Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Friday, August 8, 2014

On the current Philippine Men’s National Team (Azkals) controversy

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On the current Philippine Men’s National Team controversy
by rick olivares

I had known about Stephan Schrock’s feelings about his disenchantment following the loss in the last AFC Challenge Cup finals from several players after they returned home. Schrock wasn’t the only one. There were several. They questioned who was benched, who was given playing time, and so on and so forth.

Players questioning their coach’s decisions and vice versa have been a part of sports forever. And so have spats. This isn’t the first nor will it be the last.

What I am really surprised about is if people are quibbling about playing time and decisions, why didn’t they come out in the open during the previous coach’s tenure? I’d say there was plenty to gripe about and I do know firsthand knowledge about their gripes and some of them are even bigger than any of the current issues being bandied about.

Why? Was it because the previous coach at the expense of others favored them as well? I wouldn’t know. But I do know that at least one player was ready to publicly say that he was no longer going to play for that coach but we all prevailed upon him to keep his emotions in check.

Guess that was one sound play, right?

Was I surprised that it turned out this way – with shots fired in social media and the press?

Yes. Most definitely. And it is wrong.

This should have been handled internally. And with the players firing shots in social media and now the press, it has reached a point of no return.

And it cannot be allowed to fester as rightly or wrongly, it will affect the team. And so, they are cut.

I thought of some famous football snubs and here are some of them.

Let’s start off with the most recent.

Landon Donovan was left off the USMNT’s roster to the Brazil World Cup. To Donovan’s credit, he never publicly criticized the coach after he was left out. He merely expressed disappointment and that was it. Personally, I thought that he had done enough to be on the team but a sabbatical during the qualifiers probably didn’t help at all.

And there’s David Beckham who was cut not once but twice from England but also Real Madrid. And on one occasion from both in one-calendar year! Talk about bad luck. Can you believe that?

In 2006, Beckham’s last year with Real Madrid, he fell out of favor (like he did with Alex Ferguson at Manchester United) with Fabio Capello and soon found himself riding the bench. When it was floated about that the Englishman was headed for the MLS midway through La Liga, Capello publicly said that Beckham’s days with the Spanish club were over.

At the same time, Steve McClaren cut him from England. Yet Beckham never ever said anything. He quietly worked his way back into the rotation and became an integral part of Madrid’s run to the La Liga title of 2006-07.

And he also found his way back to England as well.

Ronaldinho was supposed to star for Brazil in South Africa. Nike even included him in all their pre-World Cup guerilla adverts only for Dunga to infamously leave him off the team. Did he even take shots at Dunga? No.

Essentially it boils down to one issue – people are quibbling about playing time.

And that I find absurd.

No one should ever ask for that.

It’s like many of those high school basketball stars who ask recruiters from colleges about getting minutes as a frosh. Really? Wow.

It’s like asking to fly in from Europe on a business class seat.

It’s like asking for some money before he can play for the national team.

Wait a minute.

Playing for the national team is voluntary. And furthermore, it is an honor.

I can understand getting some monies from the marketing efforts (and it is perhaps only fair) but asking for some? That’s low.

Sometimes, I wonder if we have football players or divas.

I recall Coach Norman Fegidero telling me about some past Azkals (so you know this was of recent vintage) asking (either of the following): a) to leave camp because he has something to do in Manila; and b) if he can receive status like the Fil-foreigners who fly in to Manila before a tournament since technically he was born abroad too but has since made the Philippines his home.

Come on. Let’s show some professionalism here and start lifting the level of football no only on the pitch but off the pitch. We hear of coaches leaving their clubs because players would opt out of practice for a trip out of town with the girlfriend or hightail it off to watch a Pacquiao fight.

And let it be known that there’s this current UFL club that is in search of a coach. And this coach is known to be a stickler for discipline and would brook no shenanigans of any sort. The players – or at least their core – thought that, ‘Nah, let’s get some other guy.”

?????????????????????????? What in the name of Sam Hill is going on???????

It’s absurd really.

And am I too old school to say that playing time is never demanded but earned and that playing time is never guaranteed because of reputation or what was done in the past?

Let’s make this clear.

I believe that Stephan Schrock is one of the finest players called up to the national squad. Ever. The quality was evident from the beginning. In my opinion, he is an impact player and one I totally enjoy watching. He is a game changer.

Dennis Cagara? Always thought he was solid on defense and having him there was like that old banking tagline, “Para kang naka sandal sa pader.” In short, reliable.

Neil Etheridge? Man. I don’t have too many jerseys of the Azkals or local players but I do have an Etheridge Fulham. That tells you how I feel about the dude who has become a favorite of mine since his debut in Iloilo in 2008. At that time, he came in replaced Louie Casas who was the number one keeper for the country.

That debut of Neil was incredible. He was full of confidence. He directed the defense. Solid.

