Congratulations to Global FC for winning last Saturday! So some people expected GFC, defending UFL Cup champions, to be out of the competition after round 16. Well, days before round 16, as some people were writing the team off, the team and the staff were already figuring out a way to turn the tables on everyone’s expectations.
First, Global brought in the legendary Coach Graeme, whose coaching had a magical effect on the team. Second, there was the training camp in Tacloban, Leyte (which I got to join), and a second training camp in Laguna. These weren’t your typical training sessions; they were strenuous and at the same time refreshed and polished the players’ basic football skills. Then the 2011 Alaska Cup came, and while people were either busy over-analyzing Pacman’s “controversial” victory over Marquez or tolerantly watching the 2011 Southeast Asian Games, GFC was once again declared the Alaska Cup champions. See? That wasn’t such a bad day in Philippine sports.
Then came round 16. I met everyone at the same place and after a couple of high fives, I spotted Jeffrey Christiaens with his Beats. I knew he was going to play, but unlike the others who looked all set, I wasn’t so sure if he was ready to roll. I was impressed with his performance at the SEA Games, but I wondered whether his talent and class would bring us to glory despite the lack of a proper practice and training with the rest of the guys.
I approached him and had a little chat. We jumped from one topic to another. I told him that I wish I had his left foot so I could play for Global FC, to which he replied that he wishes both right and left were good. I asked him who his favorite football player is, which is something I ask everyone. I think he said Messi and Agüero, so I said, “OK. Great. Don’t you like Manchester United?” Unfortunately, he likes the noisy neighbors. Why? Because he likes Agüero (I think), Silva (“He’s half-Filipino,” he explained), and Kompany (because he’s Belgian). With the way he sounded—his tone and conviction—the chances of converting him into a United fan were nil.
Eventually, we left the office and as soon as we arrived at the University of Makati, we could hear the crowd cheering. The game between Stallions FC and Diliman Victory Liner FC was only halfway through. Rafa, Ángel, Carli, Jeffrey, Coach Graeme, and I stepped out of the car and entered the gate. Jeffrey froze at the sight of the pitch—it was his first time, apparently—he was captivated by the scene. For someone who reminded me of United’s Valencia, he was on the verge of showing emotion. Of course, he didn’t. If anything, I think he recalibrated his nervous system so he could quickly and simultaneously analyze the dimensions of the pitch, observe the blades of grass, determine the direction of the wind, study the movements of the players, and understand the situation before him. I didn’t mean to interrupt him and all, and I doubt he even heard me, but I just had to tell him to play well and win the game. I figured that maybe Jeffrey, GFC’s “transient” player, could actually make an impact. It was the way he internalized everything around him that convinced me that he’s the real deal.
I’m going to skip the part where the fans flocked over Ángel and Carli. If you want a match analysis, click here. Just the same, here’s a quick recap: We won (3–0), and Army’s out of the tournament. Everyone left happy. I congratulated everyone I saw. I gave lots of high fives to total strangers. Everyone was a little high all right! When I saw Jeffrey again, I congratulated him on a job well done even after he said he didn’t score any goals. For me, it didn’t matter, because we needed to win and we did it. Also, I wanted the fans to remember him. He played well during the SEA Games, but because we didn’t win, people might not remember how well he played. After this game against Army, at least, people somehow started to recognize him and ended up wanting to know more about Jeffrey. He may be back in Belgium by now, but at least the next time he plays for the national football team, some people will remember him from GFC.