'School vs country' row flares up again ahead of Under-16 team's trip to KL

THE Philippine Football Federation will be looking for ways to once and for all solve the endless “club/school vs country” dilemma that now exists even in the youth levels.

PFF general secretary Atty. Edwin Gastanes expressed his dismay after the national Under-16 boys’ football team was left without three Far Eastern University standouts when the squad vies in the Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship qualifiers starting Wednesday in Malaysia.

“We’re looking seriously into that. We will address that issue,” Gastanes said after the sendoff for the team on Sunday night at the PFF office. “The federation, for the last few years, has been revising regulations, adapting regulations, and will be issuing regulations.”

U-16 Azkals coach Anto Gonzales said FEU coach Kim Chul Su initially refused to release winger Chester Gio Pabualan, midfielder Renz Saldivar, and defender Orlan Togores for national duty due to “various reasons, a number of issues against the federation and the coaches.”

There was no scheduling conflict as the UAAP football tournament, where FEU participates and made the semifinals last year, usually kicks off in December.

Gonzales continued that the Korean mentor eventually gave his permission at the “last minute” to Pabualan, Saldivar, and Togores, who, for some reason, still failed to attend the last practice session before the team's departure for Kuala Lumpur.

“We found out one kid was sick so the other two couldn’t join anymore. But they didn’t give us any advice as to what happened. So I decided not to bring them anymore,” Gonzales said.

Gastanes said they won’t give special treatment to anyone as the lawyer stressed the significance of donning the country’s colors.

“Last year, when Phil and James (Younghusband) had no time for practice, we didn’t include them in the lineup for the Peace Cup. We’re not afraid to repeat the same on all levels. We will rely on our fighting 19.”

“Being a member of the national squad is the highest level you can reach in your playing career. They should see the national issue,” Gastanes added.

One other key player in striker James Sambalod from La Salle wasn’t released due to academic deficiencies.

“If the reason is academic, we will go along because education is still the priority,” Gastanes said.  

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