Limpag: James Younghusband ends 15-year stint

Mike T. Limpag

MOST fans weren't that impressed with James Younghusband's stint in the 2005 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games. Unlike his brother, he seemed to complain a lot and thousands in the arena were pleased when he was substituted in the last game. But in the years since that stint, James has endeared himself to fans as he secured his place in Philippine football. I, just like most of the Azkals fans, have had many chants of "Put James in" whenever Younghusband was still stuck in the bench in the second half.

In 2005, so many fans put the hopes of the Philippines advancing to the semifinal round of the SEA Games for the first time in 14 years on the brothers. Phil delivered and introduced himself to the fans as one who can score when needed, which explained why then leading scoring Ali Borromeo had to take on a new role as a defender. I guess it may have been a bit unfair for fans to expect James to be as prolific as his brother but that was what they saw.

However, like thousands of players now, more than a few find themselves in James' shoes. Most of the players I know got into the sport because a brother or a sister got into the sport first. And, as in the case of siblings, one eventually stands out over the other. I guess James had the misfortune of being known as the other Younghusband to fans new to the game as they were more aware of the scoring prowess of Phil.

But make no mistake about it, James, who may not have had the same number of goals as his more prolific brother, made his presence felt in more ways than one. That extra flick, midfield presence and that vision from the former Chelsea reserve has rescued the squad so many times. Who can forget that sequence against North Korea, when James, sensing a defender approach him, slid to pass it to Javier Patino who passed it to Miguel Tanton, who handed it to goalscorer Manny Ott.

James was like that in the later years of his stint with the national team. His contributions to the team were those that you don't see in the stat sheets. However, that's not to say that he hasn't made any memorable goals. I think his most significant contribution was the equalizer against Laos in the Suzuki Cup qualifiers in 2010, before the Hanoi Miracle. Trailing 2-1 in injury time and needing a draw to keep the Philippines' hopes of advancing to the finals, Younghusband connected with Etheridge to head the ball past the keeper. Etheridge, coincidentally, is the only one left active from that 2010 squad.

That made everything possible as we got the second qualifier spot over Cambodia on goal difference. Of course, a few months later, the country was introduced to the Azkals in the Hanoi Miracle.

Not too many fans are aware of what happened in the qualifiers, but I guess for James, it doesn't matter. Like all other Pinoy footballers who have a brother who has done more, he's content with what he has achieved for the sport and that those who know, know what he has done. And he has done plenty in his 15-year-stint with the national team.

Good luck, James. Enjoy your retirement.