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The Only Way is Up: Five reasons why the future is bright for Philippine Football

This lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic gave everyone some time to reflect on a lot of things and with us here at The Huddle PH, it made us think, where are we now in terms of international football?

With the help of our very own Tito Jay of Ang Tito Mong Football Vlogger’s #EatSleepBreatheFootball podcast, we got a glimpse of what’s in stock for The Azkals once football resumes in the country.

Last Wednesday, June 3rd, The Azkals manager Dan Palami graced the #EatSleepBreatheFootball podcast and opened up about the future plans as well as his own assessment of where the Philippines’ Men’s National Football Team is now in terms of their strength and comparison to our neighbors.

1) A possible sponsorship boost could propel us to the top

“For the past years, it has been a solo flight with some assistance from Sir Nonong and the PFF.” Dan believes that this influx of new sponsorship would give the Azkals, and the whole of Philippine football, a much-needed boost.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, Mr. Palami has been working tirelessly to get an additional boost for our national team.

And the result: Dan has confirmed, although he cannot name them yet, that a sponsor has been really interested in the development of the National Team and the Philippine Football as a whole. They were only days away from completing the deal, but the pandemic put a lot of things on hold.

The good news is that they are back on track and we might get more details soon. And we hope to bring it to you hot from the press.

2) A new system is coming into play

Dan Palami, together with Coach Scott Cooper, has already been making big plans that would help improve our national team drastically across all levels.

They have ‘almost perfected’ the system that they are building within the national teams. “The entry of Coach Scott Cooper has been a good thing for the Azkals,” said Palami. His experience in handling smaller teams and bringing them to the next level has been one of his highlights that makes his stint with the Azkals even more fruitful.

It can be expected that the Azkals will reach even greater heights. The combination of all these things and how they would pan out is something to definitely look forward to.

In fact, we almost had the opportunity to see how our Azkals are now had the pandemic not struck us. We were already gearing up against Guam for a home game in the joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.

But it was not to be, at least not yet. Dan is optimistic that we will bear good results moving forward because of the great strides that we’ve already taken. Dan and Scott had been planning while in quarantine with their game plans and had been in constant contact with the players.

With new players coming in to up our team’s playing level, a long-term ‘succession plan’ would be established that gets senior players mentoring their junior players, all the way down to the youth teams. This plan was already submitted to the PFF.

3) Youngbloods are coming

We already have a pool of talented players ready to represent the flag when called upon, and some new faces might be coming to give us that extra boost.

But all this means more work. Especially for Dan and Coach Scott, who also serves as the PFF’s acting Technical Director. Although a daunting task for our head coach, Dan sees the role complementary to Coach Scott’s main role. “I see that as hitting several birds with one stone.”

Names like Gerrit Holtmann, Nico De Vera, Michael Kempter, Raphael Obermair, and Jesse Curran are names that seem to be on Coach Cooper’s radar. This would give us plenty of options to choose from and many tactics to play with.

The future looks bright for Philippine Football, and all the brighter because of what’s in store for us. We have a lot to look forward to with the Azkals to take on the Asian Cup challenge, and our very own Philippine’s Football League just around the corner, with our Azkals to feature courtesy of the Azkals Development Team.

If we play our cards right, Asia may yet be in for another surprise.

4) We’ll get to see the ADT in action

The Philippines Football League is just around the corner. After being pushed back the last few months, it seems that July might just be the month we can wear our banner and cheer for our teams once again.

But with the Azkals Development Team joining the league, our own younger lads would get the best chance to show what they’re made of. Playing competitively in a league is one of the best ways to make sure that players get to sharpen their competitive edge.

Flashback to the time before Palami came in, the national team couldn’t even get a proper training venue nor enough focus for them to prepare for international competitions. 

He recalled that in the past, the national players held their practices at the University of Makati track and field. And being that the field was not particularly maintained, it appeared somewhat unacceptable. This is especially the case with our national players that ply their trade overseas and had been used to well-maintained facilities.

