Ceres-Negros win brings much-needed joy for Filipino football

Paul Williams Paul Williams

Paul Williams believes that – after some troubled times for football in Philippines – things are looking promising in the near future.

It’s been a tough few weeks for Filipino football.

After Ceres-Negros lifted the first-ever Philippines Football League title with a win over Global Cebu in December, the shine has well and truly come off the new league after two clubs were forced to close their doors as a result of being unable to find new investors for 2018.

The closing of Meralco Manila and Ilocos United has shone a spotlight on the structure of the PFL and cast doubts over its future, with just six clubs slated to start the 2018 season.

I’ve always believed in a purpose driven life. You are provided with opportunities, whether in business, or in this case sports, and you make the most out of it striving to always be on top. Proud to say that we’ve achieved just that with @fcmeralcomanila taking a mid tier football club and turning it in to a championship team. The club will forever be grateful to @mvp3838 @iamMVP @asp9 @viboygenuino @meralcoph for providing us with resources to fulfill our ambitions. We may not have had the biggest budget but what we lacked in financial resources we made up for in determination, motivation, sacrifice, ambition and the will to win. On the other side, Meralco also taught us about social responsibility, about caring for our community and in being role models for the youth. FCMM together with OneMeralco Foundation embarked on numerous social projects within the Manila community and, with the Philippine Marines, as far out as war torn Sulu. The players risked their lives as they flew down south in military C130 planes to bring joy to the hundreds of kids who participated in the Football for Peace program. The club’s mission extended to youth development as well through the @lmsfc_youth. The academy’s various age groups won numerous trophies and accolades from different youth tournaments in the country. Our added mission was always to mentor and help develop the next football heroes of the country. Our partners @jollibee and @mizunoph stood by us throughout this adventure and for that we will always be grateful. Some referred to our club as the Wolfpack, for we carried the philosophy “for the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”. This battle cry helped us win championships and kept the team positive in defeat. We gladly shared this philosophy with the @ateneomft and they embraced it wholeheartedly as they captured last year’s UAAP championship. It is with great sadness therefore that we unexpectedly close the curtain on this storied club. We thank all the coaches, players and staff, past and present, and @frentenaranja17 for being part of the FCMM family. Will forever treasure the memories.

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“I expected FC Meralco Manila to be one of the more financially and organisationally stable clubs in the country,” former Global owner Dan Palami tweeted earlier this month.

“So their foldup comes as a shock. But then again, from a purely business point of view, it’s a prudent decision considering the first season experience of all the clubs. If the second season is run the same way, it’s almost a guarantee that more clubs will opt out.

“The amount of resources that club owners allocate for their operations is staggering, the fans can help by spending money to watch games, buy merchandise, and even offer to sponsor. We need to support our clubs before it’s too late.”

Ceres-Negros coach Risto Vidakovic echoed those thoughts in an interview with FOX Sports Asia this week.

“I don’t know what the future holds but if they don’t change the format or the way that things are organised then maybe in a few years there will no longer be a professional league,” he said.

“The way that things are done now it’s not sustainable and they have to change a lot of things, especially the way the league is organised, as it’s not sustainable where you depend just on the owners and companies investing with nothing coming back because if these companies can no longer invest then they will leave.”

So it was with some trepidation that fans approached Ceres’ AFC Champions League playoff against Brisbane Roar. After all, they had only just returned for pre-season and had struggled to overcome Myanmar’s Shan United last week, winning on penalties after the match ended at one-all.

At this stage of the competition last year Brisbane had humbled Global 6-0, so it’s easy to understand why some fans may have feared the worst. Even Vidakovic acknowledged the magnitude of the task ahead of them.

“The issue we face is that we are not prepared as our league finished in December and now we are back here playing already in the Champions League but we will try to compete and do the best we can,” he said.

“We know though it will be very tough for us because this is a higher level and Brisbane have many top players, many with experience in Europe and they are much better prepared than us.”

But despite going down a goal midway through the first half, Ceres-Negros rallied, and in fine style, and pulled off one of the biggest upsets in AFC Champions League history, registering a 3-2 win that will go down in folklore at the club. A win that will be talked about for decades.

Ceres were not overawed by Brisbane and took the game to their more fancied opponents, looking to constantly play on the front foot with Stephan Schrock expertly controlling things in midfield, and Spanish striker Bienvenido Maranon adding some polish up front.

While they now face the daunting task of tackling China’s Tianjin Quanjian, just making it to the final playoff is massive achievement.

It’s a win that has provided Filipino football with a massive fillip, pardon the pun. Fans across the archipelago are waking today with a smile on their face, and that’s not something that has happened much of late.

With the national team on track to secure their first ever qualification for the AFC Asian Cup in March when they host Tajikistan, there is suddenly light at the end of the tunnel again for Filipino football.