Monday, November 28, 2011

Dan Palami: Apologies. Next steps

(Note: Dan Palami asked me to publish this article for Sun.Star Cebu and I have also decided to publish it here--ML)
You’re right, we could’ve done better. 

After our much-maligned outing in the 2011 Southeast Asian Games, this became my matter-of-fact reply to the deluge of questions and criticisms--my skin has never grown so thick, so fast. 

I don’t have all the answers, so from mild to scathing rebukes, I read the myriad reviews and their long comment threads. The gleeful (and mostly uninformed) bashing I let slide, but I carefully considered the sentiments of football players, enthusiasts and critics who are deeply invested in Philippine football.
If I were still a fan and not the manager of the national team, I might have weighed in on their often-heated exchanges in the football forums.

But now, I’m in the trenches with the team, and I can’t indulge in my own frustrations. I need to quickly pick up the pieces, go back to the drawing board, and come up with the right formula (not to mention sufficient funds) for our Junior Azkals’ return in 2013.  There’s the matter of continuing to build up our Senior Azkals, too. Save for the friendly game with LA Galaxy, I know expectations are high for our next tourneys. There are many who jump on the football bandwagon when the Azkals are winning, but more would pounce on our mistakes and kick us when we’re down.

Barely a year after its resurgence in the Philippines, we can’t let football slip into obscurity again so soon. As 2011 draws closer to full time, I can assure fans and critics that the blueprint for next year includes at least the following:

1.) Much better and lengthier preparation.   Going into the SEA Games, we knew we weren’t as prepared as our regional rivals. They had the advantage of two years grassroots training at the very least, while the new PFF administration was just getting its own off the ground. We were able to organize the U23 around May, which is when I took on management of the team. Despite the tight schedule, I must emphasize that it wasn’t a rag-tag team we pooled together.  We had some of the best individual players in the tournament: standouts from the U23 Suzuki cup, top university players, and experienced, foreign-based players.  Naively, I thought that what our young team lacked in preparation and cohesion, they could compensate with the Pinoy’s never-say-die, guns-blazing attitude.  But the attacks from the better-prepared teams quickly exposed our team’s vulnerabilities and eroded their confidence.  We’ll use the time ahead to develop not just their physical skills, but their emotional and mental toughness for high-pressure competitions as well.

2.) We will continue to get outside reinforcement for the squad. Yes, we will continue having foreign-based Azkals, despite recurring complaints from those who play the race card. (Enough already! As Rob Gier puts it, “I don’t understand when people ask us how ‘Filipino’ we feel. The blood that runs through us runs through our ‘homegrown’ teammates. Just because we were born in another place or grew up in a different country doesn’t make us less Filipino. We feel Filipino every second of our lives.)

To put it briefly, their international training and experience sharpen our local talents’ skills and level of play, their presence helps promote local interest in football, they help generate sponsorships and funding, and they widen our international network and support.

For the moment, while the PFF brews its grassroots programs, I choose to invest in both local and international players. As I wait for the UFL and other tournaments and trainings to develop more talents for our homegrown roster, there’s no reason not to get outside help that will make an impact now. There is no reason to discard one strategy for the other. In fact, to keep football alive, there is every reason to work on both the outside and inside now.

3.) But we will strive harder to build from the inside, with a better grassroots program.

Contrary to claims of a zero grassroots program, the initiatives taken by the new PFF administration are all part of shaping it.  The PFF-Suzuki Cup U23 National Tournament helped us discover fresh talents from outside Metro Manila. It’s training eight-year-old standouts from all over the country for the AFC Under-17 Championship and World Championship in 2017 and 2019. It’s working with DFB (German Football Association), in evaluating the current state of our grassroots program and helping us shape a solid and sustainable program.

It can take time and effort to bear fruit though. A comment on the web noted that “A grassroots program entails infrastructure, funds and political will.” 

It’s a long road ahead, and at times it can be quite frustrating. A thriving sport requires the concerted actions of various groups and stakeholders, but I can’t control how others participate or operate. I can hope for the best, but in the end, I can really only work on myself and on the team. In that sense, the onus falls on me and the Azkals. We have the opportunity, and responsibility to help grow the next generation of football players. Children anywhere in the country should have easy access to football, to play and appreciate the beautiful game, and imagine a future in the sport. 

If only for this wild dream, I am raring to go at it again come 2013. This time we’ll have more resources, more training, and an arsenal of hard-earned lessons to work with. If we don’t do any better despite all that’s at stake, oh well then, bring on the lynch mob.

P.S. Now you know what’s on my Christmas list: either a better finish in next SEAG, or a thicker hide for the next licking. Whatever you got listed, I hope you get it all. Merry Christmas!   


Erick said...

I would like to think that you are the Mark Cuban of Philippine Football. :) But you gotta trim down the tummy, mate. We don't want to lose you with hypertension this early. We need a good manager for the team, you know! :) Let's go, team Pilipinas!

Unknown said...

