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Rising Stars - Phil Younghusband

(Click here to watch our recent interview with Phil Younghusband)

Continuing our series on the young stars who could light up the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup, we look at striker Phil Younghusband who will be looking to fire the Philippines to another strong showing this year after their run to the semi-finals two years ago.

In early 2010, Phil Younghusband's football career appeared to be at a crossroads.

The problem for the Anglo-Filipino forward was not his own form but his lack of competitive action in the Philippines.

Having spent over a decade in the youth development system at Chelsea, Younghusband had been released by the English giants two years earlier and had moved to his mother's homeland to explore his professional opportunities there.

However, the job prospects for the urbane youngster were in modelling rather than in football, which had little real traction among Filipino sports fans far more obsessed with basketball and the boxing exploits of Manny Pacquiao.

So while his modelling and media career took off, Younghusband's involvement in football appeared to be at a standstill as he was overlooked by the national team, the Azkals, for the handful of matches that they got to play.

Frustrated by the lack of football opportunities in the Philippines, he and his elder brother, Azkals midfielder James, had been working on their own youth development programme in order to maintain their interest in the game. But at that point, Phil received a recall by the Azkals for the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup.

"I started up the training academy because I wanted to still be involved in football and I wanted to remain in the Philippines. So I created a job for myself, running a football school so that I could coach kids and pass on the knowledge that I had learned as a footballer at Chelsea," says the 25-year-old.

"I had not been involved with the national team for a while and I wasn't very happy with the politics at the Philippines Football Federation. But there had been a change of management there and the new management spoke to me about their plans for the future which sounded good. I was enthusiastic and so I re-joined the team."

Younghusband's decision proved to be a fateful one. The Azkals shone at the AFF Suzuki Cup as they beat defending champions Vietnam and reached the semi-finals for the first time which generated huge interest in the team and the sport back home.

Two years on from the team's exploits in the 2010 tournament, the Younghusbands have become household names in the Philippines as they balance their many footballing interests which include playing for the national team and local semi-professional side Loyola Meralco Sparks as well as their continued involvement with the Younghusband Football Academy, which is now officially associated with their former club, Chelsea.

"You could say that my football career is back on track," quips Younghusband.

The Philippines' success in 2010 came as a complete surprise to everyone involved with the sport in the country, given their poor record in previous editions of the Asean Football Championship when they had played 21 matches and won just once while losing on 19 occasions.

"I think that our main aim was to try to finish in the top three in our group so that we would not have to qualify for the 2012 tournament," says Younghusband.

"We did not want to finish at the bottom but we were in a tough group with Vietnam and Singapore and we thought that it would be those two teams that would qualify for the semi-finals while we battled with Myanmar for third place. But we got a draw against Singapore and a win against Vietnam and that changed our expectations from then on."

Younghusband made his mark by scoring in a memorable 2-0 win against defending champions Vietnam in Hanoi.

"That was one of the best moments for me personally because that result changed football in the Philippines," he recalls.

"Seeing that they were the defending champions, securing a 2-0 win was an amazing feeling and I'm sure that will always be remembered as the point when Filipino football changed."

Despite losing 2-0 on aggregate to Indonesia in the semi-finals, the performance of the Azkals won plenty of admirers and helped to give the sport a huge kickstart in the Philippines.

"I think that we showed over the two games in Indonesia that we had heart and that we wanted to win for our country. I think that was what everyone loved the most," says Younghusband.

Buoyed by their success at the Suzuki Cup, the Azkals have been involved in a lot more competitive action over the past couple of years. They successfully qualified for this year's AFC Challenge Cup and made a huge impression in Nepal by reaching the semi-finals and eventually finishing third after wins against India, Tajikistan and Palestine.

Younghusband was one of the keys to the Philippines' success in Kathmandu, finishing as the tournament's leading scorer with six goals. His fine goalscoring form can be attributed to his new position in the Azkals formation.

"At the last Suzuki Cup, I was playing deeper and I was probably getting on the ball more, linking up play and assisting and scoring some goals," he explains.

"I feel that I'm naturally more of a deeper forward who is able to drop off and receive the ball. But coach Michael Weiss wants me to play up top so I'm not getting the ball as much but now I'm trying to make runs on goal and working myself into threatening positions.

"I've had to adapt my game for the team but it seems to be working as I've scored 25 goals in 35 international games and that's not a bad record!"

And from the situation two years ago when he hardly any competitive matches to play in, Younghusband now finds himself with a glut of football action in the build-up to this year's AFF Suzuki Cup.

"Before the last Suzuki Cup, we hardly ever played any international friendlies but after our success there, we seem to be playing on every date possible," he says.

"We have quite a few training camps before the Suzuki Cup so it's been very busy for us. It feels like we're full time and it's very difficult to schedule anything outside of the national team."