Phil Younghusband, a big Federer fan, a natural as he gives squash a try
Phil Younghusband prepares to return against Azkal teammate Anton del Rosario in their adidas Celebrity Squash Tournament match at the Manila Polo Club. Dante Peralta

WATCHING professional athletes participate in sports other than their own can be quite entertaining in a 'fish out of water' sort of way. caught up with the Azkals' Phil Younghusband at the adidas Celebrity Squash Tournament at the Manila Polo Club where he handily bested younger brother James in two sets, the first of four matches of the day. 

“I was shocked with Phil. He never played squash before. He’s so strong. He could play,” said event organizer Tweetie de Leon-Gonzales when asked who among the athletes impressed her the most in the sixth edition of the annual event.

The Filipino-English forward actually has a little experience playing squash. Well, miniscule, actually.

“I played when I was about eight years old. Then I played five years ago for the second time and this is the third time. This is James’ first time so I have a little bit of advantage, yeah. I warmed up a little bit so it showed in the result,” said the popular striker of the Philippine national football team.

The 28-year old Surrey native said there were some similarities between football and squash racquet, noting there’s “a lot of footwork and a lot of spatial awareness” involved in both disciplines.

“It’s quite tactical, you have to think where to put the ball and there’s a lot of bouncing about so there’s a lot similarities in football and there’s lots of things that can help you in your football game," he added.

Phil admitted that his second sport also involves a racquet.

“I love playing tennis. I play with Anton (del Rosario) sometimes. We just did tennis in our TV show on TV5,” he said.

“I’m a massive, massive fan of Roger Federer so any chance I get to play tennis then I’m gonna play.”

Del Rosario, who plays right-back for the nationals, agreed with his Azkals teammate.

“I play (tennis) with Phil every know and then. Phil loves tennis. I swear if he wasn’t a soccer player he’d play tennis, you know. Aly (Borromeo) and I used to play back in the day, over here actually and we were pretty competitive."

The same level of competitiveness on the pitch was clearly evident in the game between Phil and Anton, who are also teammates with Loyola FC in the UFL. they used a combination of physicality, speed and strategy in their two matches inside the cramped squash court where after a lot of banging and positioning — coupled with a lot of shouting, the Filipino-American emerged the victor.


“We’re athletes so everything we do is competitive — whatever we do we take it on the court, the soccer field, playing with toys or video games — it’s always competitive,” Del Rosario told after the spirited match.

“I don’t play squash (laughs). Last time I played was two years ago in this same tournament," he admitted.

Compared to soccer, “Everything is different. First of, you don’t use your feet. Secondly the court is very small so you have to be on your toes all the time. You don’t stride at all so it’s almost like a lunge–slash-sprint to the ball. It depends on who you’re playing also. Some of these are professionals, older guys. They stand on the middle and make us run for fun.”

The Azkal veteran said pro footballers can use stamina and speed when playing other sports but these can only give you limited advantage.

“With football we do a lot of running so when we come up with stuff like this we can last the whole game, but lasting the whole game doesn’t mean you can play, you know?”

To maintain balance in the one-day tourney, organizers placed the Younghusband brothers, Del Rosario and Borromeo in different teams for a semblance of balance. All four Azkals took on each other but in the end it was Phil’s Team Crazylight which took home bragging rights as champions.

“Socializing and having fun. It’s all about being active and staying healthy and having good fun in a different ambiance and environment. Different mindset, you know. It might be relaxed but here it’s quite intense," said Phil.

Follow the writer on Twitter: @rhoelfernandez