I think Palami has to understand that Football also has to EARN the support it is getting. There are MANY Philippine National Teams out there that need support, but only few like Football is getting. For example, take a look at the Philippine Men and Women's Baseball and Softball teams. Those teams literally had to BEG around for support and cash, and yet they ended up getting the gold medals in the SEAG

Craig Burrows said...

What an intelligent, humble but most of all enlightening article. Instead of buying a bulletproof vest Dan exposes his soul. I just hope that all of us armchair critics will give him the time he needs and the respect he deserves to build the squad we all want to see. Mabuhay Sir Dan!


KaeBoo said...

there's nothing more awakening than water splashing on your face. thank you, sir. it was thru your effort that football found its voice again. you are indeed deserving to be the team's manager. don't you think the coaching needs to be a team as well? coach weiss seems to be having his hands full with the senior team, he might need more staff so the approach on the u23 plays could become more efficient. :)

Arielle said...


Earn the support it's getting? You seem to think that football fans and players and teams are separate entities; hence, "moneyed" fans such as Mr. Palami ought to think twice about supporting under-performing teams.

But the truth is, football is a culture that is shared by many people of different walks of life. People of this culture will fight amongst ourselves, celebrate the most minor of achievements, feel bad about players who give a so-so performance even if our team wins anyway. For people like us, football isn't just an event that you get to see in the SEA Games or in the Olympics.

Football is what gets us drunk every four years, in June or July; what keeps us up all night from September to May; what we do on most Sunday mornings, rain or shine; what gets my wheelchaired friend literally off his seat.

The support football is getting comes from the inside. And those from the outside who also support football know that inside is a world of wonder.

Try to wrap your head around that and then, you'll understand why athletes of other sports need to beg for support.

Anonymous said...

In response to the comments of Unknown, football has been "earning" its support. And the attention the game has received is long overdue. Also, it is the most popular sport in the world, and the attention is deserving. If you do well in football, you have the eyes and ears of the world ... As for baseball and softball, it is sad that they had to beg for funding. But let's face it. In Southeast Asia, the most popular team sport is football, and this is the game that most countries in this region funnel their time and efforts towards. Baseball and softball do not have anywhere near the global appeal that football does. It's nice they won gold, but the other countries they beat in SEAG, I can guarantee you, don't even play these two sports, or much less care for them. It's like the so-called Philippines supremacy in basketball. We can say that we are superior ... but it's only because no one else in Southeast Asia really plays because they are all practically football countries. We are expected to win gold in basketball in SEAG ... because no one else really cares.

Anonymous said...

Dont waste your time worrying about negative comments, specially from the ones online. Alot of people are clueless as to what you do. Most people who have an idea will understand that things like this take time. And Mr Palami is doing a great job. Thank you for this.

Mike said...

Before 2010, Philippine football--like most of the national teams today--didn't have to beg for support because they knew even if they'd beg they'd get nothing. That's why we had no U23 team in Seag 01, 03, 07 and 09. It was only because of the 2010 Suzuki Cup breakthrough, one that captured the imagination of a nation, that football started getting its support.

Now, why has softball and baseball, despite the success of the Blu Boys--failed to do gain support? The Blu boys are one of the most successful national tames, having spread baseball in Asia, and I think our softball team even played in the World Championships two years ago.

As to the lack of funding in the SEA Games, the blame lies squarely in the baseball NSA, since its infighting led to the team not getting any funds.

I guess it is natural that there is some resentment towards football, because of the support it is getting now, just as football fans had some resentment over basketball, pre-2010, but please the funds of the football team came from the PFF, and Palami, not from the PSC.

If the overseas stints et. al, were shouldered by the PSC, then you are justified in your assessment.

sebi18 said...

We hope you get everything on you list too, Sir Dan. Happy holidays. Mabuhay ka at mabuhay ang Azkals!

Azkaholic Anonymous said...

Imagine if Mr P played baseball in his younger years:-)

I see Mr P as a revolutionary and a businessman. In what order, it all depends on how one looks at it. When he took the shattered football team and put em on his back with the greatest of all intentions doing most of us lesserfolks would not be able to do, he took on the role of a Philippine football revolutionary warrior. The business part of of him, maybe they'd just fall into place as they've begun recently. But all in all, Mr P is a genius. One of a kind. I am thankful to him for giving our football the breath of life that it had longed for.

But I will critisize him still if that situation calls for it. Hit him up on "bad calls" like the ones like Weiss'. He knows this. But nothing personal over all, just football.

Missus FairPlay said...

We are, and will always be supporting PHL Azkals & PHL football. Mabuhay ka, Sir Dan.

A great morning read.
Reading your humbling article gave me goose bumps. No caffeine from any brewed coffee can equal how thick & pure your passion is for Philippine football.

And yes, come 2013 SEAG, we’ll definitely bring it on. Not the lynch mob though, but a huge Philippine flag beckoning our victorious finish. We are full of hope, we will always BELIEVE.