Ex-EPL pros note emergence of PH football

By Edward Lao, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Sep 01 2012 05:20 PM | Updated as of Sep 02 2012 01:20 AM

 LONDON – The English Premier League (EPL) attracts players from across the globe, including those from the Far East.

Players like former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-Sung, now with Queens Park Rangers, is the most successful Asian to play in the EPL.

Not only did the South Korean win four EPL titles with United, he is also the only Asian to win Europe's elite club competition – the UEFA Champions League.

After a conference in London to promote the EPL, ex-professionals Andy Townsend and Gareth Southgate spoke to ABS-CBN Europe about the Asian influence, and the Philippines as an emerging football nation.

They see no reason why Filipinos can't be successful in football, but point out it will take time since the sport is still young in the Philippines.

A debate still surrounding the Philippine national team is the number of foreign born or half-blooded Pinoys on the first-team roster.

Apart from saying they aren't really Filipino, naysayers argue their prominence is hindering the development of homegrown talent.

The case in England is similar, although it stems from club level before reaching the nationals.

EPL clubs flood their line-ups with some of the best foreign talent in the world, which means less time for English youth players to prove themselves in the top flight.

Many move on. The Younghusband brothers an example of this.

The half-Pinoy pair were frozen out at Chelsea FC after Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the west London club in 2003.

Rather than focusing on Chelsea's current crop, Abramovich splashed out on a host of established stars such as Argentina's Hernan Crespo and Juan Sebastian Veron.

Some argue the influx of foreign stars has had a negative affect on the England national team's development.

Townsend, a former captain of the Republic of Ireland, feels foreign players are fine as long as they aren't just warming benches.

"You can understand that sometimes there are questions asked about the amount of foreign players that are playing. Is that going to deny English players perhaps the right to get a game?” he said.

“I can understand that when you're inviting lots of foreign players to come here and they don't play. If the Premier League is just swarmed by foreign players that are just hanging around and not playing, then that's wrong, but that's certainly not the case," Townsend added.

Currently, only two players of Filipino descent are playing for EPL sides – Fulham's Neil Etheridge and Swansea's midfielder Jonathan De Guzman, who is half-Dutch.

In time, Townsend and Southgate believe Pinoys will make their mark, but they add it requires investment and patience.

Southgate, a former England international, used the Korean and Japanese domestic leagues as examples.

"There has been a lot of investment in coaching and the infrastructure of their own leagues. That has not been an overnight success. The J-League has been going on for a long time now,” Southgate said.

“They are starting to develop their own players very well and they are looking at how they develop young players. That can happen in any country but it takes time and it needs the right structure," he added.

The United Football League (UFL) in the Philippines only began in 2009, but continues to grow.

Townsend is pleased the country has picked up an interest in the sport and that the Azkals are progressing.

"It's amazing to think that in the Philippines now you have an emerging team,” he said.

“It's no surprise to me to hear that the Philippines and nations like that are now starting to develop. It would be great to see some more of them in the years to come," Townsend added.

When asked about his take on the foreign-born Azkal debate, Southgate explained it is a common issue faced by young national sides.

"Until you can develop your own players and they've come through to the standard that you want, then it's always a difficult balance to get right. You want your players to have the experience of playing with good players because it improves them. It can take time to bring players through your own system so I can understand the frustrations,” Southgate said.

He adds England still experiences it in other sports.

"We have lots of players in the cricket team that were born in different countries, but sometimes, if people want to come and play for your country then you've got to embrace them and see the good side of that and learn from what they can bring to the team," Southgate said.

The latest Far Eastern talent to join the EPL is Manchester United's Shinji Kagawa.

After two games, the 23-year old Japanese international has made a noticeable contribution to the Red Devil's forward line, scoring on his home debut against Fulham last weekend.

In the past, when EPL clubs bought Asian players, critics said it was mainly because of their marketing value.

While their commercial draw is undoubted, Asians have shown they can also mix it with the best.