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Younghusband brothers shake up Philippines football with Davao move

While Barcelona fans may find it hard seeing Neymar in a Paris Saint-Germain shirt, they should spare a thought for Meralco Manila fans who are coming to terms with a loss of their own.

At least the Spanish supporters may be spared the ordeal of watching their former superstar line up against them on a regular basis.

And Manila fans have just lost not one, but two, of their stalwarts to Philippines Football League (PFL) rivals Davao Aguilas.

James Younghusband was Meralco's captain. Brother Phil was their top scorer. The club are the only one in the Philippines that the former Chelsea juniors have ever played for. Since they arrived in 2011, they have been the twin faces of the club.

Yet, in the final week of July, they both left in a move that has not only stunned Filipino football fans, but could shake up the whole scene, adding a new force to be reckoned with in the PFL.

Over their time together, the brothers -- and the Sparks -- won trophies and plaudits.

"It has been an absolute pleasure knowing the brothers for eight years now," Simon Greatwich, the new captain of Meralco, told ESPN FC. The midfielder wished the Younghusbands well in their new adventure.

The move was announced by Meralco on social media shortly before the pair's last match for the club on July 30. Ironically and perhaps inevitably, this was against Davao. The Younghusbands, as professional and committed as ever, helped their old employers win 3-2 against their new.

It was a bitter-sweet victory for the fans in the capital. These are two of the biggest and best players in the whole country. They have left the league leaders, who sit on top with 30 points, for a team who have been kept off the bottom by the sheer haplessness of Ilocos United.

After 12 games of the season, the Aguilas have yet to win a single game, scoring just nine goals, and collecting only five points. People have asked why Neymar is leaving Barcelona for Paris. Leaving Meralco for Davao seems to be a much bigger drop.

The decision to can't have been an easy one, with the club doing all they could to retain their key men.

"We made an earnest attempt to keep James and Phil in Manila with an offer of a contract extension," the club said in a statement that was refreshing and heartfelt in its praise and gratitude.

"Their leadership, work ethic, and professionalism never failed to inspire their teammates. Off the pitch, the Younghusband brothers embodied our club's values in every way. We can never thank them enough for all they have given to us."

There have been obvious questions as to why the brothers have headed south.

All of a sudden, the league table does not look very pleasant for the Surrey-born pair, but there is more passion for the beautiful game in Davao than in the capital. The crowds are bigger, as will be the adulation, if success comes.

There is also the financial side, as Greatwich explains.

"People are injecting some serious cash into Philippine football, and with their contracts expiring they received an offer they couldn't refuse," he said.

A five-year deal is also substantial, especially in a country with a football scene that may be growing, but is still relatively small.

While Meralco fans may disagree, this transfer could be a positive for Filipino football. More money flowing into the domestic game can only be a good thing.

Davao owner Jefferson Cheng has been busy in the transfer market of late. The club have not only had eyes for the Younghusbands, but have been busy signing other stars. Now the team boast Matt Hartmann, Jason De Jong, Jordan Jarvis and Simone Rota.

It is surely only a matter of time before the Mindanao outfit start climbing up the standings. The PFL has another potential title challenger, at least from next season.

If there is excitement down in Davao, it does not mean there has to be too much gloom up in Manila.

For Meralco, life goes on. It was not long ago that team manager Belay Fernando was promising more chances for young players. Now could be the time. And there is still plenty of experience. Skipper Simon Greatwich has been around long enough to know that football moves on. The Sparks are, after all, still gunning for the title.

"We've played two games since their departure and I've been so proud of the heart and passion of our boys, everyone has stepped up their game, taking more responsibility and we still sit top of the league," Greatwich said.

"As the team's new captain, I am really excited about this new chapter and the whole team is looking forward to the challenges ahead."

The Younghusbands will no doubt be saying the same. This is a significant moment in Filipino football. It will be fascinating to see how it all plays out, just as much in Manila and Davao, as in Barcelona and Paris.