When Ceres-Negros FC owner Leo Rey Yanson of Bacolod City decided to field his club in the national league in Manila a few years ago, he was driven and motivated at making his mark.
“I can’t go forming teams half-heartedly,” Yanson said then.
“When we decide to take the next step, we go as much as we can and do everything so that what we’ve invested in fulfills its potential.”
After three Philippines Football League (PFL) titles, a historic AFC Asean zonal crown and two famous wins in AFC Champions League qualifying, Yanson made the hard decision of letting go of his beloved club, which he turned from a provincial powerhouse eight years ago into a force in the continent.
“To say that it was a difficult decision for him (Yanson) is an understatement,” said Nicolas Golez, the club administrator, who is also a close aide of Yanson.
“It took him many weeks, not just days to decide. I know deep down he was also in pain thinking about the decision he was about to make. But these are extraordinary times and we have to respect his decision.”
After weeks of speculation, the club announced that it was in talks with new investors who will take over the management and ownership of Ceres in preparation for the fourth season of the PFL and the resumption of the AFC Cup campaign.
“This is one of the toughest decisions made by Mr. Yanson, whose passion for football was reflected at the way he poured his personal resources and steered the club to unprecedented heights since it was formed eight years ago,” the club said in a statement. “Through Ceres-Negros FC, Mr. Yanson was able to share his love for the game to his countrymen. While the pandemic has struck hard on businesses all over the world, Ceres has made its best efforts to compensate its players and staff.”
The Busmen were rolling in the AFC Cup early this year, going unbeaten in their first three games in the wake of another strong performance in AFC Champions League qualifying where they reached the final phase. They are also currently the top-ranked club team in Southeast Asia according to footyrankings.com.
But the COVID-19 pandemic altered the course of the club as well as Yanson’s business.
The club is actually named after the flagship brand of the Yanson Group of Bus Companies, which has around 4,000 buses and 18,000 employees all over the country.
Yanson was confronted with a dilemma.
“The first priority was to look after the company and its employees and find ways to bounce back,” Golez said. “There is still a lot of uncertainty right now with the pandemic.”
Even with the crisis, Yanson kept the club going as much as he could.
“Believe me when I say that I had grappled with this difficult decision over the past few weeks,” Yanson said in his farewell message to his players. “The club is more than just a club for me—it is also my family.”
Because a pandemic is considered as force majeure, clubs actually have an option to terminate contracts or renegotiate with players, according to Philippine Football Federation general secretary Ed Gastanes, citing a Fifa circular.
Several players took pay cuts in May, before they were finally let go on June 1. Over the last few days, former and current players sent messages of support to Yanson, anticipating the announcement.
“I know your heart is torn apart having to make this decision,” former captain Martin Steuble, who played for Ceres from 2015-2019, before moving to Thai club Port FC, said in his message.
“I want to thank you for the person you have been to my life. You were always more than a club owner. You were a dear friend and a father figure.”
The new owners will be hard-pressed to keep the core of the team intact, including coach Risto Vidakovic and stars like Stephan Schrock, Bienve Marañon, Mike and Manny Ott, Super Herrera, Roland Muller and OJ Porteria, who continue to attract interest from top clubs overseas. Marañon has hinted at staying even with the new owners coming in.
“The club may have a different name, a new owner, but I am sure the spirit of Ceres-Negros, the winning tradition and our bond will live long in the hearts and minds of every football fan in the country,” Yanson said.
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