Monday, November 28, 2011
Dan Stephen Palami
Manager, PH Azkals
YOU'RE right, we could’ve done better.
Does Gloria Arroyo deserve to be placed under house arrest? Cast your vote.
After our much-maligned outing in the 2011 Southeast Asian Games, this became my matter-of-fact reply to the deluge of questions and criticisms--my skin has never grown so thick, so fast.
I don’t have all the answers, so from mild to scathing rebukes, I read the myriad reviews and their long comment threads. The gleeful (and mostly uninformed) bashing I let slide, but I carefully considered the sentiments of football players, enthusiasts and critics who are deeply invested in Philippine football. If I were still a fan and not the manager of the national team, I might have weighed in on their often-heated exchanges in the football forums.
But now, I’m in the trenches with the team, and I can’t indulge in my own frustrations. I need to quickly pick up the pieces, go back to the drawing board, and come up with the right formula (not to mention sufficient funds) for our Junior Azkals’ return in 2013. There’s the matter of continuing to build up our Senior Azkals, too. Save for the friendly game with LA Galaxy, I know expectations are high for our next tourneys. There are many who jump on the football bandwagon when the Azkals are winning, but more would pounce on our mistakes and kick us when we’re down.
Barely a year after its resurgence in the Philippines, we can’t let football slip into obscurity again so soon. As 2011 draws closer to full time, I can assure fans and critics that the blueprint for next year includes at least the following:
1.) Much better and lengthier preparation. Going into the SEA Games, we knew we weren’t as prepared as our regional rivals. They had the advantage of two years grassroots training at the very least, while the new PFF administration was just getting its own off the ground. We were able to organize the U23 around May, which is when I took on management of the team. Despite the tight schedule, I must emphasize that it wasn’t a rag-tag team we pooled together. We had some of the best individual players in the tournament: standouts from the U23 Suzuki cup, top university players, and experienced, foreign-based players. Naively, I thought that what our young team lacked in preparation and cohesion, they could compensate with the Pinoy’s never-say-die, guns-blazing attitude. But the attacks from the better-prepared teams quickly exposed our team’s vulnerabilities and eroded their confidence. We’ll use the time ahead to develop not just their physical skills, but their emotional and mental toughness for high-pressure competitions as well.
2.) We will continue to get outside reinforcement for the squad. Yes, we will continue having foreign-based Azkals, despite recurring complaints from those who play the race card. (Enough already! As Rob Gier puts it, “I don’t understand when people ask us how ‘Filipino’ we feel. The blood that runs through us runs through our ‘homegrown’ teammates. Just because we were born in another place or grew up in a different country doesn’t make us less Filipino. We feel Filipino every second of our lives.)
To put it briefly, their international training and experience sharpen our local talents’ skills and level of play, their presence helps promote local interest in football, they help generate sponsorships and funding, and they widen our international network and support.
Local and foreign-based
For the moment, while the PFF brews its grassroots programs, I choose to invest in both local and international players. As I wait for the UFL and other tournaments and trainings to develop more talents for our homegrown roster, there’s no reason not to get outside help that will make an impact now. There is no reason to discard one strategy for the other. In fact, to keep football alive, there is every reason to work on both the outside and inside now.
3.) But we will strive harder to build from the inside, with a better grassroots program.
Contrary to claims of a zero grassroots program, the initiatives taken by the new PFF administration are all part of shaping it. The PFF-Suzuki Cup U23 National Tournament helped us discover fresh talents from outside Metro Manila. It’s training eight-year-old standouts from all over the country for the AFC Under-17 Championship and World Championship in 2017 and 2019. It’s working with DFB (German Football Association), in evaluating the current state of our grassroots program and helping us shape a solid and sustainable program.
It can take time and effort to bear fruit though. A comment on the web noted that “A grassroots program entails infrastructure, funds and political will.”
It’s a long road ahead, and at times it can be quite frustrating. A thriving sport requires the concerted actions of various groups and stakeholders, but I can’t control how others participate or operate. I can hope for the best, but in the end, I can really only work on myself and on the team. In that sense, the onus falls on me and the Azkals. We have the opportunity, and responsibility to help grow the next generation of football players.
Children anywhere in the country should have easy access to football, to play and appreciate the beautiful game, and imagine a future in the sport.
If only for this wild dream, I am raring to go at it again come 2013. This time we’ll have more resources, more training, and an arsenal of hard-earned lessons to work with. If we don’t do any better despite all that’s at stake, oh well then, bring on the lynch mob.
P.S. Now you know what’s on my Christmas list: either a better finish in next SEAG, or a thicker hide for the next licking. Whatever you got listed, I hope you get it all.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on November 29, 2011
11 hours ago