Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Under 22 team's burden

“WHAT we really need," the coach said. "Is development for players 14 up, because at 14 or younger, our best players are just about the same level with the rest of Asia."

This was a conversation I had with a coach, while talking about yet another game where our U19--or was it the U16?--got hammered from pillar to post in an international tournament.

The Azkals may have taken new strides in the international scene, but the thing is, two years is too short a time to overhaul a football system that is a mish-mash of programs that never really took off. 

The most promising one we had, the Center for Football Excellence was launched in 2005, which was when I had that conversation with the coach.  And do you know what its target was?  The Southeast Asian Games gold medal in 2015.

Yep, it was a 10-year program, designed to take the then best 12, 13-year-olds in the country, give them the best training possible regularly, because that's what the other countries were then--and are still--doing.

And this is what the PFF is starting to do now, with the Little Azkals. And yes, though there were some hiccups, this program started about two years before a certain group of players raised football awareness in the country in the Suzuki Cup.

So where are we now with this team?  The Little Azkals are making a few strides, finishing at third place in a tournament in Japan.

And, along with the relative anonymity of the team's accomplishment, is the slew of hate and insults against the U22, which got routed by Myanmar and Malaysia recently in the AFC U22 qualifiers. 

The Philippines may beat Myanmar and draw Malaysia in the senior competition, but the thing is, we have a weird setup.  Unlike other countries, our national team doesn't reflect the strength of our football development, which, again makes what the senior team has done, all the remarkable.

Our grassroots programs are but a couple of years old and our U22 team, sadly, is a reflection of those years when we had none and now, the boys are reaping the burden of those barren years. Curiously—or is it ironically—some, if not most of the locals in the U22 squad would have been the beneficiaries of that CFE program as it was designed for the local boys.  The problems of Philippine football in 2005, is catching up with them.

The success of the Azkals, too, is becoming a burden for the U22, U21 and U23 teams.  Just because the senior guys are doing well, they are expected to, do as well, too.

Men wilt under such pressure and the U22 guys are facing them, head on.

There are a lot of questions to be asked, hard questions.

But I hope those who do want to ask them, can wait.  What is a couple of weeks?  Blind loyalty? No, it is just my way of honoring these young boys--and coaching staff--who've worked their butts off for the past three months for the country.

As for those who're saying we stop sending these teams in competitions that they'll be massacred, well, these were the same suggestions, too, back in 2000, when in a U19 match in Singapore, the other teams scored double digit goals against us, regularly.

It's almost enough to get disillusioned with the sport, right? But I'm glad they didn't, because some of them are now regular UFL Division 1 starters, including the goalkeeper, who’s starting for Loyola.

The road to success in the U21, U22 and even U23 is hard. Harder even than what the senior team faces and we are just in the early stages of a very long and hard journey.

Color me blind, but I'm sticking with the team, the way I had when being a fan meant dealing with disillusion in every tournament.

You never know what will happen.

1 comment:

Wiking said...

Thanks again for the deeper insights Mike. Always count on you to bring more to the table. As they say, "keep on, keepin' on!"