And I said then, now we need to fix the backline. Rob Gier soon came up. Ray Jonsson. And I felt that along with Aly Borromeo and Anton del Rosario, whoo wee. Yes, sir.

Then I said, “Now we get to fix the middle.” Lo and behold, we had the Chief, JYH, and Chris G up there.

Ian Araneta was starting to play very well and I thought would make an excellent strike partner up front with Phil YH.

Then Jason De Jong came up.

I then said, “We’re building quite a team here.”

And then Vietnam in 2010 happened.

But no one stays at that level for too long. Players get injured. The form goes down because of many factors.

Other players get better and soon take the place of the others. It’s normal and but natural.

Soon the Guirado brothers came up. Ditto with Cagara and Jerry Lucena. And soon even more.

Then the mainstays of 2009-10 began to sit. Neil. Anton. Jason. Chief. Chris.

After a while, personally, I thought that Roland Muller was getting better and it seemed inevitable that he was going to be the starter. Furthermore it was imperative that Patrick Deyto needed to get on the national team because he was an outstanding keeper. Privately, I was rooting for Neil to show them that he deserved to keep his spot.

But I do not see everything. The coaching staff and management theoretically do. And whether I agree or disagree with their decisions to start with this eleven, with their substitutes their formation or tactics, what they put on the field I will support. If I disagree, depending on the severity of it, I will write about in a manner I believe right. If they are correct as well, then I will point that out too. 

Now as for the local talent pool -- with many of the overseas players now beginning to play locally – it has expanded. And if you ask me, the talent base has greatly improved. The locals began to get better because of the quality of the training and the competition as well as the exposure and support.

It’s like looking at the PBA.

In the 1990s, we saw a swell of Fil-Ams invade the league that at one point, they threatened the livelihood of the homegrown talents.

But it evened out.

Look at our current national team that played in the last FIBA Asia and will play in a few weeks in Spain? How many are Fil-Ams?

The local pool got better and they learned from the best.

It’s the same with football. Only some people have done a poor job of reading the signs.

The Philippine Football Federation’s Technical Director and former Azkals head coach Aris Caslib along with the folks at the PFF leading up to the current team management have always had a plan to bring up players every other tournament or year. That is normal for every team in this world; national team or club.

It is cyclical. Players move up and after a while moved out.

I recall after one tournament around 2007, I hung out with Casas and national team defender Japeth Sablon after watching a UFL match played at Ateneo. They told me then that they felt the winds of change were blowing. They were unhappy about losing their spots to those based overseas. But they seemed helpless in the face of the tide.

Soon enough, they were gone. They made no bones about their displeasure. They never told me that it was off the record. But I never wrote about it because I understood the changes. I didn’t agree with it but I never spoke against it.

That’s because it was that changing of the guard. It happens sometimes sooner than you expect it. And maybe that is what is happening now.

I feel bad because these players chose this path to vent their thoughts or feelings of frustration because that simply means it is unacceptable. You cannot ask any boss in this world to explain his actions. You’d find yourself out of the door and looking for another job if you’d do that.

I recall this sign in one of the first ad agencies I worked for: Rule Number One: The boss is always right. Rule Number Two: In case the boss is wrong, refer to Rule Number One.”

Does that apply to the national team? Yes.

When Anton Del Rosario was cut from the national team it was for his voicing out his displeasure over certain things. He paid for it and was recently reinstated. And man, was I happy to see the old boy back because he has always been one of my fave players.

As painful as it is to accept, it must be stated clearly that no one is above the team. There are codes of conduct and rules.

Imagine if this was allowed to go on -- Thomas Dooley and whoever follows will be a lame duck coach.

I told Phil Younghusband yesterday (who asked my opinion in this matter) that I see him coaching the national side in the near future. And at some point he will be faced with the same decisions that Aris Caslib, Nonoy Carpio, Nonoy Fegidero, Juan Cutillas, Des Bulpin, Simon McMenemy, Michael Weiss, and Dooley (I only named the coaches who I followed and covered) face each and every time out. Who do you play? Who do you pull out and bring on? Who do you call up? And so on and so forth.

The sad thing is maybe if Schrock and company didn’t go public with this then it would have been resolved.

After all, David Beckham, once sent packing by Alex Ferguson, given up for dead by Fabio Capello, and cut twice by the national team found a way to come back. He wasn’t brought back for his charm or his marketability. He showed that he belonged because he did his talking on the pitch.


Someone asked me if the coach should explain to the players why a player is used or not used. Why he is pulled out or sent in at a certain time. My answer is -- it depends on the situation. It really depends. It's a case to case basis. Maybe now after this Coach Thomas Dooley will be more mindful of this. But again, this shouldn't have happened if it was resolved internally.

In the last World Cup, Louis Van Gaal pulled out Jasper Cillissen for Tim Krul in the penalty shootout against Costa Rica. Van Gaal said that Krul was a better penalty stopper. Cillissen was upset because he  was the starting keeper all the way. That pushed Van Gaal against the wall. So in the game against Argentina, it was Cillissen at goal during the PK shootout. And well, the Netherlands went home. 

