DUBAI—Phil Younghusband remembers scrambling through his mobile phone, while the rest of his family and friends were having Christmas dinner in England as he tried to assess the situation.
Older brother, James, was showing a friend around London when he received the call that they no longer have a club to play for next season.
The holiday season was far from festive for the Younghusband brothers, who tried to stay focused on the Philippine Azkals’ maiden Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup appearance here amid the uncertainty surrounding their careers.
Following the decision made by the Davao Aguilas not to field a professional team this year, the brothers were left without a club heading into the coming season—the first time in almost a decade that they are without a job.
“It’s been very difficult,” admitted Phil, the country’s top international scorer with 52 goals in 106 appearances.
“It’s been very challenging especially at a festive time of the year where we wanted to be with our families.”
Although the Azkals have dropped their first two matches in Group C to powerhouse sides South Korea and China, James said they have been fortunate to be part of the national squad here, where their teammates and staff have been very supportive.
“They’ve been fantastic,” said James, who has 100 appearances for the Azkals.
“There are people off the field who have been very supportive. They’ve helped us to focus solely on the national team. It’s obviously not ideal.”
Citing the uncertainty on the future of the Philippines Football League (PFL), the Aguilas pulled out for the coming season as the club opted to focus on grassroots and youth development.
Another player in the national team, Adam Reed, was also a part of the Aguilas before their pullout.
The Younghusband brothers signed a long-term deal with the Aguilas when they were lured from Meralco Manila in 2017. Whether that deal stands remains to be seen, but one thing’s for sure: the brothers still want to continue playing next season.
“It’s been challenging, mentally, to get through this to try and put our club situations on the back of our minds and put our focus here because the Asian Cup is now and we should be concentrating,” said Phil.
“But it’s difficult to think what our future is going to be like, how are we going to support our family and ourselves. It’s all up in the air.”
“It’s never come to this point where I feel this way emotionally. I feel more pressure, I have more responsibility now. It’s not easy but as James said, we have had challenges before and we’ve come through, it will not be any different this time.”
James said he is hoping to take the lessons from this experience and help other players avoid the same fate as his and his brother’s.
“This is an experience for me to take into the future and hope that it won’t happen to others,” said James. “I think it’s important that to have a bit more empathy for people.”
Phil is hopeful that club football eventually improves in the Philippines.
“It’s scary to think how fragile and unstable Philippine football is at the moment,” said Phil. “But we’re in a better position now, 10 years ago when the football community was very small. With the right steps taken off the field, it will improve. It’s not too late. If we did it then, then we can do it now.”
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