By Steve Johnson.
It may seem unlikely to find a strong Turkish influence in south-east Asian football but that is precisely what is currently happening in Cebu City, located in the central Visayas region of the Philippines.
Businessman Uğur Taşçı arrived in the archipelago in 1994, and together with his brother Cem Tasci went on to found Leylam FC in 2012.
Leylam became the dominant force in the local game winning the Aboitiz Football Cup numerous times as well as seven-a-side runners-up in the Plate Division of the Saigon 7’s in 2015 and winning the Kampeons Cup PhilAm Life 7s in 2019 beating Maharlika F.C. Manila 5-3, in Taguig.
Wanting to push on Taşçı and Cem formed Dynamo Herb Cebu Football Club, nicknamed the Gentle Giants, the third team of Cebu after the collapse of previous teams Cebu Queen City United and Global Cebu FC. DH Cebu officially got their PFL licence in July 2021, and the first squad was formed with the backbone of Leylam fc players.
Due to COVID, the Philippines Football League was cancelled so the team played its first competitive match on November 11, 2021, a 1–0 loss to Stallion Laguna in the 2021 Copa Paulino Alcantara.
Cebu qualified for the semi-finals as group runners-up. They lost to eventual champions Kaya Iloilo 1–0 in the semi-finals and ended up placing fourth after losing to Stallion Laguna 5-4 on Penalties.
In January 2022 DH Cebu announced their partnership with Hatayspor, who were then in their second season in the Süper Lig. The stated aim of the partnership was to develop football for both men and women, as well as the exchange of staff and players.
After finishing their inaugural Süper Lig season of 20-21 in an impressive sixth place, Hatayspor followed that with a more modest but still respectable twelfth place finish.
The current squad boasts former Porto, Newcastle, and serially loaned out at Chelsea player, Christian Atsu, and Cape Verde international Ze Luis, best known for winning league titles with Spartak Moscow, and FC Porto. For all their experience, the team currently find themselves bottom of the league with five losses and one draw from their first six games.
DH Cebu confirmed former Hatayspor player Mehmet Kakil as their new manager, and Levent Öztürk, also a former player who joined as his assistant. The pair aim to replicate the attacking and entertaining style hatayspor were known for during Kakli’s playing days.
Also joining the club are former Hatayspor youth players Mert Altinöz and Arda Çinkir, whilst Nazim Özcan was signed on loan and has since rejoined his parent club.
With all the changes the club began its campaign for the 2022 Copa Paulino Alcantara well, finishing as runners-up in the group stage with four wins and draw in six games, before losing in the semis and third place play-off. After beating Stallions 2-0 in the first game of the tournament, they again succumbed to the same team in the third place play-off. This time avoiding penalties and going down 2-1.
20-year-old Arda Çınkır scored four goals in the tournament and confidence was high going into the league campaign, now in its fourth season, the PFL has partnered with Qatar Airways, spearheading the football development in the country.
DH Cebu are already in second place after seven games with fourteen points, one point off early league leaders Kaya-Iloilo who defeated DH 3-0 in the first game of the season. After that early defeat there has been four wins including the most recent results 5-1 and 7-1 against Maharlika and Mendiola, respectively.
Arda Çinkir has seven goals to his name already, including four in the demolishing of Mendiola, whilst Mert Altinöz currently has seven assists.
The winners of the league will earn a direct berth to the AFC Champions League group stages, Taşçı and the island of Cebu will be hoping their new Turkish connections and help them develop, and pave the way for other such affiliations which would help raise the profile and quality of the Filipino game.
Thanks to Claire Sadanguel for permission to include her photos in this article.