A DECADE ago, I was in Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo to cover the Azkals’ AFC Challenge Cup qualification campaign. Conventional knowledge among football buffs at that time suggested that the greatest Filipino footballer ever was born, in 1896, in this fabled town in the Visayas.

Football is so entrenched in Barotac that the trisikad drivers wore Ronaldinho jerseys while the walls of carenderias were lined with FC Barcelona posters. Confident that I was in the right place, I asked people there if they knew where Paulino Alcantara’s ancestral home was. All of them gave me a blank stare. No one knew the man they called El Rompe Redes, the net breaker, back in the day. It turned out that Alcantara was born in another town, in Concepcion. And that was a long, long time ago. But still.

Reality struck me hard: outside of online football forums, nobody really knew who this football legend who once donned the Philippine colors was. Alcantara, who held FC Barcelona’s goalscoring record of 369 goals for close to a century until an Argentinian phenom named Lionel Messi broke it four years back, was unknown to the contemporary Filipino.

Fast-forward to this day, and while Paulino Alcantara isn’t the household name a football fan would have hoped for, there’s still reason to celebrate: the 2018 Copa Paulino Alcantara. What better way to immortalize a legend than to name an annual top-tier competition after him.

Deciding on what to call the cup was an easy choice for the PFL executives, who quickly got the nod of the board of directors. With the help of Spain’s La Liga, the PFL managed to get in touch with Alcantara’s family in Europe.

“We are blessed that the next of kin of Paulino Alcantara gave us the approval to name the cup after him,” PFL Chief Executive Officer Lazarus Jansen Xavier told our media group during an interview at the chic Savoy Hotel Manila. “The family was shocked that someone from the Philippines contacted them,” Xavier said in jest. “And they were really excited when we told them of our plans.” Many fans and stakeholders in the Philippines were just as thrilled at this new additition to the football scene, which will see the six PFL clubs vying for the inaugural cup title. “The winner of the Copa Paulino Alcantara will get a slot in the 2019 AFC Cup. That is the incentive,” Xavier added.

Xavier, who hails from Malaysia, has been at the helm of the PFL since its inception two seasons ago. Tasked with professionalizing the fledgling league, Xavier’s newest challenge is to get the momentum running for the 2018 Copa Paulino Alcantara, following a well-received logo contest for the cup.