I am not really sure where explaining things begins and ends. All I can say it depends on the situation. Should a coach always explain himself? No. Not really. Again it's a case to case basis. Should Coach Dooley explained things better? Maybe. 

One thing is for sure. This is a LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR ALL SIDES.


  1. "No one is above the team."

    Well said, Rick.

  2. Imagine having schrock cagara niel and patino with the rest of the squad in hanoi... our chances would be better

    1. Of course it will be better. But you are not seeing the whole picture here.

    2. i agree they should talk to dooley personally rather than ranting in social media. but this issue gives opportunity to young players.

    3. Yes. There are good chances when you got the best players, but we have better chances putting a good team. If you know what I mean.

  3. After the Agrentina-Netherlands match, Van Gaal said: "If I had the opportunity to substitute Cillessen I would have – but I had used my three subs." (

    1. Agree but he also had this in mind

  4. Great article. Nice standpoint. :)

  5. Well said. I will cheer for Azkals not for single individual. Though I will miss that guys in action, I have much opportunities to experience watching new motivated players. Come on you Azkals!

  6. Great reading, Rick. Even before Dooley addressed the issue, I already believed that the coach has the final say on the team roster. His statements haven't made me think differently. However I think he became quite emotional too. I felt there were things said that in my opinion didn't need to be. Why say that Schrock wasn't the best player in the team? That wasn't relevant. It just brought up more questions: what makes one the best player, does a player need to play several positions to be considered an excellent player, who is the best player? Why mention that Schrock was no longer in the top flight? How many of our players have done that? Only Neil as far as I know. It would be great if all our players can even make it to the 2nd division in Germany. I think it would have been better to explain why he chose his roster without bashing anyone. I felt he stooped down to their level. I still support the team, players and coaches. I just hope things work out because there are no winners here.

  7. nice article, rick.

    i've always believed that there should be no sacred cows in a team such as the azkals so i'm w/ dooley on this one even though cagara is a favorite of mine. i sure hope that after the pain of being cut and when the dull but manageable ache eventually subsides, mengoy will find his way back to the roster of the national team soon enough. after all, a little humble pie won't hurt anyone.

    i believe!

  8. Player morale is at its lowest since the rise of the Azkals in 2010. Tom Dooley played his cards so poorly in the AFC Challenge Cup final. The players knew it. The formation was not optimal for the opponent nor the personnel. Guys were being played out of position (Schrock LW? should be CAM) and the substitutions were downright dissappointing (Schrock was the best playmaker in the first half, making 2 great through balls to Phil, among other things, then he takes him out). The passing instructions were not effective as well (we saw the return of the long passes). You can add the inexplicable gamble on inexperienced players (Jerry Lucena should have played CB not Amani). This was the first and last time the Philippines will reach the Challenge Cup final. The next chance to get a ticket to play in the Asian Cup would be 5 years away. And there will no longer be a Challenge Cup. The head coach flashed his incompetence during this game. It was downright dissappointing to his players who understand the rarity of the opportunity at hand. It was a once in a blue moon opportunity. They had to pass thru the eye of the needle to get to the final and then the one leading them blows it with questionable decisions.

    Then comes the social media fiasco. After calling out the 3 guys for criticizing in public he proceeds and does the same thing to the 3 and criticized them in public. The suppossed coach lambasts his players and shows the team's dirty laundry to the media. Great move. Now what do you think the rest of the team thinks of you. These are the same guys they have been going to battle with for the last 3-4 years. After criticizing their clublessness or tactical inneffectiveness etc., Tom Dooley was lucky no one pointed out that he only has 6 months head coaching experience prior to joining the Azkals. And it was a disastrous stint at a 3rd tier league club in 2002. He was lucky that nobody rubbed it in his face that no team was interested in getting him as head coach for the next 12 years.

    When you have assitant coaches resigning or packing their bags and you have players resorting to social media to air their grievances, there is definitely something wrong. Let's admit it, he has that arrogant air, probably since he had to be a tough player in the past. But that's not going to work as a coach. You have to be part psychologist/motivator to be effective. And you have to be flexible and be open to feedback.

    I would not be surprised if the team has lost some of its confidence in Dooley. Apperently, Dooley just brought us as much backwards as he had moved us forwards, maybe even further back. More of 2 steps forward, 3 steps back, net effect = worse off. And I will never be able to forgive him for playing the Challenge Cup final so poorly as a manager. We missed the train to our first major tournament win and our chance to participate in the biggest tournament of the region.

    You can't play for a coach you can't trust. You can't play for a coach that you don't believe in anymore. When your players lose their faith and confidence in you, that would be the end of it. Good luck to the Azkals, I hope they pull it together somehow.

  9. On the current Philippine Men's National Team (Azkals) controversy ...

  10. anonymous,

    You are spot on , enough said.