When he decides to finally hang up his boots, Neil Etheridge will be remembered as one of the players who brought respect to the Philippines in the international football arena.
In an interview with Cedelf Tupas and Paolo del Rosario in the Tiebreaker Vods’ Crossover Podcast, the veteran goalkeeper reflects on his homegrown teammates in the national team who have persevered in foreign leagues.
“These are sort of people that we should be making as the blueprint until our league is sustainable. Those are sort of people that I’m playing with at the national team that I’m looking up to. I’m trying to learn from them,” said the 30-year-old.
Ever since the Azkals’ change in fortunes in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, professional football leagues in the region have started signing members of the national team to beef up their squads. Case in point, the likes of Misagh Bahadoran and Hikaru Minegishi, both signed from Global.
Recently, though, players such as goalkeeper Patrick Deyto and defender Amani Aguinaldo were signed by professional clubs in Thailand. Both of them came from the Philippines’ developmental system, playing for De La Salle University and Far Eastern University respectively in the UAAP. .
“I’m sure at the field they’re looking at stuff from me, but I’m looking at them saying ‘Wow, you’re making a career’.” And I don’t think in football at the moment, in all community of the Philippines, we put enough emphasis on football’s big wide world out there,” said the current Birmingham stopper.
Deyto and Aguinaldo are not the first Pinoys to sign with foreign teams, though.
Before them, Edzel Bracamonte — a University of Santo Tomas graduate — was recruited by German Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. Meanwhile, Freddy Gonzalez, a Colegio San Agustin-Makati alumnus, played for a club in Thailand.
It is safe to say that Filipino players have the talent for football. They just need an avenue to demonstrate it.
“But not just myself — everyone involved in the national team, the Azkals — wants a stable league with teams that are competitive and compete on a Southeast Asian level on a more regular basis. And we’re not that close to that, with the exception of what Ceres did over the years,” opined Etheridge.
“That’s the tough one. For you guys, it’s frustrating. For us players it’s also frustrating, because you don’t want to keep looking abroad, you want… homegrown (players) and then sell them abroad. It’s better that way. We just have to wait and see what happens.”
For now, though, the 6-foot-2 player marvels at what Deyto and Aguinaldo have achieved in their careers so far.
Deyto has established himself as a starter for Suphanburi FC. There, he played against fellow Azkals goalie Michael Falkesgaard, who started for Bangkok United. Falkesgaard emerged victorious, though, with a 2-1 scoreline.
On the other hand, Aguinaldo has been a member of Trat FC’s starting 11 in its 2020-21 campaign.
“I’m quite close to Patrick Deyto — but not extremely close, but I always speak extremely highly of him. I think he deserves every credit with everything that’s going on, to play for the Philippines, to play in the UFL, to come into the national team; to keep coming to the national team regardless if he’s going to play or he’s gonna play behind myself; and to make a career going to Thailand and… It’s good money and making a life, a career out there is… My hat goes off to him.
“Amani’s another one. You look at him, these players who played at the national team for so long… Amani came in, this hot-headed kid who had the raw talent that needed to be nurtured. For him not only to have the potential, but he continued to learn the trade and gave it enough time for him to make a living out of it… And these are the people we need to look up until our league in the Philippines is more sustainable, and [can] pay wages where people can make a real difference to them, their family, and where they’re from,” said Etheridge.
In the end, the Walsall legend feels that Deyto and Aguinaldo playing regularly in Thailand is a concrete sign of progress for Philippine football. However, he hopes that more homegrown products will follow their lead.
“The level of quality of players, the quality of the squad, the organization is better. And this is when I go back to the national team and Birmingham, I have my expectations of myself. And if I’m gonna look myself at the mirror and [see] if I can do it, then I wanna bring other people with me and say you can do it because I’ve done it — so where’s your excuse now?” said Etheridge.
“So yeah. We all hope, we all pray that the national team specifically, and football in general in the Philippines can progress and get better. We should never satisfied.”