This appears in the Monday June 24, 2013 edition of the Business Mirror.
The motivations behind a record-setting UFL season
The motivations behind a record-setting UFL season
by rick olivares
A week ago, Stallion Football Club joined the 2009-10 Philippine Air Force squad in rarefied air when they achieved only the second United Football League double (winning the cup and the league in one season).
Head coach Ernie Nierras is satisfied but he is not resting on his club’s laurels. He’s already found his motivation for what’s next for him and Stallion – an invitation to a club tournament in Qatar.
If one knows the 48-year old Nierras, he is always in constant searches for challenges. He laughs at the assertion, “Motivation? I’ve had a lifetime of proving doubters wrong.”
Motivation point #1: Nierras’ father once told Ernie to not waste time with football.
Nierras loved football as a kid. Even when he was done with school, he kept playing the sport prompting his father to tell him one too many times to spend his time and energy to something more worthwhile. “I cannot blame him,” says Nierras junior. “Football for the longest time wasn’t even a spectator sport.
But it turned out well for junior – first, as a manager for the women’s national team, and then later as its coach. A few days ago, the Malditas, as the national team is known by (the name was concocted by Nierras) climbed seven notches to 76th in the FIFA world rankings, just one notch behind its all-time high of 75th spot that was achieved in 2009.
The jump places the Malditas as the fourth-best team in Southeast Asia and number 16 overall is Asia. “Not bad for a team that hardly gets any press,” exclaims Nierras who couldn’t resist the dig.
Unknown to most people, Nierras is also the first to annotate the Azkals’ televised matches (over Solar Sports) as he covered the 2006 and 2008 campaigns with national players Darren Hartmann and later Eddie Mallari as analysts.
Although he is no longer in the broadcaster’s booth, Nierras, now as a champion head coach of Stallion, doesn’t rub his success in his father’s face with a bunch of I told you so’s”.
“My father is aware of what is going on because he sees and reads about us in media. And there is no better feeling than having your dad, your parents, behind your back.”
Motivation point #2 Prior to the start of the 2012 UFL season, the television carrier of the United Football League ran a plug featuring the football national players in their respective club kits. Nierras raised a fuss about the plug that was clearly missing players from Stallion, Army, Nomads, and Navy.
After winning the cup, Nierras reiterated this as the team’s motivation as he waved a newspaper print ad version of the plug.
“I think our victories as well as Ceres’ win in the Smart Club National Championships shows that there is more to local football than the national team,” points out the outspoken coach. “This says that there is room for everyone when it comes to recognition.”
The two championships are very satisfying coming from a small club that traces its humble beginnings from Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo. “We may not be wholly Illongo now but I always make it a point to go back to our roots. It keeps us grounded. It’s an incredible achievement for such a short span of time,” reflects the coach who has Waray origins.
Motivation #3 After winning the 2012 UFL Cup, Stallion lost 11 players to Air Force, Pachanga, and Green Archers United. After the team’s seeming decimation, some quarters (myself included) thought that they would have a difficult time winning the league. Stallion won in record-setting fashion. With a 15-1-2 record, they accrued 46 points; four more than Global’s 42 points from their 2012 league championship.
Previously, Stallion’s make up was half homegrown with the other half being the Iloilo-based Koreans and a sprinkling of Spaniards. Following the cup win and with the departure of some familiar faces for other pastures, Stallion looked more foreign earning some disapproval from local football fans. The coach read all the criticism, sucked up some of them, and waited for the opportune time to make a riposte.
Explains Nierras, “Losing them (the 11 players) was not by choice but us losing them because clubs were giving them the opportunity to start which is something we couldn’t give. We also had to adjust with the sponsors. Sta. Lucia came in and they had some players signed to contracts. The March window was very productive for us – Matthias Bonvehi, Diego Barrera, Mat Nierras, Nathan Alquiros, Guilherme Hasegawa, Shirmar Felongco, and Jovin Bedic – joined us. And when you look at the final standings – 18 players from our team scored. What other team has that many players helping in the scoring?”
“As for the composition of our team, it represents what is happening throughout the world. I do not agree with limiting the number of foreign players. We are not ready and we are not stable enough. The foreigners contribute the popularity of football. If we scale back gradually it will be beneficial. You can see UAAP players beginning to make an impact locally. They are competitive. And that is an indication of their quality.”
Any more challenges worth pursuing aside from the Qatar invitational?
With the success of Stallion, it is entirely possible, he will lose a few more players to some of the richer clubs. “It’s okay. We anticipate all of this.” Without revealing who could be moving elsewhere and who could not be moving back (striker Rufo is on loan to Global for the quarterfinals of the Singapore Cup), Nierras is quick to resort to Plan B. “We’ve already looked into who could be making up the rest of the roster. We anticipated this.”
“Besides, we’ve already had practice with this.”