After the euphoria of winning the third place plum against rival Kaya FC-Makati in the inaugural season of the Philippines Football League (PFL) barely a month ago, coach Aris Caslib and his FC Meralco Manila received the sad news that their club will cease operating after an 11-year existence in the local football scene.
“It (club’s closure) was unfortunate. Meralco has been part of the growth of the game in the last 10 years. They have seen the ups and downs of the league and also the game itself,” Caslib told The Manila Times.
Caslib said that prior to Sparks’ dissolution, the board and management team exerted effort to save the squad but failed regardless of the team’s top seed finish in the elimination round of the first PFL season and a chance to enter the Asian Football Confederation Cup.
The reason for club’s shutdown is paltry profit resulting from inability to secure television coverage and low gate attendance during games particularly in Metro Manila where the three teams are based.
Caslib said that all stakeholders —from officials to fans—have an obligation to keep the league and the participating clubs going.
“I have always been telling coaches in all our courses that we have to take care of the investors of the game. We might be old in the game but we’re young in the development of football,” said Caslib.
“So the question is, ‘who should take care of Meralco, which is a club in the league?’ I think that’s everyone’s responsibility,” he added.
The seasoned coach nonetheless said the club had accomplished its goal of developing homegrown talents.
“It’s a very young team. They (players) have lots of potential. And if you will observe, a lot of them are homegrown. That was the direction of Meralco – to create the opportunity for the young players who are raised here in the Philippines to be able to play at the highest level. And I think we were able to achieve that.”
As of now, the management is helping its players find new teams. Second-choice goalkpeer Junjun Badelic has already made his return to Global Cebu FC while the other former Sparks are still looking for a new home.
Caslib, meanwhile, was elated with the experience he had while at the helm of the squad, which he led to the top of the eight-team table at the end of a grueling 28-game elimination round in the first PFL season.
“It’s the first time I returned after a long time in the office and development work. It was good for me to come back and coach on the pitch. It was nice working with the players and the coaching staff.
Like the club’s loyal fans, Caslib is optimistic that Meralco will rejoin the PFL.
“Hats off to the entire organization. All these people have invested so much not only on the financial side but also on the belief that football will grow. They still have that in their hearts—one hundred percent, I have seen them. Probably, time will tell when they will come back to the game. We just have to wait and be optimistic about these things,” said Caslib.
Caslib, also the head of the Philippine Football Federation’s coaching education, is currently overseeing the development program for football mentors all over the country. He is also involved with the youth academy of Meralco Manila.
Caslib said that none of the remaining teams has offered him a coaching position yet but added that he is keeping his options open.
“We just have to be open-minded,” he concluded.
JEREMIAH M. SEVILLA