Neil Etheridge: Gearing up for Premier League history
MANILA, Philippines – History beckons for Cardiff City's Neil Etheridge as he becomes the first Southeast Asian to step into one of the biggest stages of world football – the English Premier League (EPL).
Although admittedly excited, the Azkals goalkeeper says he wants to keep his "head down" as he gets ready to compete against global football icons like Mo Salah, Sergio Aguero, and even World Cup champions Paul Pogba and Oliver Giroud starting Saturday, August 11. (READ: An underdog all his life, Neil Etheridge proves worth among elite)
"I create history, which is nice. But it’s just to continue the job that I did last season," Etheridge told Rappler via a phone interview.
"To be honest, I’m just trying to keep my head down, and work as hard as I can, and play as many games in the season to help the team out."
But of course, the challenge remains for his newly promoted team to stay in the EPL as they are dubbed as the "favorites" to be relegated back to the Championship League.
"It’s just about staying in the league first. The first season going up into the Premier League is always tough for the boys coming up so that’s the main objective this season," explained Etheridge.
Throughout the summer, Cardiff manager Neil Warnock shelled out plenty to retool the lineup with crucial signees. Midfielder Josh Murphy, striker Bobby Reid and defender Greg Cunningham will be among the players to watch as well.
With the new signing of Queens Park Rangers keeper Alex Smithies, it remains uncertain whether Etheridge gets to start as they will be contesting for the number 1 spot throughout the season. (READ: Neil Etheridge signs contract extension with Cardiff City until 2021)
But on the one side, there's a positive takeaway – especially for Filipinos: Cardiff's stacked goalkeeper selection may pave the way for Etheridge to represent the Philippines in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
But the Filipino-British who led the Bluebirds to a Championship 2nd place with 19 clean sheets has been working day in and day out to achieve his dream of actually playing in the EPL.
"My personal goal is to play as many games as I can because this is the biggest stage in world football, to play as many games in the highest level is always a great achievement."
As the Bluebirds kick off their Premier League campaign against the AFC Bournemouth, Etheridge puts emphasis on the team's "togetherness" which will continue to play a big factor in their bid to upset some of the best teams in the world.
"Our team togetherness is massive and our team togetherness has gotten us through a lot last season," said Etheridge.
"We got promoted last season because we were the best over the duration of the season so we just need to build on those performances and we know that the Premier League is another step up, but we’re all looking forward to the challenge."
Although the team continues to scramble for strikers and midfielders before the transfer window closes on Thursday, August 9, Etheridge and the rest of the Bluebirds will be ready to prove that they deserve to stay in the Premier League for a long time.