LEGENDARY Azkals left winger Chieffy Caligdong is optimistic that football supremacy in the Southeast Asia, particularly in the SEA Games, is well within reach of the Philippines.
Retired from the national team for the past two years, Caligdong bared that the failure to win a gold medal in the SEA Games is still one of the things that haunt him when he looks back on his stellar career.
The closest the Barotac, Nuevo Iloilo pride came to accomplishing that elusive goal was in the 2005 SEA Games as part of the under-23 team. The soon-to-be-christened Azkals squad, however, failed to secure a podium finish in the tournament dominated by Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia respectively.
But with the recent gains of the national team and full support from sponsors like Globe Telecom, where Caligdong is now a sports developments manager, the fiery booter believes football glory in the region looms for the Philippines.
“Dahan-dahan nandun na tayo. The Philippine Football Federation is also confident na makakapasok tayo and makapag-produce tayo ng players someday through different leagues, like the United Football League,” said Caligdong.
“We’re on track sa timeframe natin na dumating yung time na tayo ang magdo-dominate not only here in Southeast Asia, but siguro sa Asian region rin we can compete. Yung level of competition ng Pinoy booters, tumataas. Yung mindset andun na eh, so kaunting hasa pa,” he added.
Caligdong remains active in the UFL playing for the Green Archers United football club, but he's already begged off from national team duties due to injuries that hounded him in recent years. But his retirement from the Azkals doesn’t mean he no longer cares for the team's mission.
“Ako, I won’t allow this lifetime na hindi tayo manalo ng SEA Games gold, that’s the main goal, then eventually be recognized worldwide sa talent natin sa football,” he said.
Caligdong has also been an active advocate in finding and developing future football talents for the country. For the past four years now, Caligdong has been at the helm of the TM Football Para sa Bayan program, where they teach, develop and discover underprivileged kids from rural areas.
Now on its sixth year, the program this time is scouring far-flung areas for twelve children, ages 10-12, which will be sent to Malaysia for thorough training under the Astro Kem Bola camp in Kuala Lumpur.
Football Para sa Bayan technical director and veteran coach Hans Peter Smit is confident that the program can fasttrack the development of Philippine football, and hopefully increase the chances of Pinoy booters breaking through the European circuit and other renowned leagues in the world.
“What we have nowadays [are] more technically sound coaches, more equipment and useful trainings, I don’t see any reason why we cannot [help] our players [in] going out there (international circuit),” said Smit.
“We have booters playing in different countries already, now you know that other countries are taking notice of Filipinos. So this program is a boost to what we want to do to amplify football development,” he added. "At football, the Philippines can compete with the best of the best."
Smit bared over the next months, TM will scour the whole country through clinics and competitions in Barotac, Nuevo (Iloilo), Talisay Negros Occidental, Davao City and Ayala Alabang in Muntinlupa City to determine the 20 players for the pool, not just based on their exceptional skills, but also on their teamwork, discipline, behavior and sportsmanship.
The list will be further trimmed down to the final 12 representatives with the equal number of boys and girls based on their overall ranking and will be sent to Kuala Lumpur for a more intense training.
Fernando Esguerra, Globe’s director for corporate social responsibility, revealed that their company will shoulder all the expenses of the team members, who they hope to become future stars of the Azkals.
“It’s full support for the young athletes. All they have to think about, and their parents, is how to absorb the knowledge they will be given towards becoming future football champions,” said Esguerra.
“Yung opportunity na ito is very enticing kasi dati other football clubs spend a lot of money just to send their players to training. We will shoulder it and if they show more potential, we can even send them to Europe for additional two-week training. Ganun ka serious ang program namin,” he added.
Watch video of interview with Chieffy Caligdong: