MANILA, Philippines - Azkals coach Michael Weiss leaves today for a holiday break in Germany but it won’t be a real vacation as the football tactician plans to travel to different countries to secure releases for several Fil-foreign standouts from their European clubs to play at the AFC Challenge Cup in Nepal this March.
The Philippines has been drawn to play North Korea, India and Tajikistan in Group B in the Challenge Cup. Group A is made up of Nepal, Turkmenistan, Maldives and Palestine. The top two teams in each group after the eliminations will move on to the crossover semifinals on March 16 with the winners disputing the title on March 19. The Philippines will play North Korea on March 9, India on March 11 and Tajikistan on March 13. Unfortunately, the dates are not sanctioned by FIFA for international matches, meaning mother clubs may hold players from joining their national teams.
Weiss, 46, said during the holidays, he’ll fly to Dubai to arrange a training camp for the Azkals in February and meet with coaches of European clubs which employ Fil-foreigners like Dennis Cagara and Jerry Lucena in Denmark, Stephan Schrock and Roland Muller in Germany, Paul Mulders in Holland and Neil Etheridge in England.
“I will visit the coaches to explain the importance of the Challenge Cup to the Philippines,” said Weiss. “As much as possible, we’d like to play a complete lineup with our pros from Europe. We intend to open our training camp in Manila in the first week of January and Dan (Palami) is arranging for a friendly on Feb. 29 with a national team, tougher than Nepal. It’s still under negotiation so I’m not at liberty to divulge which teams are being contacted but we’d like to bring in a team with World Cup experience.”
Weiss said the Philippine football program is on the right track with renewed interest in the game among local fans. “It’s like we’ve awakened a sleeping giant,” said Weiss. “But there is still much to be done. We’re still lagging behind the football powers in Southeast Asia. I want to leave behind a legacy for football in the Philippines. This is not just for my personal career. I recently initiated a move for Mr. Eckhard Krautzun to come to the Philippines and evaluate the football situation in the country. Mr. Krautzun is recommending steps to improve the situation and we will seek assistance from the German Olympic Committee and German Football Association to implement these steps.”
Weiss said a key recommendation is to bring over a German technical director to assist in pushing the Philippine football development program to the next level. “There are several candidates for the job,” said Weiss. “Mr. Krautzun and I will recommend the best candidate for approval by the German Olympic Committee and German Football Association. It’s a job similar to what I did in a previous posting in Rwanda. A leading candidate is a 56-year-old German coach who has had a lot of success in Sudan and Egypt in the African Cup. As national coach, I will work closely with the technical director for a period of three to four years. The technical director will focus on developing programs for the youth, women and the grassroots. We will have short, medium and long-term goals. One of our long-term goals is to develop full-blooded Filipinos into national players.”
Weiss said lack of chemistry is a problem that the Azkals face because several Fil-foreign players in European leagues aren’t able to spend too much time practising with the national squad. He said Palami is trying to base more Fil-foreign players in Manila. Fil-Spanish striker Angel Guirado was the first to relocate. A player in the pipeline is Fil-Spanish Carlos de Murga who saw action for the Philippine under-23 team in the recent SEA Games.
“It would’ve been a different story in our recent game against the Los Angeles Galaxy if we were complete with Shrock, Etheridge, Cagara, Lucena and the others,” said Weiss. “I realize it was a fun game but losing 6-1 wasn’t funny. It would’ve been easier to accept a 3-1 loss. Of course, it wasn’t a FIFA international match day so we couldn’t impose on the European clubs to release our Filipino players.”
Weiss said against the Galaxy, the Azkals were competitive only in the first half. “We could’ve played more aggressively in the second half because the Galaxy played an easy game,” he continued. “It’s a problem of mentality. I think some of our players were satisfied with how we played in the first half so they didn’t try as hard in the second. I want to destroy this feeling of complacency. I noticed a lack of effort and I want to change that. I’ve got a few of our players in the radar and I’m watching them closely. It was a great game for the fans but it wasn’t a good performance for us overall.”
Weiss said despite the ups and downs, he is upbeat on the future of Philippine football. “It’s like what the Galaxy coach (Bruce Arena) mentioned,” he said. “Coach Arena likened our situation to the US when he began coaching the national team in the World Cup. There’s a big potential and we just have to work harder to move forward. We’ve made mistakes here and there. Obviously, we must avoid another disaster in the Southeast Asian Games but I see a bright future. We must contend with the time factor. We must have patience, humility and respect for the game. We must stabilize our system which means developing a strong youth foundation. It hurts when I hear negative comments particularly as we’re working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to bring up football in the Philippines.”