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The commitment behind the historic National Women’s Football Team

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 01, 2023 5:00 am

Many are ecstatic about the first World Cup goal of the Philippine team’s Sarina Bolden. Every historic win of the celebrated team is awaited with bated breath by Filipino fans all over the world. Some may even be shocked to see a Philippine team on the global stage, but the truth is, it takes a lot of years, effort, strategy and financial support to reach the World Cup.

By the end of the tournament, every member of the team may be household names, along with their heroic team coach, Alen Stajcic, but there is a whole support team working double-time behind the scene and by the sidelines. 

Philippines Women’s National Football Team celebrated their victory over New Zealand with friends like the U15 Japan team. The 2033 FIFA Women’s World Cup debut of our national squad was supported by a dedicated coaching and management team led by Team Manager Jeff Cheng (left, above).

A slight swerve of the spotlight to the Filipinas’ staff must be exactly how @pilipinaswnt (the official Instagram account of the national women’s football team) want to remind us that everyone is important when they posted the lineup of support staff.

Aside from head coach Stajcic, the other main man is team manager Jefferson Cheng. Posted with the words “hard work,” “commitment” and “dedication,” the team introduced its members. Assistant coach is Nahuel Arrarte. David Plowright is goalkeeper coach. Stevan Antonic is team analyst. Luca Tonetti is strength and conditioning coach, with Red Sajonia as assistant. 

There are two physiotherapists: Anna Liza Demegillo and Isabella Bozzi. Jacob Goodship, Dean Mayer and Alex Epakis are scouts. Isabella Fernando-De la Cruz is team administrator. Jim Fraser is team consultant, while Kevin Padre is assistant team manager.

Cedelf Tupas is media officer and Ceres Atienza Lina is team coordinator. The equipment manager is Francisco Pascual IV, while Wally Javier and Karyn Caliway are his assistants. Finally, the team doctors are Janis Espino de Vera and Fille Cainglet.

Football is the number-one sport in the world, with over 3.5 billion fans. Locally, it is not even in our top four (basketball, boxing, billiards, volleyball). The attention the sport is getting from local fans by our historic debut in the biggest football tournament in the world is definitely the boost football needs to make it more mainstream.

Media-shy team manager Jeff Cheng was probably the most excited when the Philippines made the cut. Like a proud father, he was so happy to see the team he helped build enter the global football tournament for fans all over the world to discover.

Cheng, who played football in Xavier School as a left back, believes that the team always has a good chance as long as everyone from players, coaches, staff and management work hard together.

While the players showed exceptional athleticism and power on the field, a hard working team of coaching and management staff support the Philippine Women’s National Football Team.

It is no secret that there was barely any financial support or interest in the Philippine Women’s National Football Team before their win. Since 2017, that void was filled by Cheng, who felt that he badly needed to assist the team, not only financially, but also in terms of management and mentorship.

In an interview, Cheng said that his main motivation in helping the team was his longstanding belief in the Filipino athlete. He said that the entry in the World Cup, the recent win against New Zealand and the 2022 Asean Football Federation championship are all proof that, given proper support and opportunities, Filipino athletes can excel.

Cheng was first involved with the men’s team but started helping out the women’s squad simultaneously during the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore in 2015.

He was officially made team manager of the national women’s football team in 2017 for the 29th Southeast Asian Games in Malaysia. He continued to manage the team in the 2022 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers, as well as the succeeding tournament in India.

It was Jim Fraser, former coach of the Philippines U20/U21, who introduced coach Stajcic to Cheng with the common goal of entry to the World Cup.

The 2017 to 2019 team coach Let Dimzon recalled how supportive Cheng was to the team. Cheng didn’t spare any expense from the start of preparation to the end of the competition, coach Dimzon said in an interview. Cheng financed tournament preparations and competitions, including Olympic qualifying rounds, and friendly games abroad.

The path was indeed long and costly, and Cheng was indeed a blessing to women’s football. He had the vision and generosity, the passion and commitment to develop and maintain a stellar women’s football team. 

His main business is the Philippine Airport Ground Support Solutions (PAGSS), which operates passenger handling, ramp services and airline lounges in over 30 airports around the Philippines. He is also a shareholder in the Luzon Premier Airport Development Corporation (LIPAD), which operates Clark International Airport.