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James Younghusband looks forward to his 5th Suzuki Cup

James Younghusband | Rick Olivares
MANILA, Philippines – James Younghusband is sitting inside a coffee shop in BGC. He sips coffee. And smiles. 
 
He’s older now. And on the eve of his fifth Suzuki Cup – it should be his sixth but he missed one staging – the excitement of playing in Southeast Asia’s premier football event has not dampened one iota. He’s older, “mellower” he likes to put it, but his boyish grin is still there.
 
Ten years on the senior squad, 11 overall including the youth team, James and his brother Phil are now the last of the new wave riders. Everyone else who came up with them through the really lean years and during the massive breakthrough six years ago in the same tournament in Vietnam are now either retired or consigned to playing club football.
 
“Shrocky though,” he says about the squads’ fiery Fil-German wunderkind, Stephan Schrock, “I just learned is a few weeks older than me.” Younghusband celebrated his 30th birthday last September 4th. 
 
“This is what we worked long and hard for,” he quips while taking in a sip of morning coffee. “To host the group stages in front of our home crowd.” 
 
The coffee shop is rapidly filling up with people. The women. Yeah, they all smile at him. Jaymie Pizarro, the Bullrunner, who once did a Gatorade commercial with the Younghusband brothers is also buying coffee. “I think this place is filled up because of you,” she quips.
 
James smiles. 
 
He has a lot to smile for. After being left out of the squad a few years ago, he’s now back in the line-up.
 
The time away from the team forced him to re-assess his situation. As good as he was on the pitch with his knack for exquisite passes and deadly goals, he was at times, a problem for his team because of his temper.
 
Every once in a while, he looks at the video of this game where his Meralco Sparks were leading Philippine Air Force and all set to win the match when he got sent off for… things that merit a sending off. He views this and a few others. “I had anger issues,” he admits. He dispels the notion that it manifested because of his becoming the head of the family at such an early and tender age. “It was more because of this desire to win. Growing up in England, I followed Roy Keane who played with a lot of fire. Ryan Giggs was like that as well. But yes, it was a reality check for me.”
 
The one night, the Azkals’ everyman Ace Bright gave him a call about him getting another call-up to the team. “I thought it was a joke,” James recalls. “I couldn’t sleep that night because I was just so excited.”
 
And Younghusband did make come back to the team. More than that, he came back a better footballer. More precise in his passing, and more obviously, in control. “I was awful, wasn’t I?” he laughs now at what was in the past.
 
James understands his role now. The playing time has diminished. But now he helps with the younger players. There’s a happy atmosphere around the team. “As one of the longest tenured players on the team, wat you do off the pitch is just as important,” he points out. James admits to also looking at Chelsea’s John Terry on how his role has changed with the Blues. 
 
Looking at today, the Azkals, he’s excited. “The team has gotten so much better through the years. Better players. Better coaching. Better support. But right now, for us, making the semi-finals is not good enough. I recall back then, we’d say, ‘let’s try to make the semis.’ Now, having made it in the last three, it’s now winning it all.”
 
“We have to make the homefield advantage count. That was we fought for in Vietnam six years ago,” he adds pointing to the Philippines being in the group of death as the Azkals are bracketed with Thailand and Singapore, winners of the last two events. And there is dangerous and hungry Indonesia. “It’s going to be very difficult so we need all the help we can get.”
 
Six years ago, the Philippines wasn’t considered an equal on the field. Huge triumphs, great strides in world football, and climbing up the FIFA rankings, the Azkals are now on level terms in the realm of respect and ability. “Teams really prepare for us now. You could feel and sense they want to beat you. Even teams like Vietnam to this day, they still feel the loss and want to get back at us.”
 
“But Vietnam, as historic as it was for us in a football sense, we have to build on that and move forward. I’m in the past but I’d sure like to help it move forward. If hope this isn’t my last Suzuki Cup. Whatever it is, I hope it will be just as memorable.”
 
Eleven years representing the Philippines and 63 international caps with 10 goals later, Younghusband is just grateful for the opportunity to be back. “Hopefully, this will be an even bigger milestone.”
 
Not for him, but for the country.
 
The lad has grown up.
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