Davao Aguilas seal partnership with Japanese club Shonan Bellmare
MANILA, Philippines – "This was a big surprise for us," said Davao Aguilas skipper Phil Younghusband last Sunday, September 16, at the Makati Diamond Residences.
"We are proud and honored to be part of this milestone. This is very big for the development of Philippine football," added the Azkal striker during the lunch event.
Minutes after he spoke the ink was dry on the contract between Davao Aguilas chairman Jeff Cheng and Shonan Bellmare President Director Naohito Mizutani. Thus a new club was born: Davao Aguilas Bellmare FC.
Let's examine the details of this new footballing venture.
The Japanese Club
Shonan Bellmare is a team that has tended to shuttle back and forth between the top two tiers of the J-League, or Japanese league. (That country employs the promotion-relegation system between the levels.)
Located in the seaside city of Hiratsuka, southwest of Tokyo, Shonan do not boast of an overflowing cabinet of silverware, but they did lift the now-defunct Asian Cup Winners Cup in 1995, (as Hiratsuka Bellmare), with Japanese legend Hidetoshi Nakata in the squad.
Currently Bellmare are 13th out of 18 teams in the J League 1 table after 26 matches.
The Japanese pronounce Bellmare “beru-MAH-re.”
Davao: a team on the rise
The Davao Aguilas were hurriedly formed last year over a two-month period. The chairman, Jefferson Cheng, is involved in the aviation business and is based in Australia.
The Aguilas struggled last year, finishing seventh out of 8 clubs. They did raise eyebrows when they nabbed the Younghusband brothers in the transfer window from FC Meralco Manila.
In this league campaign, the Aguilas finished a much-improved third place.
Two weeks ago Davao showed their potential with a stunning 3-1 victory over League champs Ceres Negros in the Copa Paulino Alcantara group stage. The Cup is the second PFL competition of the calendar year and offers a spot in the AFC Cup for the winner.
No doubt the team is heading in the right direction, especially after a bunch of new signings in the latest transfer window. Azkals keeper Pat Deyto, Brazilian center half Wesley dos Santos, winger Paolo Salenga, and defender Marco Casambre were picked up from Global Cebu.
Davao General Manager Mike Shaw made it clear that Shonan Bellmare is not buying into the club, despite the team's new name. But there is likely to be an exchange of players, meaning Bellmare could loan up-and-coming Japanese players to Davao, while promising Aguilas could train in Japan. Many clubs in developed leagues like the J-League have reserve teams that play in lower competitions. This could be a great development opportunity for the likes of Salenga and Casambre.
Cheng says that in the immediate future the Japanese partners will be sending marketing and administrative staff to Davao to help beef up the back office of the squad. There will also be some coaching help.
But the best news is that Shonan will be lending a hand in boosting Davao's youth teams. There was talk of setting up a football academy.
Davao is deeply involved in youth football. They sponsor the Youth Football League headed by Mike Atayde, which typically plays its matches in the Alabang Country Club field. The YFL holds competitions from the U7 to U19 age groups.
Cheng also added that a preseason training camp for the Aguilas in Japan is very likely. One imagines that Bellmare's first team might also want to do the same in Davao one day.
A logo was revealed on Sunday but Shaw says that is a temporary crest. A permanent logo that will use elements from Bellmare's marine-themed crest will follow.
The new home
On Sunday, plans for Davao's new home in the Buhangin district, 20 minutes away from the Davao International Airport, were also revealed.
The first step is making a small 6000-seat stadium with a natural grass pitch. There will be VIP seating, lockers, a gym and a media lounge. The lighting will be 1200 lux, suitable for HD telecasts. Another full size pitch will sit beside it.
Ike Madamba, the contractor who laid the last grass turf on Rizal Memorial, says this facility will be ready by next summer. In the meantime, Davao will continue to play their home games in Manila.
Believe it or not, this stadium may not be the club's permanent home. Within the same 11-hectare plot of land could rise a much fancier stadium, alongside an indoor multi-sport arena.
Cheng is quick to add that if the 6,000 seater "training" stadium is sufficient, then that is what the club will use in the immediate future.
"We have to be conscious of cost," says the veteran businessman.
The working name for the project is "The Nest," according to Cheng, an apparent nod to the team's avian nickname.
The partnership augurs well for the club and for Philippine football in general. At least one other PFL club is also actively seeking a partnership with a foreign club.
But the onus on Davao is to do well on the pitch. Younghusband the skipper says it best.
"We will do everything to make sure our performances meet the club's ambitions,"
Follow Bob on Twitter @PassionateFanPH – Rappler.com