Future of Philippine football
THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - November 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Ricardo “Ricky” Yanson Jr. has football in his blood. He discovered his passion for the game early and played for University of St. La Salle throughout grade school and high school. In college, he managed the varsity team, winning several local and regional championships. Beyond school, he quietly helped several student-athletes who could not afford to pay their tuition. Later, Ricky was content to help the sport as a member of the Negros Occidental Football Association (NOFA), until his good friend, Rep. Charlie Cojuangco, “volunteered” him for a higher position.

“I knew Charlie was running (for reelection as president). I was abroad for business, and he called me. Then, he put me on speaker, and everybody voted me president of NOFA,” Yanson laughs. “So I accepted it.”

With the unexpected mandate, Yanson threw himself more fully into developing football in the region, initially out of his own pocket. He implemented systems, created tournaments, and developed youth competitions to ensure continuity. One of his first projects is the Dynamic Football League (DFL) for boys and girls of different ages that runs year-round. Another is the NOFA Football Academy, which teaches not just soccer technique, but also life skills and values. Yet another is the acclaimed NOFA National Cup for Under-13 teams. Last June, NOFA hosted 24 teams from all over the country for the tournament in Bacolod City.

Today, NOFA is a gleaming example to other football organizations in the country, a showcase of professionalism, competitiveness and sustainability. The NOFA Cup is now one of the most prestigious football tournaments in the country. Yanson is also responsible for organizing the Mindanao Cup last October with the Davao-South Regional Football Association, the first-ever youth tournament in the southernmost part of the country. He has also partnered with the Central Luzon Football Association (CLFA) to create the Luzon Cup, an Under-12 competition which opened Thursday at the Jose V. Yap Sports and Recreation Park in San Jose, Tarlac. The field is composed of 15 teams from Luzon and Mindanao Cup champion Bukidnon Football Association. 

Ricky’s umbrella program “Football para sa lahat” (Football for all) informs all his decisions and direction. Players from NOFA are now being poached by teams in Luzon and Metro Manila for their skill. These successes attracted the attention of Philippine Football Federation president Nonong Araneta.

“Last year, when the incumbent PFF president, Mr. Nonong Araneta, first asked me to succeed him and run for PFF president, I begged off,” Yanson clarifies. “I told him I would rather just keep working in the background for the good of football. But after several meetings, he convinced me and said, as PFF president, I could more easily replicate NOFA’s programs and achievements throughout the country.”

Finally, on Sept. 21 of this year, Yanson announced that he would run for PFF president. Araneta agreed to run as his vice-president. Curiously, a little more than a month later, Araneta changed his mind, declaring instead that he would run for reelection as president. Yanson says he sought out a dialogue with Araneta, and offered to slide down to vice-president, on the condition that Araneta push more sustained development programs. On Nov. 12, Araneta formally declined Yanson’s proposed unity ticket.

In his two terms as PFF president, Araneta has rightly thrown much support behind the popular Azkals, who have had mixed success in international competitions. However, due to his expanding duties with FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation, overall development of the sport nationwide has stagnated. Youth tournaments dwindled. This is where future national players come from. Araneta promised his own age-group programs as part of his reelection bid. 

This was the major void that Yanson, in a herculean effort, has revitalized, largely through his own resources and connections. Next year, in partnership with the Philippine Sports Commission, NOFA will launch an unprecedented new national tournament which will bring together the best youth teams, the champions from the Luzon Cup, NOFA Cup and Mindanao Cup. This will give child footballers something to aspire for and keep them in the game.

“Since we have three tournaments year-round in Negros, people have work,” Yanson explains. “They have to practice. Referees, players and football pitches are busy. Everyone is active. The sport thus keeps growing. You see the excitement in children’s eyes when they play. They’re inspired. We can do this nationwide.”

Of course, there are now the usual rumors being circulated that Yanson has very few actual votes among the more than 30 regional representatives voting in the Nov. 29 PFF election, or that he is backing out of the race. These tactics have been tried before, even at the Philippine Olympic Committee level. Borne out of desperation, they usually fail. Yanson is passionate about improving Philippine football by continually strengthening and expanding grassroots development, which will breed an army of future Azkals, which will in turn bring in more support for grassroots development, creating a spiral of growth.

Now that sounds like a real plan.

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