The Dooley report: What the Azkals lack

(This is my Fair Play column for Sun.Star Cebu’s Dec. 21 issue)

WE all know what happened to the Azkals in the Suzuki Cup, getting kicked out the very first time we hosted the group stage. We all know, or rather, we all think we know what happened wrong, that coach Thomas Dooley misplayed his cards, wasting our best offensive threat ever in Phil Younghusband in midfield in three games. Keeping him in that position in the final half in that must-win match against Thailand.

Interestingly, there’s another aspect to the Azkals that fans, and I think even the media, don’t know. The PFF had its Congress the other day and Coach Dooley had a short presentation, and boy, how revealing it was.

According to a little bird who managed to be there during the presentation and gave me juicy tidbits, the Azkals pretty much failed their fitness tests. I don’t think Dooley is trying to pass the buck on the players, and I’m not writing this to create a gap between the coach and the players. This is just to expose a problem and hope a solution can be found.

During Dooley’s report to the PFF, my source said that he had a company conduct a fitness test on the players and the finding was that the team’s fitness level was comparable to 12-year-olds in Italy. Yep, the best in our country is just as good as the teens in Italy, fitness-wise.

Before the whole Azkals phenomenon exploded, it used to be that the national team gathered for a month for a training camp, sometimes two. There were periods that were as short as two weeks and those ended in disasters, but after Hanoi 2010, with the UFL and players coming from all over the world and all, we’d be lucky to have a week-long camp prior to a tournament.

And in the couple of times I witnessed a training camp in Manila back in 2011, I noticed a few players were late. I thought then, if this was a youth camp in Cebu, not only would those tardy players get extra laps, they’d probably be benched for the next game. That time, not only did the tardy players go unpunished, they got a film crew. In his report, Dooley lamented the same thing, players getting late to practice.

What’s the significance? It’s the freakin’ national team as I told a colleague during the newsroom’s Christmas party. You should be at your best every time.
Ihatag na sa mga gutom,” NSV concurred, raising a cold one.

Give a chance to those who have something to prove, which is probably why we got that untested UAAP center back getting a start in the Suzuki Cup.

We’ve all seen it, right? In a training camp with veterans and rookies, who exerts more effort? The guys who’ve been there and done that or the new guys?

Again, this is not to put the veterans of the team in a bad light because we could all see how they give 110 percent effort in the games, but this is a report from the coach who sees them in their practices, something 99 percent of us don’t get to see.

I jokingly asked my source if Dooley was defending himself in front of the BOG on why he played Phil Younghusband–our best striker–in midfield, but I realized that Dooley’s report exposes more problems in the team than a mis-placed striker.

Now that coach Dooley has presented this problem, I hope he has a solution. I hope when the next congress happens, he won’t be singing the same song because if that happens, that may look like he’s just a coach who is just presenting excuses.

As to the players getting late in practices, hmm, a suggestion? Post the call times and the time the players show up for the Azkals training camp and for the members of the Philippine national Under 14 team.

Let the fans see who take their spots more seriously.

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