“Compare that now with the choices that you have ten years after, I think that the change is really dramatic.” Dan referring to the many football-specific fields now available around the country since the fateful ‘Miracle in Hanoi’ a decade ago. But he asked “Are we at par or are we comparable to other countries?” and answered that “we’re still far behind in terms of infrastructure” comparing us to our Southeast Asian neighbors.

This might be because the country doesn’t have a well-established plan for the future not until the Azkals Development Team was created. With the aim of introducing the country’s youngest gems into the national team program, the ADT just might be what the country needs in order to level the playing field with the rest of its ASEAN neighbors in terms of youth development.

It has been a long time since a certain Chieffy Caligdong made a name for himself for being the country’s best homegrown player ever to grace the pitch. Top goalscorer in the 2011 Long Teng Cup, 2011 Philippine Sportswriter Association Mr. Football co-awardee with Phil Younghusband, part of the 2012 and 2013 Philippine Peace Cup-winning squad, and a scorer of an amazing goal against Mongolia that sent shivers down everyone’s spine. These are just some of the achievements the proud Ilonggo garnered during his glory days with the Azkals.

Caligdong proved that despite the influx of Fil-foreign players in the national squad who had a ton of experience playing abroad, someone who has the passion, guts, and sheer determination, you can make it to the big leagues and serve your country amongst the best players we could ever have. 

Through the Azkals Development Team, players here in the country and some who wanted to see a better path to the National Team here in the Philippines rather than overseas will now get the opportunity to prove themselves in front of the PFF’s acting technical director and the senior squad’s assistant coach which gives them a more direct route to donning the national kits. 

The ADT can also be used as a program that will unearth the nation’s brightest and most hidden gems that will soon make huge waves in the most beautiful game.

5) The only way is up

We have made great strides in football. We’re reaching new heights with no signs of slowing down.

Never again shall we be called the ‘Whipping boys of Asia’. A painful nickname telling us how small and neglected Philippine Football once was. But today is different. We might not be where we want us to be, but slowly and surely we’re getting there. We are now in an era where we’re in control.

“When I took over the Azkals in 2010, we had a friendly with Taiwan and we drew them. At that time, it was considered a really good performance coming from our national team. That was defined as success at that time. You do that now, we’re gonna be bashed by a lot of football supporters here in the Philippines,” said Palami recalling the days where a result like this can be considered as a pivotal moment for the national squad. 

Long gone are the days where a mere draw with Thailand, Vietnam, or any of ASEAN’s powerhouse nations can make us happy. In fact, qualifying to the AFC Asian Cup should now be mandatory as per the Azkals’ manager Palami.

https://twitter.com/TheAzkalsPH/status/937945462245433344

“We’ve reached several milestones in our journey for the past 10 years. We need to establish our presence in Asia as a football country. The very least that we could do with the talent that we have coming in, the system that we have and the resources that are going to be made available is to be part of the Asian Cup. Sa expectations, ‘yun ang minimum.”

These words were not just mere demands but also packed a lot of proof behind it. The national team over the last 10 years have made a very huge stride that no one in the country expected we would be able to achieve in such a short amount of time. 

Compared with our neighbors, give them 10 years and they will make waves by making it to the final stages of the World Cup qualifying. With us, 10 years were needed to establish the program and the passion of every Filipinos for the beautiful game. 

And with the country’s biggest supporter, Dan Palami, we’re sure he will never stop until we reach that dream of making it to the World Cup, even if it sounds right now as one of our wildest dreams. 

“I think we’ve improved a lot. The reason why I spend hundreds of millions in football is becauseI want to see the Azkals, in our wildest dreams, to be part of the World Cup. That’s the reason why I’ll never stop supporting. 

Hold on to your seats because we aren’t done soaring yet. The Azkals are here to take us further.

This article was co-written with Glenn Casas, the author of The Six-Yard Box Burgers and Sports.

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