The ones that got away: International footballers with Filipino heritage

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With the Azkals qualifying into the 2019 edition of the Asian Cup, football has generated buzz once again.

But before we go back into the hustle and bustle of the status quo – as The Azkals go their separate ways to refocus on their club football commitments, several of whom will return as on-pitch rivals again, let us look at a completely “fantasy” scenario.

Let’s tackle about the “near misses” – world renowned footballers who were once eligible to play for the national team but due to several different factors, opted to represent other nations.

FOX Sports Asia compiled a clip featuring players of the ASEAN region who “got away” and three who have Filipino lineage made the list.

Let’s take a peek at these three athletes:

1 Alphonse Areola – Goalkeeper (Club: Paris Saint-Germain; National Team: France)

Born in Paris, France from parents of Filipino heritage, Alphonse played most of his career in the French football league system eventually signed by Paris Saint-Germain.

His profile began to rise dramatically in Spain though when he was loaned to Villarreal where he had an impressive season in La Liga.

This prompted his mother-club PSG to take him back the next season 2016-17, eventually making him the first choice goalkeeper for the current season (2017-18) while showing impeccable form.

When it comes to the national team, Alphonse represents France where he began from the youth ranks.

When he came at an age when he was capable to represent the senior team, he was approached by the Philippines but opted to wait out for his chance to crack the French senior squad.

As of this writing, Alphonse is now part of the senior French National Football Team and is currently in the squad for its preparation for the 2018 World Cup.

As of late he is lined up as a substitute for first choice keeper Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur.

2 David Alaba – Left Back (Club: Bayern Munich; National Team: Austria)

Born in Vienna Austria to a Nigerian father and a Filipino mother, David Alaba actually can take multiple roles from midfield to defense. But his primary position in Bayern is left-back.

A marauding defender who supplies crosses for goalscoring opportunities, he also has the ability to occasionally score spectacular goals from range with his powerful shot, David has been one of the mainstays of Bayern’s stellar first eleven.

For the national team, he opted to play for his country of birth, Austria, although he was also eligible to play either for the Azkals or Nigeria.

3 Paulino Alcantara – Forward (Club: FC Barcelona [ESP], Bohemian Sporting Club [PHI]; National Team: Catalonia, Spain and Philippines)

Now this is a stretch, a pure “fantasy” situation dating back to a time when the sport was still in its early phase (1912-1927, to be more precise) and professionalism was not yet an established norm, at least in Spain.

In Barcelona, a young football club named FC Barcelona had its first ‘superstar’ in Paulino Alcantara, a forward born in Iloilo Philippines.

That same club eventually turned out to be today’s world-renowned team which plays in La Liga, and a perennial continental powerhouse in the UEFA Champions League.

Known for his powerful shot, Paulino had a knack for scoring goals.

Keepers and defenders fear him because during that time, with the available technology, the balls used were made of leather, were quite heavy and featured stitchings that were quite hazardous compared to today’s version, especially for goalkeepers attempting to block Alcantara’s forceful attempts which resulted to many goals scored.

For a considerable amount of time, Alcantara was FC Barcelona’s all-time top-scorer, until a certain Argentinian named Lionel Messi overtook him in 2014.

But with a record of 145 goals for 130 appearances, an average of scoring a little over one goal per game, speaks volumes of Paulino’s prolific ability of finding the back of the net.

Born to a Spanish father and a Filipino mother, Paulino Alcantara was eligible to play for both countries  for international duty and, actually, he did! (Note: Players then can change the countries/territories they represent based on their current residence due to the obviously limited traveling capabilities)

Although most of his international stints were served under the Spanish flag, but for a short period of time, Paulino also suited up for the Philippines. As a matter of fact, his competitive appearances for the Southeast Asian territory was highlighted with a lopsided win against Japan, 15-2, in the 1917 Far Eastern Championship Games which, until, now is the biggest margin of win for the team that now goes by the nickname The Azkals.

His years of existence were at a time when the Philippines, as a nation, was at a transition from Spanish rule to being under control of the United States, so the Alcantara family opted to move to Spain when he was three. The family briefly went back to the Philippines in 1916 to attend to some business interests, which opened the way for Paulino to represent the islands. In 1918, he finally went back to Spain and settled there for good after he contracted malaria while longing for playing again for the blaugrana.

But in that brief stay in the Philippines, Alcantara was able to bring his magic touch to the archipelago as he helped his club, Bohemian Sporting Club, win the championship twice in 1917 and 1918.

Meanwhile, during his absence from Barcelona, the club wasn’t able to win major trophies. Such was the impact of the Spanish-Filipino striker.

In those two years in the Philippines, the nation was blessed with and has witnessed footballing greatness, even for just a short time, because of Paulino.

One can only imagine if the Barcelona legend was able to extend or fully commit his tenure with the Philippine National Team during international football tournaments.

So that’s it, three footballing greats, past and present who have Filipino lineage. One did a brief stint for the country many years ago, when football was still in its early phase of being the biggest sport in the world, while the other two, are world-class players who are now representing different flags.

The question is, what if they opted to play for The Azkals? Although a national team’s success doesn’t depend on one or two players only, we can only leave to the imagination how they can impact the squad.