The Azkals and the need to unite
MANILA, Philippines – What happened on Thursday, August 7 at the Philippine Football Federation office wasn’t your ordinary press conference in this country. Rather than handing out politically correct responses or general answers that are heard everyday in the evolving world of Filipino sports, brass of the PFF and Azkals held no punches in their rebuttal over claims made by former Philippine national team players.
After news broke out that Azkals Stephan Schrock and Dennis Cagara were officially no longer part of the team, the duo took to social media to express their grievances over team head coach Thomas Dooley’s supposed bias for playing local players. In the midst of all the confusion, former team goalkeeper Neil Etheridge also tweeted his frustration over not being included in the Filipino football squad’s lineup for the 2014 Peace Cup, which begins on September 1. (RELATED: Schrock, Cagara admit Dooley reason behind departure from Azkals)
But on Thursday afternoon, Dooley fired back and held no punches.
“What Schrock did was unprofessional, unacceptable, and selfish,” Dooley mentioned before later adding that “A player like this can make a mess everywhere.”
Apparently, Schrock was frustrated after Dooley benched him due to an injury that was hindering the play of the star. This was later on confirmed as well by Azkals team manager Dan Palami, who said the angered Fil-German talked to him after the benching and was rampant in his anger.
Cagara, meanwhile, saw reduced time due to injury, according to Dooley, who also noted that Etheridge was downgraded to number three in the team’s goalkeeper depth chart because of the performance of the team’s other goalkeepers, which was why the Azkals elected not to pay “thousands of dollars” to fly him in from Europe to be the second man off the bench.
The head coach repeated over and over again during the press conference that what factored most in deciding who gets most playing time is the performance of the players on the field and their dedication to the team and playing for the Philippines. There were no biases towards “age, popularity, or looks,” per Dooley. “It’s about the performance who decides who plays.”
“Without the international players we cannot survive, and we always rely on those kind of performances from those players abroad,” he added.
The PFF and Azkals strongly stand behind Dooley on the matter, while Cagara and Schrock have made their feelings known – with the latter continuously bashing the head coach on German newspapers. Etheridge, during the press conference, was tweeting responses to the claims of Dooley and company, so it’s safe to assume he’s not patching wounds with his former associates.
Basically, it boils down to which side is truthful on the issue, or whom Filipinos believe. Dooley and Palami, though, used their exposure with the media as a venue to provide facts and certain situations backing up their side of the story. Schrock may have done the same in Germany, though as for now what we have in the Philippines is his statement on Facebook, which is also the same case for Cagara.
There have been questions as to why the issue was not handled internally. It’s hard to assume Azkals management didn’t try to do just that. But even if they tried, they failed to get the same commitment from their now former players, considering the Facebook statuses of Schrock and Cagara came from nowhere. Nevertheless, the situation is out in the open, under the eye of public scrutiny with a resolution possible but not soon to take place, it seems.
Responses from the former Azkals could still come to light, which would likely only complicate matters. Etheridge is already correcting one of Dooley’s statements by saying it was actually his quad, and not the knee as previously mentioned by the head coach, that was injured not that long ago. The former Philippine team goalkeeper also suggested on Twitter that Dooley never properly inquired about the player’s health.
You can say the losers of this situation are the Filipino fans who have pledged their unconditional support to the team over the past few years.
The Azkals were ranked 195 by FIFA in October 2006, and were 128 by July 2014. That’s a huge leap for a squad that may not be as rich in sponsorships as other nations worldwide. That’s a rise from being an unknown outside their home country to the top of Southeast Asia, and maybe not far away in the future, in Asia’s higher echelon as well.
Over the past years, Filipinos have grown to adore the Azkals. They’ve emotionally invested in the team. Whenever the team would lose, hearts would break around the country. Whenever the team would win, the rest of the Philippines beamed with joy and pride. This controversy not only makes for bad public relations; it also corrupts that sense of purity and gratification the Azkals established over the past few seasons.
Moving forward, hopefully, the broken relationship between the team and the three players involved does not get any worse, and instead all the focus will be on the upcoming 2014 Peace Cup and 2014 Suzuki Cup.
“We received an invitation to play Uzbekistan… This just shows some teams are interested playing the Philippine team,” said PFF President Mariano Araneta.
Palami added: “We are number one in Southeast Asia. I hope we live up to that ranking.”
And they should, granted no more distractions within the core of the Azkals evolve into a detrimental issue. The team manager mentioned there is no unrest between the national squad and any of the other players on the roster, though a source has indicated otherwise to Rappler.
No one knows all the details. But here’s what is certain right now: the Azkals have grown to earn the adoration of the Filipino people, and still has it despite recent circumstances. On the pitch, they have earned the respect of their peers in Asia, and quite possibly around the world as well.
So it would be a damn shame if an issue like what transpired lately destroys it all. – Rappler.com
- Stephan Schrock announces resignation from Azkals
- Schrock, Cagara admit Dooley reason behind departure from Azkals
- Why the Azkals are upset with team management
- On Azkals controversy: Locals need playing time, too
- WATCH: Azkals coach Dooley fires back at Schrock, Etheridge, Cagara
- Facing revolt, Azkals coach Dooley takes aim at Schrock, Etheridge, Cagara