By Michael Church
HONGKONG (Reuters) – Sven-Goran Eriksson’s surprise appointment as Philippines coach made headlines around the world, and now the basketball-mad nation is hoping the impact of the Swede’s arrival can last beyond January’s Asian Cup finals.
The Azkals will play in the continental championship for the first time, but it was the appointment of the former England manager on a short-term contract in October that grabbed global attention for Philippine football.
Eriksson’s resume speaks for itself, the 70-year-old winning the Serie A title with Lazio in 2000 before guiding England to the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006.
It is the country’s ability to lure a coach with Eriksson’s track record that has made the football world take notice.
“It’s only a short-term contract and we don’t know what will happen after that, whether he will still play a role in Philippine football or not,” team captain Phil Younghusband said.
“But I think people are talking about the Philippines in a better light already, purely because we’re associated with someone of his stature and with his reputation. That puts Philippine football on the map.
“We’re going to the Asian Cup for the first time, we reached the semi-finals of the South East Asian championship and I think, with everything going forward that way, it’s fitting that we have someone of Sven’s reputation within the team.”
Eriksson’s first job was to lead the squad during the Asean Football Federation Championship, where the Philippines reached the semi-finals for the fourth time in five tournaments before losing to eventual champions Vietnam.
But it is qualifying for the Asian Cup, where the Philippines face South Korea, China and Kyrgyzstan in the group phase, that is the high water mark for the game in a country where basketball rules supreme and the national football team struggled until a decade ago.
The arrival of a group of British-born players – featuring brothers Phil and James Younghusband and current Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge – kick-started an uptick in fortunes and there have been additional improvements since.
Playing at the Asian Cup finals will see the Azkals take another step forward while the publicity boost earned by hiring Eriksson has increased interest from other overseas-born players.
Younghusband is hoping Eriksson’s arrival will also play a role in improving the management of the game in the Philippines.
“When you bring in someone with such a big name they’re used to certain standards,” he said.
“They’re used to good quality and I think having someone who has those expectations and standards will, when he’s asking for things to be done, people in the organisation are more inclined to do it because it’s coming from someone who has worked with the best in the world.
“If you bring that quality then that will benefit Philippine football, it will benefit the players, it will benefit the coaching staff around him and you should see better results.”
(Reporting by Michael Church, editing by Ed Osmond)