How Spain's LALIGA is Moving Philippine Football Forward

For the Beautiful Game: How Spain’s LALIGA is Moving Philippine Football Forward

LALIGA’s goals in the Philippines go far beyond bringing the Spanish competition to its fans in the country.

Spain’s LALIGA is one of, if not the biggest football league in the world. With major teams like Real Madrid CF, FC Barcelona, and Atlético de Madrid, among others, the top men’s professional football division of Spanish football has a global fanbase of millions and attracts the world’s top stars (Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo to name a few).

Given its stature, it may come as a surprise to football fans in the Philippines that LALIGA has planted its flag on Philippine soil and has had a dedicated presence in the country for years now.

LALIGA Delegate to the Philippines, Javier López-Sans, explains LALIGA’s international projects best. “It was launched seven years ago, LALIGA aiming to bring our competition closer to our fans. As of today, we have 11 regional offices, with the one for South East Asia being in Singapore, and a network of more than 40 delegates all over the world, full-time based in their markets, like myself in the Philippines.”

Of course, part of LALIGA’s goals in expanding all over the world is to promote the league even in parts of the world where matches usually air at ungodly hours — fans know the pain of waking up at three in the morning just to watch El Clásico.

But LALIGA is not just a competition. More than this, it is a global organization that is dedicated to promoting the beautiful game all over the world.

“Our goal is not only to promote our competition and be closer to our fans, but also to help develop local football with our experience and know-how from being a 100-year-old league,” Javier explains to The GAME.

So, what is LALIGA doing in the Philippines anyway?

Closer to the fans

As Javier explained, one major goal of LALIGA’s growing international presence is to grow its competition.

“This local presence allowed us to understand each country and adjust our goals. The state of football can be very different from one place to another, and we adapt our strategy to the reality of each market. Football is very different in Mexico, France, or Japan,” he shares.

The Philippines has its own community of die-hard LALIGA fans. Teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona even have their own fan clubs in the country that get together to enjoy football culture together. They watch matches together, organize friendly football tournaments, and the fan-favorite pastime of analyzing wins, losses, and draws.

LALIGA capitalizes on this passionate fan spirit by organizing projects that help Filipinos forge a deeper connection to their competition.

For instance, in the past, LALIGA has organized watch parties for major matches, such as the Madrid derby, a match between local rivals Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid. In fact, in their last derby event, they even brought a former LALIGA star and Atleti legend, Tiago Mendes, to Manila to watch the match with Filipino fans.

Another event that fans in the Philippines will surely remember was last year’s ‘The Legends Asian Tour 2023‘, when former LALIGA stars, Luis Garcia and Nacho Monreal came to Metro Manila to play a series of friendly matches with local football players, where fans got to live their dream of playing with a couple of big-time pros.

LALIGA Philippines Legends Asian Tour: Nacho Monreal and Luis Garcia
Nacho Monreal (left) and Luis Garcia (right) speaking to Filipino LALIGA fans while in Manila for The Legends Asian Tour 2023.

“[Filipino LALIGA fans] have a natural passion for football,” Javier shares. “And same as us, they dream of the sport becoming bigger in the Philippines.”

Projects like these truly help the local fanbase connect with the league on a deeper level, even miles away from where the action takes place. “The time difference is a barrier, but when we find ways to go around it, we see great passion for our league here,” Javier says.

But apart from this, the Spanish organization’s goals go beyond promoting the league.

“As we always say, the objective is for LALIGA to be the second most followed league in the country, right after the local one.”

Local comes first

This, more than anything, is actually LALIGA’s main goal in building a wide international presence — to develop local football in countries all over the world, including the Philippines.

“Developing local football is our top priority,” Javier reveals. “[My day-to-day work] could be summarized as “looking for opportunities”. In order to developing local football, we need to be hyperactive and try to be involved everywhere. I invest my days talking to potential sponsors, academies to partner with, Universities, clubs, the Federation, or planning activations to make our brand more visible.”

Ever since Javier has been put on the job, he’s been able to observe Philippine football from a closer vantage point, and though he recognizes that there are many areas for improvement, he sees its current state as “positive.”

“The Women’s National Team making it to the World Cup last year, the growing attendance in the Men National Team games at Rizal Memorial Stadium, the Philippine Football League doubling down its number of teams, the first Spanish club opening a full-time academy here… All these things confirm that the near future is exciting.”

LALIGA Philippines: LALIGA Extra Time
Leaders of the Philippine football industry gathered together for LALIGA Extra Time.

Based on a discussion between LALIGA and other Philippine football stakeholders such as the Philippine Football Federation, the organizations identified two main points for improvement: grassroots and infrastructures.

“For grassroots, [kids should have] better training, competitions, and a clearer pathway for professional football. And for infrastructures, [we need to] make football more accessible and affordable all across the country.”

Of course, it is much easier said than done. But already, LALIGA has small wins under their belt that push Filipino football in the right direction.

Small wins

This year marks a big year for LALIGA in the Philippines as they have several projects lined up.

Firstly, Javier highlights one of their big “firsts” for the year: LALIGA Extra Time, which was a roundtable discussion that gathered many local football leaders all in one room to share insights on the state of Philippine football from varying perspectives. It was an enlightening discussion that fueled more determination to develop the sport even further.

Beyoond this, LALIGA also has inititatives to do this on their own.

“We do this mainly through grassroots programs. For example, we partner with local academies to bring Spanish coaches to run Football Camps in Manila. We also bring Filipino players to our high performance center in Madrid, called the ESC LALIGA & NBA Center, where Filipino player Raf Garcia is training full time, and a few U14 girls will also join this coming July for the Summer Camps.

“Another key grassroots initiative, but on the competition side, is LALIGA Youth Tournament, which will happen for the first time in the Philippines this coming October 2024.”

The LALIGA Youth Tournament aims to address one of the major concerns for youth football in the Philippines: the lack of competitions. Representatives from the Philippine Football Federation have expressed themselves that young players don’t get enough competitions in a year. But, LALIGA’s upcoming project will help bridge that gap.

Gawad Kalinga girls' football squad
The Gawad Kalinga X LALIGA squad for Ang Liga.

Another milestone that Javier is happy to celebrate is Villareal CF’s launch of Villareal Academy Philippines this year. With this, LALIGA club has become the first Spanish club to open a full-time football academy in the country.

“It only shows the good momentum of football in the country. The fact that Villarreal CF is the club doing this makes it even better, because of how well it fits from a cultural standpoint.

“Villarreal is a small city, with only 50,000 citizens, but the club’s great management of youth football took them to even winning the Europa League in 2021. They are a grassroots case study in terms of making the most of their resources to become one of the best clubs in Europe.”

Indeed, there is a lot to look forward to, as LALIGA’s presence in the Philippines is about much more than just spreading the gospel of European football.

“It’s in our DNA,” Javier shares. “We believe in local football as the foundation for a healthy football ecosystem. Football is culturally very important in Spain, and helping football grow everywhere, we will be able to share that passion with more people.”

Images courtesy of LALIGA.

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