In an exclusive interview with Chelsea FC legend Paulo Ferreira, who played for Chelsea from 2004-2013, winning nine major trophies for the blues, “Including three Premier League titles, three FA Cups, the League Cup and both major European trophies”, was asked about his thoughts on three Azkals players who came from Chelsea’s academy – Neil Etheridge, Phil and James Younghusband.
Ferreira is currently Chelsea’s Brand Ambassador and Assistant Technical Loan Player Coach for Chelsea, and is “Tasked to assist and monitor a group of them (players) while they are away”.
Ferreira says, “I’m happy to know that three ex-Chelsea FC academy players, Neil Etheridge and the Younghusband brothers, Phil and James, are doing well and making the Philippines proud.”
Both the Younghusband brothers have long been known as the faces of Philippine football. While Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge will make his first foray in the English Premiere League (EPL) next season, and is also the first South East Asian to play for the league, after his club, Cardiff City, got promoted to English Premiere League (EPL), with Etheridge playing a crucial role in keeping an impressive 19 clean sheets for his club.
After Azkals made that historic win which made them qualify for the Asian Cup last March, Chelsea Youth also tweeted, “Phil Younghusband scored the decisive goal for this landmark event in Filipino football, his brother James came on, and Neil Etheridge was in goal. All three are former blues from the academy.” That decisive goal also turned out to be Phil Younghusband’s 50th international goal.
The Azkals have made significant strides in Philippine football, and are currently busy preparing for the upcoming Suzuki Cup and the Asian Cup.
Team Manager Dan Palami says, “It has been 8 years since I took over as Team Manager of The Azkals, and I’m just glad that finally we have reached this level. There’s been a lot of hard work and heartaches as well. Getting into the Asian Cup is indeed quite an achievement.”
“We just need to prepare the best way we can. We have a new crop of players coming out, we will also be announcing who the coach will be for the Suzuki Cup and the Asian Cup this Thursday, June 14. We are also planning friendly games. We have something planned in Bahrain in September, and hopefully we can also get to play with teams that have competed in the World Cup. The friendlies will give us a good gauge on where we are in the Asian setting.”
When asked about the upcoming Asian Cup, Team Captain Phil Younghusband says, “It a wonderful feeling to know that we were part of such a great achievement, it gives us great satisfaction and confidence. To know we will be amongst the top 24 teams in Asia, the biggest continent in the world playing the biggest sport in the world, it is amazing.”
Younghusband continues, “The next 12 months is huge for Philippine football. If we can have success in the Suzuki Cup and the Asian Cup, that will be huge strides in the development of football here in the Philippines. We are hopeful we can have the best preparation possible domestically and internationally, to give us the best chance of succeeding in these next two tournaments.”
The sweeping changes in the national football scene, thanks to The Azkals, has helped boost the awareness and interest in football in the Philippines. With the recent Business of Football – Philippines, organized by MMC Sportz, which succeeded in getting together key stakeholders and helping the campaign further towards changing the mindset of Filipinos in terms of appreciating the sport. It was also an indicator that there’s a growing interest in the sport in the country.
What the country perhaps needs is a change of mindset, for football to be perhaps seen not just as a sport, but as a movement, that can bring people together, through sport.
The author may be reached at email@example.com