MOST people know Mariano 'Nonong' Araneta as the president of the Philippine Football Federation; a former national player from the football hotbed of Barotac Nuevo who has been deeply involved in the sport for over four decades now.
But unknown to many, there was a time when football almost lost him to basketball.
A two-sport athlete during his playing days with the University of the Philippines, Araneta was a member of the farm team of Mariwasa in the 1970s and was offered by his coach, the late Olympian Fely Fajardo, a chance to join the team when it became one of pioneers of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) in 1975.
“Siguro kasi walang pahinga sa football kaya parang kayang-kaya rin mag-basketball,” Araneta said in a chat with Spin.ph during his short stay in Bangkok to watch the Azkals beat Myanmar, 2-0, at the end of their successful campaign in the group stage of the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup.
“Walang drafting kasi dati (sa PBA) so as soon as you’re done with the university, deretso ka sa club. But I said no (to the offer) kasi I wanted to finish my studies,” Araneta added.
After graduating with a degree in civil engineering, he worked at the Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines (CDCP) doing corporate planning duties. There, the opportunity to play in the PBA presented itself to Araneta again when the company’s PBA team, coached by Nic Jorge, offered him a contract.
Again, he declined.
“Mas importante kasi sa akin ang trabaho kaysa sa basketball,” Araneta explained.
His association with basketball did not end there. He served as the trainer of UP's team in the UAAP for five years from 1982 and once served as its coach for one elimination-round game when coach Joe Lipa and his assistant Mon Bernabe had to go to Seoul as part of the national team to the Asian Games.
Without star guards Ronnie Magsanoc and Eric Altamirano, who were both members of the national team, Araneta had to lean on big man Benjie Paras in leading the team to victory against the Falcons. The Maroons went on to win the championship that year - their last to date.
“I was part of that champion team,” Araneta, 58, proudly said with a grin.
Nowadays, Araneta, who used to head the Iloilo Football Association, is completely focused on football, spending most of his time attending meetings around Asia and with Fifa (International Football Association).
“With football growing, marami na rin nakukuhang time ko ang football. I thought before parang part-time lang pero now I spend more time for football than my work,” said Araneta, a part owner of a manning agency that mostly sends seafarers to jobs overseas.
“Buti na lang yung partner ko understanding so hindi pa niya ako fina-fire out,” Araneta added with a laugh.
But he is dead-serious when it comes to propagating the sport in the country. Among the projects the PFF has started under his leadership are the Kasibulan grassroots program and the national association’s partnership with the government in making football as a “vehicle for peace.”
Araneta's foremost goal is to put the mechanism in place so that the PFF, which for years has been dogged by allegations of corruption, can be run professionally. He has taken the first step in that direction by tapping SGV as the football body's auditing firm, as required by Fifa.
“We want transparency with the way we run the PFF para at least pag may sponsors, they know their money is not being wasted,” said Araneta. “They will prepare all the procedures para talagang may check and balance so that the PFF is run like a corporation. Hindi yung parang isang tao lang.”
Since Araneta took over the presidency in late 2010 – right around the same time the Azkals rose to prominence – there have been plenty of positive changes in Philippine football.
With him at the helm, he hopes the progress continues.
“Maraming challenges sa football. We have to maintain the momentum so the football will really flourish in this country,” he said.