BACK when he represented the Philippines as a striker for the national football team in the mid-80s to the 90s, Maxie Abad used to stand out for being the lone Fil-foreigner in a team composed of homegrown players.
Now, it's the opposite for the Philippine Azkals.
“I was the only white guy (on the team)," recalled Abad. "In fact, when we played China, the Chinese coach was protesting that I was not Filipino. They were asking for my passport and all my (citizenship) papers.”
The Filipino-Italian played for the national team from 1986 to 1996 and was the captain of the Philippine side that played in the first Suzuki Cup. He also played for several semi-professional teams, highlighted by a season with Brezia FC in Italy.
The self-confessed AC Milan fan is a trailblazer in more ways than one, having also started the Manila Soccer Academy (MSA) back in 2002 when football schools are all but unheard of in this part of the world.
“In 2002 when we put up the MSA there was only one other school, but now almost all the clubs in the United Football League (UFL) have football youth academies, and I think it was because of us," said Abad, who, along with Hindy Tantoco, founder of the Holy Carabao Organic Farms, was formally introduced as a Pharmaton Life Charger in a media event at the Manila Polo Club.
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"In fact, the first UFL season when we entered our teams, we won two championships across the age groups, two runners-up and one third place, so it was a pretty good result,” Abad added.
Now a lawyer and a triathlete while dividing his time between work and family, Abad still finds time to direct his passion towards managing the MSA where he teaches the sport to students aged 3-19.
The MSA has 150 to 300 kids at any given time and most of its alumni have found their way into varsity teams of schools considered as powerhouses in the local football scene. A number of their under-15 last year were called to join the Team Azkals training pool.
“I am proud that we have achieved a certain level of standard. In fact when the kids join tournaments, right away the other teams would go, ‘Oh my God! Manila Soccer Academy!’ They have that impression we’re very strong and very talented,” Abad said.
Abad, who since the age of five has been involved in football, said his wish to have a good football school for his own children led him to put up MSA.
“I played all my life, starting when I was a kid for the Philippine team. When I couldn’t play anymore and my kids were in this school where I wasn’t happy with their training - and I know (what proper training should be) - I decided, maybe I should put up my own academy and do how it's supposed to be done in Europe or anywhere else internationally,” he said.
From 10 kids in 2002, the MSA now has 15 coaches who handle classes for up to 300 students.
The academy's training curriculum follows international standard and participates in tournaments across Europe and Asia.
“My passion for football is second to none. Putting up a school with 10 to 20 kids, now we’ve grown to 200. We’ve gone all over the world, we’ve won countless championships, you name it,” he said.
Seeing the kids having fun, making friends, and being happy inspires him, Abad said.
“One thing I’m proud also of our kids even though they’re good - and they know they’re good - they’re humble. You can be good and arrogant but they don’t express it; they express it by playing good, not by putting people down,” Abad said.
“Not all will win a championship. I think it’s more that they get something out of it - the experience," he added.
Pharmaton, he said, gives him the energy to pursue his passion.
“What you put in is what you get out. You can’t get everything from what you eat. You have to supplement. Definitely, supplements are a part of every athlete’s life. That’s a given and any athlete at the top level would know that. This is where Pharmaton comes in," he said.
Today, Abad is excited about the prospects for Philippine football. He said the owners of the other UFL teams told him last year that the MSA has had a 10-year head start on the rest of the league.
“When I look back, that’s what I want. I don’t see them as ‘Hey, you’re gonna get my players, we’re competitors!’ No. I see them as ‘You’re gonna raise the level.' Everyone has to step up and Philippine youth football has improved. I think MSA has made that kind of a change,” he said.