Davao Aguilas closing shop in 2018 and not starting in the 2019 Asian Cup held in the United Arab Emirates were what drove former Azkals skipper and star striker Phil Younghusband to retire last year.
“The folding of Davao and not being able to start (in the Asian Cup) were successive blows that just took their toll on me. I just felt unmotivated with football. I don’t want to feel that ever again,” said Younghusband, 32, in a webcast together with elder brother James, who retired last week, late Tuesday night.
Owned by businessman Jefferson Cheng, Aguilas abruptly withdrew from the Philippines Football League in 2018, leaving the Younghusbands and the rest of the squad jobless in early 2019.
Although no figures were ever disclosed, Cheng, who used to manage the an under-22 national squad, reportedly paid a handsome sum for the brothers to transfer from Loyola Meralco FC.
Compounding his miseries, Phil, a regular starter for the Azkals in international play, was relegated to the unfamiliar role of reliever in all three Asian Cup matches under noted Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson, who handled England in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Making him more pensive was his looming marriage with girlfriend, model Margaret Hall, who is of Filipino-Scottish descent, later in 2019 after a two-year engagement.
“Losing my job when I knew I had to fund a wedding wasn’t a nice experience,” recalled the footballer, who married his fiancé in July 2019. Both are now based in England and have a son, Philip James, born last June 12, Philippine Independence Day.
“I wanted security because when you’re starting a family, your priority is your family. You want to make sure you support them,” he added. “You make sure they are never in a vulnerable position where I can’t give them security.”
“Playing football in the Philippines is not giving me that. There has been numerous times when clubs have folded,” he said, despite emerging as one of the bright lights of the Azkals after their surprise Suzuki Cup semifinals success in 2010.
A product of the famed Chelsea Football Academy like James, Phil, who is exploring opportunities back in England, cited the plight of current club players back in Manila.
The Philippine Football Federation, the sport’s national governing body, anxiously awaits the go-signal from national government authorities overseeing the virus crisis to resume training for clubs that could pave the way for the long-delayed Philippines Football League, originally set to begin in April, in finally kicking off.
“I was in the same position with what a lot of players are experiencing over there now, (of) clubs finding it hard to get financial support. It is very difficult,” he rued. “I empathize with the players and clubs that are going through these hard times.”
The present local football situation likewise figured in James announcing his retirement last week.
“Initially my plan was to finish the whole 2020 season with Ceres. But with the recent pandemic and football put on hold, especially here, I thought it wise to announce it earlier,” he said after quitting football and hanging up his jersey for Ceres-Negros FC.
James added that he had no regrets making the decision, especially after the Busmen completed a historic double, sweeping the league and Cup trophies on top of making appearances in the AFC Cup.
“Winning the double last year and playing in the AFC Cup, it was a nice way to end it (my career),” he said.
But both Younghusbands, who became the face of Philippine football for nearly a decade, promised not to turn their backs on the country they have come to love.
“It’s time to start a new chapter in learning and learn more about coaching. I would like to go to different countries and learn different cultures and bring it back here,” said James, who formed the Manila-based Younghusband Football Academy with Phil more than a decade ago.
Being cooped up at home most of the time because of the pandemic was driving him crazy, he added.
“Like a lot of people here, (I don’t like) sitting out and losing my mind all day. I need to get back to work as soon as possible. I need to go out and be creative, “ James said. “I like being a coach, being creative and designing the sessions to improve younger players.”
In the meantime, the celebrated midfielder said he would like nothing more than he and his youngest sister Keri to go back to the United Kingdom and be reunited with their brother once the local travel restrictions are eased.
“Maybe we can go back to England to meet my brother and my baby nephew, something which I am really excited for,” he said.
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