Dan Palami and the Azkals

In Philippine football, a national team manager is unlike the national team manager of other countries. Although the role has evolved over the years, in our country, the national team manager is basically the reason we have a national team or the reason that our national team gets to compete.

END OF AN ERA. The author (center) with Dan Palami and then CFA board member Joey Herrera during one of his visit to Cebu. The long-time Azkals manager who oversaw an unprecedented growth of men’s football has stepped down from his role.

Back in 2009, four years after setting a few historic firsts in the Southeast Asian Games and five years after that historic 2004 Tiger Cup campaign, our senior team was back in the doldrums, back to square one it seemed. It was at that time that I had given up hope for Philippine football because of political infighting in the Philippine Football Federation (PFF).

That was the time when then PFF president Mari Martinez, two years into his term and after promising to resign in six months if he couldn’t make football the second-most popular sport in the country, survived an attempt to unseat him. But two interesting things happened in his term — the appointment of Dan Palami as senior team manager and Des Bulpin as head coach.

Not much was written about that time, but the feedback I got from football insiders was that the two were transforming the senior team. Bulpin left abruptly months later and I thought, here we go again.

That was in 2010. Then the Hanoi Miracle happened.

I remember that game like it was yesterday. Early in the match, I remember thinking too that the photographers had picked their winner. You see in international matches, photogs can’t go from one goal to the other, they pick one and stick to it and most of them chose to take photos at the Philippine goal, thinking they’d be able to take shots of all the goal celebrations by Vietnam in that goal.

Oh, how wrong they were.

That game introduced most of the fans to Dan Palami too as he ran to the camera, screaming “Let’s go Pilipinas,” after Phil Younghusband’s second goal.

The team left for the Suzuki Cup as nobodies and went home with almost everyone knowing them as the Azkals.

Football was suddenly mainstream and we have Sir Dan to thank for that.

Over the years, of course, we have seen Philippine football’s ups and downs, and at times, Sir Dan was painted as the villain. Every mistake, poor showing, or questionable coaching hires, Dan got the blame.

Anyone made of weaker stuff would have left. I think between 2018 and 2023, getting involved with the men’s national team wasn’t worth the effort.

But Sir Dan stuck around. When everyone, even guys like me, lost faith, he stayed. He kept the faith. He continued to believe.

This team, he believed.

It’s difficult to sum up what Sir Dan’s achievement in Philippine football is — first semis appearance in the Asean Championships, first Asian Cup stint, or the fact that every fan seems to believe that anything is possible.

It’s been 15 years that he has been in charge, and I think Dan Palami’s biggest achievement is that we all got to believe. We may disagree on some of his decisions, but those disagreements always stem from the fact that we believe we can do better.

Dan Palami made us believe and for that, the Philippines is forever thankful for his service and sacrifice.

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