When the Philippine Men’s National Football Team faced off against Fiji last March 22 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila, local football fans could be forgiven for deeming it a reunion and not an international friendly.
It was the first time the Azkals had gathered in months, and some players returned to national team duty from employment under different clubs within the ASEAN region like Misagh Bahadoran, Hikaru Minegishi, Iain Ramsey, and debuting goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard.
Minegishi, who plays for Thailand’s Pattaya United, shared, “I feel high level of football in Thailand. Actually, I need more playing time in my club but I have to show that (I deserve more minutes) in training. I keep my condition very nice. I always have to be ready in training, in the game, that’s why I can help in the Azkals also, because my condition is ready.”
With the ASEAN player quota in effect in the Malaysia and Thailand top divisions, players such as Minegishi have become valuable commodities to fulfill the rule that states that clubs from these leagues must have three foreign players, one Asian player, and one ASEAN player.
Minegishi is not the only Azkal who recently joined a Thai club. One of the newest members of the squad, Falkesgaard, was also recruited by Bangkok United last January and has made six appearances so far for the his new team.
“First of all, I need to adjust to the weather, the climate and also the culture as well you know,” opined the Filipino-Danish stopper. “It’s quite different the style of play of Asia compared to Europe so I need an adjusting period and I still don’t think I’m on my 100 percent but I will get there.
“I think there’s like 20 percent more of me after I get settled and I hope I will show Thailand and the Azkals (what I can do).”
There are many advantages to playing abroad. Players learn new skills and tactics that will further enrich their careers, and will be passed on to the next generation. There is also a certain excitement when a foreign-based player returns for national team duty.
“Of course our team (Bangkok) is strong because of many tactics, high level of football, many fans. Thailand football is high quality. Everyday I feel like that,” added Minegishi, who credited the experiences he gets from training for his better performance.
Falkesgaard shared, “I think the players who go abroad will get a certain amount of good practice, training, amongst better players, good players and when they come back they have a higher level and that’s the thing that will help this team to be a better team.
“If the players they will perform good in their club as well as aborad, they will perform good here.”
For Perak TBG’s Bahadoran, the early starts of the Malaysian and Thailand leagues helped the team prepare for the Fiji game. “Of course, other players who play abroad are physically more fit because the league here hasn’t started only Ceres and Global players have been playing,” said the product of Centro Escolar University.
“The league has already started (in other countries) so we have been playing and training so physically we were a bit ready for running the way coach (Thomas Dooley) wanted us to play like pressing, fighting and playing football so it helps that.
“Hopefully, the Philippines Football League also keeps continue doing a good job in the AFC Cup. So that more players can have the opportunity to (other countries) and bring the quality of their leagues here in the Philippines,” furthered the former Global-Cebu skipper.
With the globalization of football talent, it should not be far-fetched to see a Filipino play in a top league abroad. Neil Etheridge is currently playing for English Championship side Cardiff City, while a nearer nation like Australia could be a potential destination for Filipino players.
Fiji had Australian A-League striker Roy Krishna in its ranks for the match. The Wellington Phoenix man came on as a substitute against the Azkals and felt that it was not impossible for an A-League club to sign a Filipino in the future.
“They are very good players technically and I can see they are good players but obviously it’s gonna be a foreign player but there’s definitely a chance but it’s all up to the coach,” said Krishna.