BY BONG PEDRALVEZ
SLOWLY but surely, changes in the national men’s football team are taking place.
In the Azkals’ recent workout at the Rizal Memorial pitch, German coach Michael Weiss, within everybody’s hearing, asked: "Tell me, who is the player not playing his normal position?"
Out on the pitch, one player was obviously out of his usual spot: regular midfielder James Younghusband, 25, was playing defense at right fullback, a position long held by fellow Fil-Brit Rob Gier.
"James seems to be right for the spot. He has speed, good field vision and is also strong," said Weiss of his decision to test the older of the Younghusband brothers at the backline.
Football chief Mariano Araneta Jr., who once played for the national side, was one of those who suggested to the German mentor to try a different set-up after noting the slow reaction of the Azkals’ defense during their two-match Asian World Cup qualifying series against Kuwait.
"The defense was a step slower to respond to Kuwait’s counterattack so I suggested to coach Michael if we could make some changes in the back row," Araneta said.
At 30, Gier could barely keep pace with the relentless Kuwaiti attackers, Araneta observed.
That explains why on that slightly overcast afternoon, James, who has played midfield most of his career, found himself in an unfamiliar spot, aligned with team captain Aly Borromeo in anchoring the defense.
Watching from the sidelines, a small smile appeared on the usually serious German drillmaster’s face as he watched Younghusband perform on the field, apparently pleased with the tinkering he had done.
Like a good soldier, the lanky Azkal resolutely played his role without complaint, although after the workout James said he preferred his old midfield position.