“This has been a dream for all of us” intoned Philippine Football Federation president Mariano "Nonong" Araneta. “There's nothing that can hinder us from making this a reality.”
Araneta was referring to the upcoming national Football league that is slated to bow in two to three years. On Monday the federation hosted a press con in Makati Shangri-la to fill the press in on the details.
The as-yet-to-be-named league will have the support of the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA.
Currently the United Football League is the de facto top tier of men's senior Football in the nation. But that league is under the auspices of the National Capital Region Football Association and thus cannot be considered a national league.
“When we started UFL three years ago we always wanted to have a national league. To reach the national scope we needed to work with the PFF, and we are supportive of this league” said UFL official Randy Roxas, who was also at the press con as member of the PFF National League Task Force. He is a designated resource person for clubs. Roxas is also an official with Loyola Meralco Sparks FC.
The task force is chaired by renowned Filipino economist Bernie Villegas. Other members present on Monday included Roxas, Filipino FIFA official Domeka Garamendi, the AFC's deputy General Secretary and Competition director Windsor John from Malaysia, Yogesh Desai the AFC Kick-off Program director, Bonnie Ladrido, ABS-CBN's Dino Laurena, the PFF's Cyril Dofitas, and Gelix Mercader.
“The Philippines is now a breakout nation when it comes to our economy, and that is exactly how I see Philippine Football as well” enthused Villegas. “Football has now reached a critical mass where we can have a national league within the next two or three years.”
According to Villegas the league will have at least ten clubs spread all over the country. Araneta envisions four clubs in Luzon, four in the Visayas, and two in Mindanao, although nothing has been finalized as of yet. The clubs will be based in key cities.
“Definitely Iloilo will be represented” added Araneta, who is from Barotac Nuevo in that province.
Mindanao is of great interest to the PFF, especially since they recently inaugurated a regulation-sized natural grass Football field in Valencia, Bukidnon, complete with a dormitory building. The facility is envisioned as a venue for regional competitions.
The AFC will help out with technical matters, says Mr. John, by organizing player seminars, club management seminars, and other assistance.
The first order of business for the task force is to do a market research study that will help determine where the clubs can be located. Then the committee will work towards getting clubs in the Philippines to conform to AFC club licensing regulations. Those requirements include having an “A” standard stadium with at least 5,000 seats and a wifi-equipped press area, youth teams, and “A” license coaches throughout the system.
The club does not need to own the stadium but it should have a contract to use it for its league matches.
The last attempt to hold a national league, with the P-league in the 90s, did not prosper. However Villegas believes that with the emergence of budget airlines and the Philippine Nautical Highway, transportation costs will be much lower now than then, making the endeavor much more viable.
No corporate sponsors have yet to be identified for the league, and neither was a broadcast partner announced. But in the task force as a marketing resource person is Dino Laurena, who is the head of Integrated Sports for ABS-CBN.
Roxas also affirmed that the UFL could become a league that promotes teams to (and accepts relegated sides from) the national league, but was quick to stress that finalizing such details was a long way off. He also believes it is in the best interest of the league to follow the schedule of other ASEAN leagues.
The task force is scheduled to convene again before Christmas.
While much work needs to be done to get the league going, a sense of optimism was palpable in the group.
Said Garamendi, a former Ateneo and national team player “now is the time for big, bold moves.”
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH.