Almost two decades ago, like most other fans of Philippine football, I was surprised to learn that one of the greatest players of all time of the legendary Spanish football team Barcelona was from the Philippines. That was the first time I heard of Paulino Alcantara, who was born in Iloilo, scored 369 goals in 357 matches for Barca, a record that stood for 87 years until a guy named Lionel Messi broke it.
I think then Cebu-based Australian Graeme Mackinnon was the one who got in touch with Barca and managed to get some of the photos that are now widely circulated.
Now, more than a century after he made his debut for Barcelona’s youth team, the legend becomes the first footballer to be enshrined in the Philippine Sports Hall of Fame, joining basketball legend Robert Jaworski and eight others.
And I’m sure there are quite a number of Pinoy fans out there, especially those not familiar with our football history, who would be surprised to find out that we have a player like Alcantara and would begin to look at football differently.
The enshrinement is tentatively scheduled for May 29 and I know it may be too much to hope because of the pandemic, but I hope someone from Barcelona will be invited to represent the legend in the ceremony. That may even open a chance to open a partnership between the Philippines and the Spanish football giant, a program perhaps where our coaches can learn from their coaches?
By the way, having Alcantara as the first football inductee in the Hall of Fame sets the bar pretty high for the next batch. I mean, if you have a Barca legend as the yardstick, who would qualify next?
Now that reminds me of another wonderful surprise I learned almost 10 years ago from then Cristina Ramos, who was then with the AFC Women’s Committee. Ramos saw a collage of players who had played for Real Madrid in a tour at Santiago Bernabeu and was surprised to see the Philippine flag next to one of the players, Eduardo Teus López-Navarro.
Like Alcantara, he was born in the Philippines but ended up playing in Spain at almost the same time. Wouldn’t that be something? After a Barca legend, a player from Real Madrid would be the next one to join the Hall of Fame?