When local sports fans discuss a pantheon of legendary football players in the country, there is no doubt that the name ‘Emelio “Chieffy” Asada Caligdong’ will be part of that conversation. His exploits inspired millions of fans and players to follow the sport amidst its revival from 2010.
However, Caligdong is living a different life now. In a two-part episode of Tiebreaker Vods’ Crossover Podcast, presented by SMART and supported by LGR, and hosted by veteran journalist Cedelf Tupas, the 37-year-old revealed how he and his clan are adjusting to life in Canada.
“Mahirap. Siyempre una, ‘yun nga, during my time sa Azkals supposed to be dapat 2008, nakaalis na kami ng Texas,” explained the erstwhile midfielder. “Mayroon na kaming papers, naka-prepare na, kaso lang kinausap ko si Nene (wife) na if pwede natin ma-hold muna.
“Siyempre I want to… Kumbaga ‘yung career ko sa football kaka-start pa lang noon sa national team, so I want to give back also kung saan ako nanggaling. ‘Yung mga teammates ko and my coaches nag-sacrifice din nung taon na ‘yun, so give and take.”
Truly, migrating to another country in the hope of securing a better future for one’s family is a difficult choice to make.
For Caligdong, though, it coincided with the rise of football in the Philippines, with him becoming one of its poster boys.
“’Yun talaga ‘yung reason bakit ako nag-file ng dependency discharge sa Philippine Air Force. ‘Yun ‘yung reason kasi ‘yung visa, nandiyan na eh. Kaso lang twice — ‘yung 2008 hindi ko inaccept, ‘yung 2012 hindi ko rin inaccept because mahal ko ‘yung football, mahal ko ‘yung Azkals, mahal ko ‘yung national team,” said the former Green Archers United player..
“’Yun ‘yung reason na hindi ako nakaalis nung 2008 and 2012. Kumbaga right timing din na 2017 nabigyan kami ng chance ulit na maka-prepare papuntang Canada, so 2017 nag-process na ako, 2018, ‘yung last two years nakalipad na kami.”
For the former Air Force star, whose wife, Nene, works as a nurse, football was a gateway for seeing the world.
It would also be another key for him, his spouse and their children to finally accomplish their migration.
“Yes, si Nene meron dalawang sister dito sa Canada, and sabi ko kay Nene i-try natin ako ‘yung applicant, ako ‘yung principal applicant,” explained Caligdong.
“Malaking tulong ‘yung coaching side ko as a national coach, malaking tulong din ‘yung naging national team player ako, nakasama ako sa senior at youth teams. So on the process, merong mga questions in the requirements kung naka-represent ka ng national team, naka-serve ka sa country mo as a national player. So sabi ko oo. ‘Yun ‘yung mga one of the questions sa akin. Malaking bagay.”
With all of that done and dusted, the former National Under-14 Boys mentor and his family tried to adjust to life in Canada. Enduring the winter season proved especially difficult, but becoming a coach in another country was rigorous on its own.
Thankfully, he had an assist from an esteemed figure.
“Pagdating ko dito, ‘yung transition from Philippines as a coach and pagdating ko dito, through the help of Sir Nonong Araneta, our PFF President… Alam mo na ‘yung 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup is in Canada, US and Mexico ‘di ba? So host country ‘yung Canada,” said the Barotac Nuevo native.
“Isa sa nagpapanalo sa World Cup bidding ‘yung Philippine football, kaya nagpapasalamat ako kay Sir Nonong na inendorse niya ako sa Canada Soccer Association, so inaccept nila nung nakita nila ‘yung CV ko and the experience ko as a coach and player.”
After passing a few examinations, the 5-foot-5 winger was all set to become a coach. He eventually found employment under North Missuanga Soccer Club, where he teaches the game to aspiring players and instructs them on the sidelines in various grassroots competitions.
“Sa facilities grabe, sawa ka sa football field. Pagbaba ko dito sa tinitirahan ko, I have one full field pitch, ‘yung sa kabila ‘yun ‘yung nine-a-side na pitch. So pagdating ko dito sa isang block, meron namang dalawang… I think three football field[s], so sobra,” he expounded.
Now that he is based in North America, he has become a focal point for young Filipino-Foreign players who seek to have a chance to play football in and for the Philippines. In fact, his reputation in the game has made him a contact person for these future standouts.
“Puro Under-17 ‘to, ‘yung tatlong player. ‘Yung isa I think six-foot-one, winger striker, ‘yung isa five-foot-eight central defender, ‘yung isa siguro five-feet-seven, right back, pwedeng left back. So sana matulungan ko and makausap ko si Coach Aris (Caslib), si Coach (Marlon) Maro kung sino ‘yung mga pwedeng tumulong sa kanila next year kung makabalik na ‘yung national team tryout sa youth. So sana makapasok sila,” shared the former Union star.
With his coaching career in full swing, it is safe to say that Caligdong has come a long way from the kid who played on the rice fields in Barotac Nuevo. Despite having a stable life in Canada, he still dreams of the day when he can return home and share his experiences with young Filipino players.
“I’m hoping na sana next year after this pandemic, the Philippine Football Federation will focus on youth at the same time para at least tuloy-tuloy ‘yung support sa senior team sa Azkals,” said the former soldier.
“Of course ‘yung para sa akin naman na part, I’m still here to support and willing to reinforce ‘yung kailangan ng Filipino overseas players na gustong maglaro diyan. I’m still here to help. And siyempre gusto ko rin bumalik diyan to help share ‘yung mga experiences ko dito sa Canada as a coach.”
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