His statue may have stood at the Philippine Football Federation offices for the longest time, but most Filipinos would be hard-pressed to identify football legend Paulino Alcantara. Given Pinoys’ tendency to go all out in supporting their sports heroes – especially those who compete abroad – those same passers-by would probably be trying to take selfies with it if they were familiar with its inspiration’s history.
Paulino Alcantara was born in Iloilo in 1896 to a Spanish father and Filipina mother. Knowing full well which way the wind was blowing following the Americans’ defeat of the Spanish in the Battle of Manila Bay, Alcantara’s father, a soldier, decided to relocate the entire family to his native Spain. It was a decision that would change the course of the then-three-year-old Paulino’s life, as football wasn’t yet popular in the Philippines, but that very same year, Joan Gamper was founding the club where Alcantara would find his destiny.
In 1910, a 14-year-old Alcantara was playing with youth team FC Galeno when Gamper, who had himself been a previous member of the team, discovered the boy’s prodigious skill and recruited him into FC Barcelona.
In 1912, at the age of 15, Alcantara would lace up his boots for FC Barcelona for the first time. As the first Asian to play for the club, he must have raised more than a few eyebrows. Of course, nobody could have predicted what happened next, as Alcantara contributed the first three of Barcelona’s nine goals that day, which not only made him the club’s youngest scoring player (to date), it weould earn him the nickname, “El Romperedes” – the Net Breaker.
Despite his auspicious start, Alcantara’s father didn’t want his son to grow up with football being his only marketable skill, and sent his son back to the Philippines to study medicine.
Fortunately, despite Paulino discovering an aptitude for medicine, the elder Alcantara wasn’t at all successful at driving football from his son’s interests – Despite his small stature, Alcantara became known for his powerful strikes, launched at goals with pinpoint precision, and it wasn’t long before he was playing for the Philippine national team.
Between taking part in Asian competitions (including an amazing 15-2 win against Japan in a Japanese-hosted tournament), and would travel back and forth from Spain against his parents’ wishes, where he would play for the Bohemian Sporting Club and the Catalonian National team. In 1918, he would return to his beloved FC Barcelona, staying with them for the next 9 years between stints with the Spanish national squad.
While Alcantara would give up active competition in 1927 to become a practicing doctor, he would return to FC Barcelona as club director between 1931 and 1934. When all was said and done, Paulino Alcantara had carved for himself an FC Barcelona scoring record of 369 goals that would stand for a remarkable 87 years. So dominant was this record that it would take until 2016 and the likes of no less than the great Lionel Messi to break it.
Indeed, it was Messi’s conquering of the record in March of this year that returned Alcantara’s name to the forefront of the sport that he was so passionate about, as the world’s media sought information on this hitherto unknown superstar.
Today, with the Beautiful Game gaining popularity in the land of Alcantara’s birth, and our national team making strides on the international tournament scene, it has become more important and inspiring than ever to know that, over 100 years ago, a Filipino was already a superstar.
Image Source: FC Barcelona