For Filipino fans, the lasting memory of the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup will be one where the Philippines’ talisman Sarina Bolden buried her penalty kick to the top left corner – just beyond the reach of the Chinese Taipei goalkeeper – to send the country to its first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Kudos will be rightly given to the players and the coaching staff for a job well done, and everyone behind the scenes, from the kitman to the physio to the media officers, all deserve immense credit.
One person who is perhaps not mentioned too often, but deserves great credit, is team manager Jeff Cheng.
Most football fans will know Jeff Cheng as the team owner of the Davao Aguilas FC, which participated in the Philippine Football League (PFL) in the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and as team manager for many Azkals age groups as far back as 2013, including the U16, U19 and U23 teams, and the Azkals Senior Men’s Team at the CTFA International Tournament in Taipei in 2017. He also sponsors the Youth Football League through his company Speed Regalo.
His involvement with the women’s team began after helping out with the squad during the 28th Southeast Asian Games while he was handling the men's team.
“While I was Team Manager for the U22/23 Men's Team at the 28th SEA Games in Singapore in 2015, I already helped look after our Women's Team at the same SEA Games. Becoming Team Manager for the Women’s Team was just a natural progression from that,” Cheng said.
In 2017, he was officially appointed as Team Manager for the Philippine Women’s National Football Team (PWNFT) at the 29th SEA Games in Malaysia, a position he holds until the present.
“During those days, the Men's Senior Team was more prominent and had a lot more sponsors and support. That was why I focused on our youth teams. Then the opportunity was given to me to manage the Women’s National Football Team, and I was happy to give my attention and support to a sector that needed it.”
Off the field, Cheng is a businessman, primarily involved in aviation services. His companies have been active players at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) since the 1980s. He is also now a shareholder in Luzon International Premier Airport Development Corporation (LIPAD), which operates Clark International Airport.
“I have been working at the airport for 35 years. Our main company Philippine Airport Ground Support Solutions, Inc. (PAGSS) does aircraft ground handling,” he explains. “Our companies operate in more than 30 airports all over the Philippines and do passenger handling, ramp services and airline lounges.”
(Philippine national women's football team manager Jeff Cheng. Photo courtesy of Jeff Cheng)
He is also co-owner and director at Australian A-League side Western Sydney Wanderers FC, which won the 2014 AFC Champions League.
And it was through Cheng’s connections with football in Australia that Alen Stajcic eventually came on board as coach for the Philippines.
“The PFF was looking for a new, more experienced coach for our PWNT. We spoke to a few candidates and Coach Alen's name came up as someone who might be available.”
“Of course, I knew of Coach Alen because he was the Matildas coach and because he previously coached Central Coast Mariners in the A-League.”
“(Former Philippines U20/21 Coach) Jim Fraser brought Coach Alen and I together, vouching for both of us. I spoke with Coach Alen and explained to him that the mandate was to prepare the team well so that we could qualify for the 2023 World Cup.”
Stajcic, of course, accepted and brought in his team, which coincidentally included Nahuel Arrarte, an assistant coach at Cheng’s Wanderers club.
“Like me and everyone with the PWNFT, Coach Alen does not view women’s football as lesser than the men’s game. He, together with his coaching team, generously shared their knowledge and experience, and provided our athletes with the all the training and self-belief they needed to show everyone just how strong and powerful they are.”
“This is really a very special group of people.”
Despite the recent success of the Filipinas, the soft-spoken Cheng has mostly shunned the spotlight, choosing to stay quietly behind the scenes.
But his contribution to the women’s game is unquestionably immense, even before this Asian Cup run.
Let Dimzon, coach of the women’s team from 2017 to 2019, spoke highly of Cheng and his contributions after he was named manager around the same time.
“We witnessed his dedication to providing financial support from the start of preparation until the end of the competition, to the national team. This is based on my experience as the head of the team during the years I worked there,” Dimzon shared.
“He covered the costs of our 15-day camp in Japan, including travel, lodging, food, shoes, players' and staff training camp allowances, transportation, and other expenditures, as well as the costs of our local camp in Manila before our trip to Malaysia for the SEA Games 2017.”
Cheng also supported all of the tournament preparations and competitions during Dimzon’s time, including Olympic qualification rounds, a friendly game in Hong Kong and training camps in Japan.
This has started to pay off in a big way, with the Filipinas now set for a historic FIFA Women’s World Cup appearance.
And Cheng has nothing but glowing words about his experience with the team, especially with their recent achievements.
“It has been wonderful working with our Women's Team. Our goal was to qualify for the World Cup and we have achieved that,” Cheng said.
“My main role and support will still be with our Women's Team. However, the overall direction is to sustain and raise the quality and standard of not just women's football but our Philippine brand of football as well,” he added.
“We hope that with this historic and very special achievement of our Women's Team we can inspire more people to participate and support The Beautiful Game.”
—JMB, GMA News