The Boss is back
by rick olivares pic by miguel malabanan
It was like 2010 all over again.
The man in the middle is bossing everyone at the back. Standing imperious. Repelling attacks that allowed the wingbacks to race up and join in the repeated attacks on the visiting squad.
Except it is 2016 and the man in the middle, Aly Borromeo, is not playing for country — at least not for the moment -- but the only football club that he has ever known, Kaya.
OJ Porteria scored the match’s only goal off a brilliant cross by Junior Muñoz with seconds to spare to lift Kaya to it’s first ever win in its maiden AFC Cup match in front of a few thousand delirious supporters, but it was Borromeo who was named Man of the Match for his steadfastness in the backline.
If you look at the photo of Aly above, notice the steel-eyed gaze and the clenched jaw. It is a testament to the 32-year old’s iron will and steely determination to return to competitive football and to the sport that he dearly loves.
You see, a little over two years ago, Borromeo, the former captain of the Philippine Men’s Football National Team and Kaya, thought that his career was over.
A pair of injuries to both of his knees left him not only in constant pain but also in doubt if he would every get to play competitive football again. His last match with the national team was that 4-nil drubbing of Nepal in October of 2011. A month later, he injured his knee during the UFL Cup opener against Pachanga.
“I suffered a tear to my ACL and had it repaired then eight months later, I hurt myself again,” related Aly. “Only I didn’t know that I tore my knee up again.”
At the same time as Aly was dealing with his injuries, his mother, Mary Ann, was battling cancer that had spread all over her body.
“It was a very tough time because there were so many issues to deal with,” admitted Borromeo. “I went to Australia to get operated on and to finish my studies. But knowing my mom was ill, I came back a few times. Every time I’d come back, she would get mad at me because she wanted me to take my rehab seriously and get back to playing football. That’s how supportive she was of my career. Only I thought that I was done. I was out for more than two years.”
The sport in the meantime, exploded through the stratosphere. Following the Azkals’ success during the 2010 Suzuki Cup, there was greater awareness and emphasis on football. On a different front, the United Football League (UFL) began to play to bigger crowds. Matches were now being aired regularly on television with reports periodically appearing in hitherto snobbish the print dailies. Borromeo’s Azkals teammates became celebrities while the team began to move up in the FIFA rankings.
“I was happy for all my teammates,” said Aly. “They deserve it — the success, the attention. I felt bad because not because I wanted to be on TV. I felt bad because I wanted to play. That was what we toiled for all these years — to bring glory to the country. When the team hit some rough patches, I wished I was there to help."
When Borromeo did return to Kaya, he found himself on the bench. “I was able to comeback but it was a sobering moment when I didn’t even come off the bench,” thought Aly. “That was the moment when every athlete knows that his number could be up. I gave myself a moment to sulk but I did something about it. I worked harder to get back to top form and fitness.”
The Kaya squad that Borromeo returned went through some changes. His long time teammates Eddie Mallari and Anton Del Rosario departed for another team making him the longest tenured player for Kaya. “The team’s been around for 20 years, man. And I have been a part of Kaya since I was 16 years old. That means I have been with Kaya for 16 years."
The recent UFL Cup victory plus their fine performance in their first stint in the AFC Cup has found Aly back to his old form. “The truth,” he teased. “I told my teammates, ‘you guys keep me young.’ I have to if I want to play.”
And there’s the inevitable question about playing for the national side. A side that has seen the recent retirement of Borromeo’s longtime back four mate, Rob Gier, leaving only goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and forward Phil Younghusband as the only 2010 veterans left.
Borromeo? He sure bossed that backline like no one else.
“Those were great times, man. Robbo (Gier), Ray (Jonsson), Anton (Del Rosario), and myself. Phil and James. Chieffy (Caligdong). Chirs (Greatwich). We were in the middle of something exciting. Something historic. And it’s like we ushered in a Golden Age of Philippine football. That’s a great memory as anything in my life.”
"It would be nice to get a call up,” smiled Borromeo. “Yes, it would. To play alongside Neil and Phil again. And in a Suzuki Cup year no less. But if a call up doesn’t happen, I am perfectly fine playing with Kaya. After all, we’re breaking new ground here. Hopefully, the AFC Cup is just the start of things. There’s the UFL season. So much more to look forward to.”
Borromeo drones on. Passionately. He talks about leading Kaya to new heights.
Yep. The Boss is back all right.