MANILA, Philippines – After clinching a historic Asian Cup berth and their highest FIFA ranking of 113, the Philippine Azkals' preparations for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 will go full throttle.
Despite still deciding on a new role, team manager Dan Palami expressed his desire for the Azkals to hold training camps in Europe, schedule international friendlies, as well as aim for the gold in the 2018 AFF Championships – the tournament where everything started in the 2010.
The draws for the AFF Suzuki Cup 2018 and the Asian Cup will be held on May 2 and May 4, respectively. The final plans will be determined after the draw.
"It's going to be logistically, physically, emotionally and financially challenging. A lot of resources will be required for us to make sure na medyo maganda ang performance (the performance will be good) because we will be competing against the big boys. These are well-established national teams," said Palami.
Dooley's contract on the line
Azkals head coach Thomas Dooley's contract expired on Saturday, March 31. His contract renewal is currently being deliberated as Palami and the Philippine Football Federation are in the process of evaluating his performance as a head coach since Monday, April 2.
On paper, Dooley had many accomplishments with the Azkals, including leading the team to a historic Asian Cup berth. However, the evaluation by the PFF will include the players' insights on how capable the American-German will be in Asian Cup level.
"There are a lot of reasons why he should be extended. We've had our best performance under his tenure. Ang kailangan nalang namin tignan is what are the conditions and we will be talking to players as well and titignan namin kung how the players [will] respond to him at the level of Asian Cup," said Palami.
Due to many plans ahead and time constraints, the decision on Dooley's contract will come in a month according to Palami.
"We have to make it a decision quick because we have to schedule friendlies, maybe give it a month or so."
Palami also mentioned that the young talents who have been under the radar of the Azkals will possibly be given a chance to don the Philippines' colors as early as the Suzuki Cup.
The Azkals have been in contact with parents of Fil-foreigners playing in European professional clubs.
"We've actually talked [to the] moms of players playing in higher tournaments outside the Philippines," said Palami.
Fil-German Raphael Obermair is currently a midfielder in FC Bayern Munich II, the reserve team of Bundelisga club Bayern Munich.
"He has been in the line-up of some of the first team [of Bayern Munich] in some of their games. Even though he did not play, he’s on the bench and it’s a testament to the quality that he has," said Palami.
Gerrit Holtmann plays in the Bundesliga itself as a midfielder for 1. FSV Mainz 05. Holtmann also had 5 caps in the German U-20 national team.
Defender Jesper Nyholm is a Fil-Swedish player of AIK Fotboll. The football club based in Stockholm competes in the top tier league of the Swedish Football system, Allsvenskan.
Palami will also continue scouting for local talents participating in the college leagues such as UAAP and NCAA, as well as the Philippines Football League (PFL)
"We are looking at local football players who are exceptional sa league ngayon [PFL] and the UAAP na kailangan ng exposure doon [Azkals], and maybe they can actually shine when they're with players na nasa quality ng national team," said Palami.
(We are looking at local football players who are exceptional in the league now [PFL] and the UAAP, who need exposure with the Azkals, and maybe they can actually shine when they're with players with the same quality as the national team.)
"It's a two-pronged process sa labas at sa loob. We are looking at players para mag-augment sa national team."
(It's a two-pronged process of the outside and the inside. We are looking at players who we can augment in the national team.)
With the team planning to shell out at least P40 million for whole year, the national team will need to garner more support from major sponsors.
Since January 2018, Palami has already reached out to fans with the intention of providing TV and livestream broadcasts that are funded by Philippine football fans.
"We need several (sponsors) and one of the ideas is kung hindi kaya ng bigger sponsors, magkaroon nalang tayo ng bayanihan so everyone feels that they have contributed something," said Palami.
(We need several sponsors and one of the ideas is if the bigger sponsors can't do it, we should have a nation-wide initiative so everyone feels that they have contributed something.)
Palami is currently setting up the plan with a 3rd party for the auditing aspect, which will eventually be able to fund the purchasing of TV block times and the salaries of the production crew.
The team manager also hopes that 'bayanihan' aspect of the endeavor will in turn entice the bigger sponsors to support the Philippine Azkals for a longer term.
"We hope to show them that there's something in football that is worth supporting. It's not the most popular sport in the country, pero pag nakita nila na a lot of people are joining in this endeavor, pwede natin baliktarin (If they see that a lot of people are joining this endeavor, we can turn it around)," said Palami. – Rappler.com
More commonly known as Bee, Beatrice Go is a multimedia sports reporter for Rappler, who covers Philippine sports governance, national teams, football, and the UAAP. Stay tuned for her news and features on Philippine sports and videos like the Rappler Athlete’s Corner and Rappler Sports Timeout.