Filipino naturalization candidate Bienvenido Marañon admitted he had a tough time acclimatizing himself to the Philippines when he first arrived in 2015. After a poor run of form by his standards, he decided to turn to Philippine football icon Chieffy Caligdong for inspiration.
"When I came to the Philippines, in my first month it wasn't easy. I didn't play really good, I wasn't happy with my performance," Marañon told the Game. "I was thinking about, 'what Filipino player is similar to me and is one of the best in the Philippines?' So I looked at Chieffy Caligdong and it's him."
At the time, the Filipino winger was in the twilight of his career and wrapping up his playing days with Green Archers United.
Marañon said studying Caligdong was transformative for him as a player.
"I went to Rizal many times to watch him, I watched many videos of him, and that made me play better," Marañon said. "So if you see me before I looked at him and after, you will see the change."
Caligdong scored 16 international goals for the Azkals. After a brief coaching career, he and his family migrated to Canada in 2018.
Since his rough start in the country, Marañon has turned into one of the region's most feared goal scoring threats. The Spanish striker even became the AFC Cup's all-time leading scorer with 35 goals to his name last March 2020.
Marañon credited Caligdong for a big part of his improvement and says he would like to thank the former Philippine Azkal even if they aren't close outside the pitch.
"He (Caligdong) plays very good between the lines, he has too much quality, he doesn't like to dribble too much, so he passes the ball then he moves to receive along. So all of this movement and all of this play, I got from him," Marañon added. "So I have to thank him, even if I think he doesn't know anything about this."
The Cadiz-born goal machine hopes to continue emulating Caligdong by also being selected as a Philippine Azkal in the near future.
According to Marañon, being made an Azkal would be his greatest milestone as a footballer.
"Everyday in my career I work very, very hard to have a reward, and for me the best reward I can have in football is to play with the Azkals," Marañon said. "For me the biggest achievement I can get is to play with the Azkals, so I am working hard on this. This year I can show to everybody my performance and hard work is never missing. I train to do, every single day, something to improve."
"If I am lucky to get that one (become an Azkal), I will take my chance and I will try to make all of you proud of me."
A Senate bill seeking naturalization for Marañon and basketball center Ange Kouame recently passed first reading. It needs to pass two more readings before it can be transmitted to President Duterte for signing into law.