James Younghusband changed the landscape for football in the Philippines

James Younghusband's success with the Azkals helped spark an entire country's interest in football. Mark Cristino/NurPhoto/Getty Images

On Thursday, Philippines stalwart James Younghusband announced his retirement from football.

It marked the end of a career that began as a trainee with English giants Chelsea and led to his part in a pioneering duo. Along with younger brother Phil, Younghusband changed an entire country's interest in football.

The biggest testament to his and his brother's legacy is arguably that they leave Philippine football in a far better place from the one they encountered when they first arrived.

The story of the Younghusbands is by now quite a famous one in Asian football.

Their eligibility to represent the Philippines was first discovered by a gamer playing Football Manager, and the brothers were surprised to find out that their mother's country of birth had a national team.

It did not take long for them to play for the Azkals and the first significant milestone came on December 5, 2010 when they defeated hosts and defending champions Vietnam 2-0. The win, a match now referred to as "the Miracle of Hanoi," led to the Philippines' first appearance in the knockout round of the AFF Suzuki Cup.

With James Younghusband retiring, that generation is effectively over, with only goalkeeper Neil Etheridge still featuring prominently from a side that also had Aly Borromeo, Rob Gier, Emelio Caligdong and Chris Greatwich.

Perhaps the best sign of how far Philippine football has come in fewer than 10 years after that win against Vietnam, is when the Azkals found themselves against Asian powerhouses South Korea and China at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

The Azkals' sudden rise have also resulted in dramatic improvements in the country's infrastructure.

A once semi-professional domestic league is now fully professional. The century-old Rizal Memorial Stadium received much-needed rehabilitation. Manila has seen a rise in artificial pitches.

Grassroots programs -- conducted by both the Philippine Football Federation and private academies -- are now commonplace across the land. Chelsea even contributed a pitch of their own when they, in partnership with the Younghusbands' local youth academy, opened a football school in the country.

While Azkals coach Scott Cooper recently told ESPN that they will continue to scour the globe for foreign-based players eligible to represent Philippines, he also recognised that the country is producing quality players such as Jovin Bedic, Amani Aguinaldo and Patrick Deyto.

When the Asian international football calendar returns in October, the Philippines will resume its campaign to reach the next round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. They are also in a strong position to seal a second-consecutive Asian Cup appearance as they sit tied with China for second place in Group A behind Syria.

Although James Younghusband will no longer be part of that quest, he played a crucial role in Philippine football even getting this far and creating a promising future for the Azkals.