of football players, football writers and missing the point: the stephan schröck controversy

Pasay City – Sometime in 2012, the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) was finalizing the launch of its nationwide grassroots program called Kasibulan. One of the main proponents of that initiative was Coach Aris Caslib who was then and continues to be the PFF’s Technical Director. We were having a discussion on the framing of this program in the context of the development of football in the Philippines. We were talking about performance indicators that we would need to be able to judge the sucess (or failure) of the PFF’s various player development programs. We were thinking big and we discussed being able to qualify for the World Cup in 20 years or so as a goal. One of the indicators of program success that he said and that has stuck to me was that – “we have to reach a point where we dominate football in Southeast Asia” or words to that effect.

Four years in, we are still not where we could say we are dominating Southeast Asian football. Thailand still holds that distinction. Having said that, we have certainly become more competitive having reached the semifinals of all the Suzuki Cup competitions – the unofficial Southeast Asian championship – since that conversation with Coach Aris took place.

It is also worth noting that domestically-based players are gradually starting to become more competitive in fighting for slots in the Men’s National Team. Our youth teams are also becoming more competitive – an indicator of some success at the grassroots level. Yet, we are far from where we want to be.

One of the more informed and astute football writers/analysts that we have, Ryan Fenix, came out last week with an article on interaksyon.com (http://www.interaksyon.com/interaktv/rampaging-fullback-azkals-beat-odds-to-take-down-north-korea-give-nice-ending-to-world-cup-qualifying-campaign) that has caused more than a minor stir in the football community. With the article titled, “After strong North Korea performance, where does it leave Schrock and the Azkals?”, it was bound to cause some controversy.

The title aside, Ryan’s piece if properly read asks some good and insightful questions. The big question that has raised all the fuss is whether the Azkals play better without Schrock. It is a question raised by an astute observer of the game and not a malicious shot meant to create discord.

Stephan Schrock is the best all around player we have. If you look at the best lineup that the Azkals can trot out, Schrocky is probably head and shoulders, talent-wise, above our fourth or fifth best player. This being the case, it is unavoidable that there will be times when players get caught ball-watching rather than moving into space where Schrocky can find them. This is not a unique phenomenon. The Michael Jordan Bulls had many moments like this. When one player is recognized by far as the best on a team, he needs the other players to become even more effective thus making the team that more devastating.

This phenomenon is not Schrocky’s fault nor anyone elses at this point. It is a challenge for the coaching staff to make the adjustments to take advantage of the individual talents on the team. We have a depth of talent, other than with central defenders, that we have not had before. It is therefore not unfair for Ryan to ask a question (probably rhetorical) which when taken in the proper context does not question whether Schrocky deserves to be on the team. Of course, the Azkals are better with Schrock. The point is that we need to be conscious of finding ways to maximize his prodigious skill combining it with the talent that he is now surrounded by.

The future of the Azkals remains bright. Other than the holes we need to fill in central defense, we are stocked elsewhere with the next generation getting some experience now.

Kudos to Ryan for asking questions that should be asked. That is what we need so as not to be complacent.

I do hope that Thomas Dooley is retained up until the next World Cup cycle. He has the Azkals playing beautiful football. He has not been afraid to experiment and more important, he has not been afraid to throw the young players out there. While befuddling (and maybe maddening) to some, this is necessary to help our team grow and find out how we can be successful in matches that count.

2012-03-24 Kasibulan GDO Workshop 054We have a long way to go. There will be bumps along the way. Having said that, the seeds for long-term success are there and some of them are starting to bear fruit. I just hope the PFF continues to build and maintain focus on the grassroots program. More than the National Team program, it is what happens in the often forlorn pitches in Iligan, San Carlos City, Davao, Barotac Nuevo, Tacloban, Los Banos and countless others that will determine whether we will dominate Southeast Asia on our road to the World Cup and sustain such dominance.

Keep on writing Ryan!

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