of our players. I've been following the team since 2005 and it's funny how our opponents are only raising a howl now that we're winning. Like you said, it's weird to see them complain about our "foreigners" when in fact, by lineage, there are none, unlike some of their teams which have Serbian, Chinese and English players, which I have nothing against. It's allowed in the rules anyway. Heck even the US Dream team had naturalized players.

    I'd like to add some info on Aly. I think he may have played college football in the US but I distinctly remember him playing football at least at the high school level here in the Philippines. He was my brother's teammate in the NCAA Juniors Team of La Salle Greenhills where he actually played as a striker! I recall watching one game where he singlehandedly scored 6 goals vs. the opposing team's 4 (3 of which came after the other team I think led 4-3 already). He plays so many positions. I think as a grade school student he actually played keeper (and won best keeper I think for one tournament).

    Great blog sir! It's nice to see people passionate not just about football but about Philippine football writing about our national team. And from an insider's point of view at that. Keep the great articles coming!

  12. I don't get why people are making an issue about this. We don't even have naturalized players since all of them have Filipino blood. Jeez.

    Hater gonna hate.

  13. If the comments have come from our Asean/Asian neighbors, then it is good to know that our boys have ruffled people's feathers enough to make them sit up and take notice! I have read, in the Inquirer boards, similar comments coming from Pinoys and you wonder why people can be so blindsided at a time when they should just be celebrating with the rest of the country. I say this in reference to the Taulavas and the Mencks who have been in the PBA and the national team for the longest time, and they have been accepted as a matter of course.

    When the football team lines up against Indonesia later this week, the name of the country flashed on the electronic scoreboard will be PHILIPPINES. Not England; not USA; not Germany; not Iceland; not Denmark. I would like to think that this should make it easy for people to make their minds up!

    Great read by the way! Keep the posts coming! Go Philippines!

  14. Some just can't understand it but this is how it's going to be for us -- asking Fil-Fors to play for our team. It's not the traditional way to make us a footballing powerhouse but this is the only way we can compete with our neighbors in the short term. The long term goal is still there which is to develop at grassroots level. We can't do this longterm goal if football is not accepted properly in the country, if we don't have a decent stadium to play in and we the sports program doesn't get enough funding.

    When the Younghusbands joined years go, this was already the plan and it's a good thing we are making progress -- it just so happened we made a huge step this year from the 'baby' steps the past several years.

    Let's keep on planting the seeds for in the next decade, we shall be harvesting and we'll be seeing better homegrown talents soon.

  15. You are right TwIsTeD_Rubz. Aly grew up playing in the Philippines for Makati Football School as a goalkeeper, a damn good one too. Then he started playing a little outfield and when he got into La Salle Greenhills for high school he started playing midfield and striker. He played a little for DLSU and the Philippine U19 team as well, before moving to San Francisco to play college ball with Anton del Rosario. Anton also played a few years in high school for Southridge and CSA. Just added info to help validate that their are more deeply rooted Filipino's representing the team.

  16. You get comments like that if you beat them :)

  17. Nice article! People would judge too quickly when they see Fil-foreigners representing our country, saying they're not really Filipino. Some would even criticize that they can't even sing the national anthem. But from what I see, them choosing to represent the Philippines makes them true Filipinos. =)