Etheridge points to Deyto, Aguinaldo path as PH football blueprint
When national team players Patrick Deyto and Amani Aguinaldo secured moves to Thai League 1 clubs, there was hardly any fanfare in Manila.
Halfway across the world, their Azkals teammate, Neil Etheridge, who signed with Birmingham City FC recently, saw the development as a breakthrough that could ultimately further propel the growth of Philippine football, adding that the path of Deyto and Aguinaldo serves as a blueprint for homegrown players taking up the sport in the country.
“These (Aguinaldo and Deyto) are the sort of players we should be making as the blueprint until our league is sustainable,” said Etheridge during a recent episode of the CPT Crossover podcast. “I’m trying to learn from them. I’m sure at the field they’re looking at stuff from me, but I’m looking at them saying wow because they are making a career out of it.”
Both Deyto and Aguinaldo played in the Philippines Football League, which is only in its fourth season.
It’s no secret that the league has struggled, but the fourth season seems to be on a promising track with the entry of Qatar Airways as a major sponsor and the Azkals Development Team added to the mix as a guest team.
While Global FC suspended for unpaid salaries of players and staff, a team made up of former national team stars in Maharlika FC has taken up the cudgels, providing a case for growth and expansion of the league.
After a six-month suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs have now returned to training with an eye at kickoff in the middle of October.
With lessons picked up from the past 10 years, from the United Football League and the first three years of the PFL, league officials are bullish that they are taking steps in the right direction.
“There are good things that we can pick up in the last decade from both the UFL and the PFL,” PFL commissioner Coco Torre said.
Deyto, 30, has served as Etheridge’s backup, but has certainly stepped up when called upon, appearing for the Azkals 17 times. He started his career under coach Hans Smit at De La Salle in the UAAP, before playing for Green Archers United, Global FC, Davao Aguilas and Stallion. He is now the top choice for Thai club Suphanburi, where he plays alongside another Filipino, Patrick Reichelt.
“I always speak extremely high of him (Deyto) and I think he deserves every credit with everything that’s going on, to play for the Philippines, to play in the UFL and PFL, to keep coming to the national team regardless if he’s going to play or not. Players like Patrick have done the hard job to make a living, those are the guys that we should be looking up to.”
Aguinaldo, the 25-year-old centerback who made his Azkals debut in 2014, laid the foundation for his career at Far Eastern U under Korean coach Kim Chul-soo and program director Vince Santos. He played under Kim at Loyola Meralco, before transferring to Global. Aguinaldo also briefly suited up for Ceres-Negros, before taking his talents to the Malaysia Super League with PKNP. Early this year, he moved to Trat in Thailand.
“Amani came to this team as a hot-headed kid who had a raw talent that needed to be nurtured,” said Etheridge. “He had the potential, but he continued to learn the trade and gave it enough time for him to make a living out of it.”
Having played for the Azkals since 2008, Etheridge said he’s also aware of the huge strides made by the sport in the country.
“I’ve been here 12 years and it’s night and day,” said Etheridge. “The level of quality of players, the quality of the squad, the organization is better. But we should never [be] satisfied.”
Etheridge dreams of the day when football becomes the first choice for an aspiring athlete in the country.
“If you’re a young Filipino playing basketball, of course, it’s great that you can play in the PBA and make a difference for yourself financially,” Etheridge said. “And people ask the question can you do that in football? The answer at the moment is probably no but if you get to the national team level and you can go to other Southeast Asian countries, I’m telling you now there’s a lot of money to be made, you can make a career, have a legacy and maybe propel football for the Philippines even more.”
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