On Azkals controversy: Locals need playing time, too

MANILA, Philippines – The Fil-foreigners may be available for the Peace Cup but the locals need their experience.

That’s the message that the Philippine Football Federation released on the official Azkals Facebook page on Wednesday, August 6, after mounting debate over the exclusion and diminished roles of several veterans for the tournament set to begin on September 1 in the Philippines. 

The post asserts that the players who have anchored the team may not be released by their home clubs in Europe for tournaments like the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup, which runs from November 22 to December 20, because it isn’t an official FIFA event.

“Bottom line, our National Coach Thomas Dooley [needs] to have a team ready which consists more or less [of] our local players to compete [in] events like the Suzuki Cup,” reads the post. “To prepare this team, he [needs] to give the local players game practices in tournaments like the Peace Cup and friendly games on official FIFA dates to make sure the team [that] will go for the Suzuki Cup will represent our country and give its best appearance.”

It added: “The Suzuki Cup is unfortunately not an official FIFA date, which means the overseas clubs do not need to release the players for their National Team, since most of the overseas clubs have ongoing league games on this dates. As a result, the National Coach has to prepare a team for the Suzuki Cup by having in mind that the overseas player might probably not [be] available, since the release is not mandatory for their clubs.”

Dooley, a former American national soccer team standout took over the squad last January after the exit of Hans Michael Weiss.

The Philippine football scene has been in upheaval this week after long-time Azkals Dennis Cagara and Stephan Schrock announced Monday that they would be withdrawing from the team due to clashes with Coach Dooley. (RELATED: Why the Azkals are upset with team management)

"As long as coach Dooley will lead the team, I won't wear the jersey of Azkals again," the Filipino-German Schrock, 27 said via Facebook. "I hope I will give my comeback one day!!"

Cagara, a left-back who was born in Denmark, tweeted similar sentiments.

"Dooley is also the reason why I won't play for the Azkals for the moment,” wrote Cagara, who was left off the Peace Cup roster along with Fil-British goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

Stephan Schrock is one of two Azkals who have resigned from the Philippine national football team. File photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

Stephan Schrock is one of two Azkals who have resigned from the Philippine national football team. File photo by Rappler/Josh Albelda.

Of the Azkals pool of 38 that will be cut to 24, 7 are currently members of foreign clubs. 

Azkals team manager Dan Palami also released a statement on the withdrawal of the two players via the team’s Facebook, stating:

“It is unfortunate that Stephan and Dennis have made their decision (not to suit up for the Azkals for now). The level of skill and depth of experience they bring to the game will surely be missed. It is natural even amongst family for differences to arise, especially when changes are introduced. At the end of the day, however, it is good to be reminded that every single one on the Azkals family actually shares the same dream: To unite Filipinos through their love for the beautiful game and to bring Phil. Football to the world stage.

“Because of this, and through sustained dialogue forged on mutual respect, I am optimistic we will reach a resolution that will be most beneficial to the team and that will bring us even closer to our common goals.”

The Philippines has won the Peace Cup in back-to-back years but found their football program skyrocket in popularity in 2010’s Suzuki Cup when they defeated defending champions Vietnam 2-0. Fil-Europeans Chris Greatwich and Phil Younghusband scored the Philippines’ goals.

The Azkals were clustered in Group A of the Suzuki Cup alongside Vietnam and Indonesia. – with reports from Jaelle Nevin Reyes/Rappler.com