CEBU CITY, Philippines – For a sport that is finding its place in a basketball loving country, Philippine football can turn to Neil Etheridge for inspiration, according to FC Barcelona youth coaches who dropped by Cebu for the Milo selection camp on September 8 to 9.
The Filipino international who is also the starting goalkeeper of Cardiff City is the first Southeast Asian to play in the Premier League.
"An important achievement for the country or something similar helps [the sport] to grow and to improve," said coach Jordi Aguilar.
According to the Spainiard, the historic FIBA World Cup romp of his country's men's basketball team in 2006 and continued succes in the EuroBasket inspired more kids to play basketball in the football-dominated country.
"Well I want football to be the number one sport in all the countries not only in the Philippines," added Aguilar despite the growth of basketball in Europe.
When the FC Barcelona coaches arrived in the Philippines, it was unusual for them to spot only one kid kicking a ball around along the streets.
"When I travel from hotel to the field or to another place, you can see kids playing basketball, kids playing badminton, kids playing volleyball," said Aguilar.
"In Spain, it’s normal to see everyone with a ball, playing football and why not? Maybe we can improve here and make football maybe not the most important one, but an important sport [for everyone.]"
During the training session last September 8, the youth coach urged the kids to continue playing football and help the sport grow.
Coach Jordi asks the kids if they want to make football the most important sport in the Philippines. They said “yes” but when coach Jordi comes back in 3 years, it really has to be the country’s no. 1 sport over basketball. #MiloFCBPh | via @beebeego09 pic.twitter.com/qHfCayHevY — Rappler Sports (@RapplerSports) September 8, 2018
But Aguilar remains confident there is a lot of potential for football in the world espeically in Asia and North America, as seen by Etheridge's presence in the Premier League.
"If you compare the importance of football [now versus] five years ago, it has been growing a lot, [it's a] big difference then maybe in five or 10 years it will grow a lot more." – Rappler.com