Philippine football

New era as PFF retires Azkals moniker, brings in Belgian coach for men’s team

Philip Matel

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New era as PFF retires Azkals moniker, brings in Belgian coach for men’s team

MENTOR. The Philippine Football Federation introduces new men's team head coach Tom Saintfiet.

Philip Matel/Rappler

The Philippine men's football team will no longer be called the Azkals under the tutelage of new Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Football Federation (PFF) ushered in a new era for the men’s national team with a new coach, and soon, a new name.

The squad nicknamed the Azkals will be called that no more under the tutelage of Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet, whom the PFF introduced on Monday, February 26.

Saintfiet, who boasts 26 years’ worth of managing experience, succeeded Hans Michael Weiss, who was recently brought back to call the shots for the men’s crew before his second removal from the post.

“I was in need of a new task, an ambitious task…. I was needed and [I was] in need of a project,” Saintfiet told reporters.

“And I’m very thrilled to be very happy and very proud to be part of this ambitious project. And I’m sure, we, all together, can help us succeed in our dreams [of making the FIFA World Cup],” he added.

Saintfiet made a name for himself coaching in Africa, where he most recently led Gambia to consecutive appearances in the Africa Cup of Nations.

He resigned just last January after Gambia exited the Africa Cup of Nations, where they finished last.

The 50-year-old former player also had stints in Malta, Trinidad and Tobago, Bangladesh, Togo, Malawi, Yemen, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Qatar, whose national U17 team he guided to the FIFA U17 World Championship in 2005.

His immediate concern is the Philippines’ current campaign in the FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, where they will face Iraq on March 22 and 26.

“We are looking at dynamic young people who can use our team as a jumping place to reach higher goals,” said Saintfiet.

“Players, maybe who are not yet there where they want to be on club level, can benefit from being in an ambitious, a well-organized national team, to achieve [their] goals in winning games with the national team going to the Asia Cup…. Every player that can play anywhere can benefit off that on the club level. So it’s a win-win situation.”

Azkals no more

The team also quietly retired the Azkals moniker earlier in February, coinciding with new management and coaching.

Former national team player Freddy Gonzalez was appointed as the team’s new manager in January, succeeding longtime patron Dan Palami, who held the role from 2009 to 2024.

“Right now, we’ll just call the team the Philippine men’s national [football] team…. We feel that while the Azkals name was great, it has served its purpose,” Gonzalez told reporters.

“We feel like we’re going into the next step of Philippine football. So that’s something that we’re not really thinking about but will eventually come to play at some point, whether by us or by the fans.”

Gonzalez denied allegations surfacing online that the move to drop the Azkals name was due to Palami owning the trademark, which makes it hard for the PFF to use.

He added that Palami was very gracious to hand the trademark over, but the PFF opted for a change to eliminate stereotypes that come with the name.

“With this administration, we don’t distinguish anymore between half-Filipinos and [full-blooded] Filipinos,” said Gonzalez.

“Therefore, the Azkals name has no relevancy anymore in the team. We’re all Filipinos. There’s no more half-half.”

The term “askal,” a portmanteau of aso and kalye, meaning “street dog,” refers to mixed-breed dogs which roam outside and often have no owners.

As the Azkals, the national men’s team had drawn flak for signing and fielding more foreign-based mixed-race Filipinos than pure-blooded ones.

Under Palami’s watch, the country experienced its best showing of football this century, a rise that began in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup, where the team upset defending champion Vietnam in what was dubbed the “Miracle of Hanoi.”

Players like Phil and James Younghusband, Neil Etheridge, Manny and Mike Ott, Patrick Reichelt, Misagh Bahadoran, and many more starred for the better part of the past decade, bringing the basketball-crazed country to greater heights.

The team rose to its best-ever FIFA ranking of 111 in 2018, much higher than the current placement of 139. –

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