Global’s UFL Cup expulsion, a sign of PH football’s growing pains

Bob Guerrero
Global’s UFL Cup expulsion, a sign of PH football’s growing pains
One of the Philippines' top teams has been sanctioned for fielding an ineligible player, but it's not going down without a fight. Here's how the fallout could impact the sport in the country and even our national team.

MANILA, Philippines – The United Football League formally announced on Friday, August 8, what had been whispered about for weeks: Global has been expelled from the upcoming UFL Cup.

This comes after two league bodies, the disciplinary committee, and the appeals committee, both agreed that Global failed to properly prove that player Satoshi Otomo was eligible to play as a Filipino. They acted on a complaint from four Division One teams, namely Ceres, Pachanga, Kaya, and Stallion.

Otomo was fielded in 3 matches during the league competition before being dropped by the club. The 33-year old has one cap for the Philippines, against Thailand in a friendly last year.

The UFL only allows 5 foreigners to play in a game for each team at one time, so in those games, the league asserts that Global broke league rules by fielding a sixth foreigner.

The disciplinary and appeals committees are two independent bodies composed of well-known figures in the football community who are not a part of the day-to-day running of the league.The media is not at liberty to divulge their identity, but I can vouch for the sound character of at least two of the gentlemen who I am acquainted with.

We are also not privy to the evidence that was presented, so those of us who write about the sport can only comment so far about the judgment.

The disciplinary committee originally stipulated a forfeiture of the games where Otomo featured in, and thus a point deduction for Global in the UFL league. That would have knocked them off their perch as league runner-up in the standings, while allowing the side to play in the Cup, which resumes next weekend. This group also meted a P250,000 fine and a ban on Otomo.

After Global appealed, the UFL appeals committee was convened, and it reversed the penalty, allowing Global to keep its league points and its bridesmaid status in the league standings while axing it from the Cup. The fine and the ban on the player remain.

This is important because Global can still play in next year’s AFC Cup if Ceres, the league champions, also win the Cup, whose final will be played on August 28. The PFF is sending the league champs into a direct slot for the AFC Cup next year while the Cup champions get a playoff with another team to get into the initial round-robin stage of the Asian club competition. If one side captures both trophies, then the league runner-up gets the play-off berth.

Why was the punishment switched from the league to the cup, when the infraction happened during the league? (Otomo did not play during the cup group stage held a few months ago.) That is best answered by the members of the appeals committee, if you can get a hold of them. One explanation we were told in Friday’s media briefing with the league was that the complainant teams “did not follow the proper procedure to reverse the outcome of the games.”

Global’s reaction has been defiant. On Saturday, it came out with an official statement calling the decision a “sad day for Philippine football” and blamed “unbridled rivalry and unscrupulous intimidation” for the complaint.

The team also insisted that Otomo was indeed eligible to play as a Filipino and that procedures were not followed in enacting the complaint. It announced that it would appeal this to the Philippine Football Federation.

Well, the appeals committee of the PFF had better act fast, because the Cup resumes on August 15. The UFL has already made a draw for the round-of-16 knockout phase, and with every team getting a bump up the seedings except for the top two sides, (Global was seeded third,) Nomads, originally the 17th-placed team after the group stage, has now qualified for the knockout stage and is scrambling to prepare for a match against Kaya after being dormant for two months.

What to make of this mess?

Firstly, it’s a big learning for the league. They definitely need to clean up their requirements for Filipino citizenship, especially with more and more overseas-bred Filipinos coming over to play here. League Technical Director Ritchie Gannaban said that a player can play as a Filipino if he can produce either a Philippine passport, an NSO birth certificate, or a government-issued document attesting to the player’s citizenship. Apparently so-called “consular reports” can be obtained in embassies and consulates abroad.

I say a player should only be allowed to play in the UFL if he has a passport or an NSO birth certificate. No other document should be allowed to prove citizenship. The league seems to be keen on doing something along these lines. League general manager Rely San Agustin intimated on Friday that there could be a “tightening” of league regulations in the light of this incident.

My other thought is that the timing of this couldn’t be worse. The Azkals play a crucial FIFA World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan on September 8. The camp for that match begins on August 30, two days after the cup final.

What if the appeals process with the PFF drags on? The cup may have to be partially or totally moved forward. And if Global is allowed to play, the original schedule will have to be re-done.

The last thing the team needs is a cloud hanging over the sport before such a big game. Of course many Azkals, like wingback Daisuke Sato and red-hot midfielder Misagh Bahadoran are Global players. The lack of game time could affect their sharpness before September 8.

What is also interesting to note is that Dan Palami, the owner of Global, is not only the manager of the Azkals, but is also the head of the national teams committee of the PFF. So the PFF is being put in the awkward position of convening a committee that may rule against the interests of someone in its own organization. If its rules in favor of Global, there could be accusations that PFF is not impartial.

Hopefully Philippine football can evolve from these kinds of awkward set-ups. Imagine if one of the chairmen of Manchester United, either Joel or Avram Glazer, were to also be the head of the England FA’s national teams committee. That would be unheard of. But since our football is still, whether we like it or not, in an embryonic stage, we must live with this for now.

What happens next? Well, part of me was hoping that Global would simply accept the sentence and move on. But the combative response and its willingness to take this to the PFF, the game’s Supreme Court, means that will not happen. The worst-case scenarios moving forward are not pretty.

If the PFF upholds the punishment, then what might Global do? Pull out of the league? Start a rival competition? Or hopefully, just take it on the chin and wait until next year’s league. The absolute armageddon would be the relationship between Palami’s other team, the Azkals, and the UFL, getting damaged.

If the PFF overturns the punishment then you can expect the complainants to raise a howl. That could cause even more problems, as they are 4 teams. I gather that the complainants are already not happy that the punishment was shifted from league to cup. What more if it is lessened even further?

The PFF appeals committee might also try and water down or tweak the sentence, which might not please anyone.

The UFL and its clubs are institutions that need to be strengthened. We all need to evolve forward. This brouhaha doesn’t help in any way in the short term. But maybe it’s all part of a catharsis that is needed for growth.

The next few days will be very very interesting indeed. It’s all about how the PFF appeals committee decides and how the actors involved react.

Global fans do have one game to look forward to, and that is the RHB Singapore Cup showdown with Geylang International on Thursday in the city-state. The Singapore Cup is a single-knockout competition, so if the Pinoys can’t get a win against the home team, then will this be their last action of the year? –

Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH

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