At the peak of its popularity, with so many players of Filipino descent reaching out for the national team, expressing their interest to play, the management had its target for one particular player–Stephen Schrock of then Greuther Furth, which just earned promotion in the Bundesliga.
“You should see this one Mike,” Dan Palami told me then. “He’s so good he’s a game-changer.”
It was some five months after Hanoi and the Azkals were the toast of the town. And in September, 2011 against Kuwait in the second leg of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, Schrocky introduced himself to home fans with a wicked shot from outside the box that sent a packed Rizal Memorial Stadium to its feet.
It wasn’t enough to overturn the first leg deficit, but it was enough to send the Azkals fans dreaming, with a player of this quality on board in a team that already had Neil Etheridge and Phil Younghusband, surely the AFF Suzuki Cup title will be ours in our lifetime. That he was clearly a cut about the rest of Southeast Asia was made obvious when, in one sequence against a Cambodian player, he made his defender look like a kid, toying with him as he ran circles around a defense that could have understood German faster than they could stop Schrock.
Unfortunately, despite the initial euphoria of 2010, we never got past the semifinal hump in the Suzuki Cup. Etheridge, due to club commitments, never got to suit up in the tournament again.
Schrocky’s stint was far from a fairy tale story too. There were times he relied on individual brilliance instead of team play and there was that acrimonious split during coach Thomas Dooley’s first stint with the national team.
That left a sour taste in some fans, unused to seeing drama played out in the national football team. Eventually, as the years went on, Schrock’s attitude and the fans’ treatment of him changed.
From a guy deemed a selfish a few years earlier, he became a statesman for the sport, serving as role model for the younger players in the Southeast Asian Games.
Officially, he was Mr. Football from the Philippine Sports Association but the more important title was simply “El Kapitan,” bestowed by fans who, a few years earlier, couldn’t care less who’d wear the captain’s armband.
Not many know what I have to sacrifice, how many million euro contracts I jeopardize to come off the national team, how many moments I missed out with my family.Stephen Schrock on retirement
Ironically, the Azkals last game against Cambodia in this year’s AFF Mitsubishi Cup, made fans think that it’s time for The Captain to call it a career, a move he announced on Jan. 1, 2023, during the pre-match press conference for the Philippines home game against Indonesia on Jan. 2.
“In football, nothing is for sure but 99 percent this would be my last game for the national team…I think it’s about time to step down and to enjoy the last 90 minutes of my Azkals career,” he said.
It’s going to be his last game, as a player, as I hope that someday Schrocky will return to the national team as a coach. His experience, as a young gun who could change a game on a turn, as the elder statesman, or even (or especially) that time when the coach viewed him as a difficult player will be a big help in taking charge of the senior team.
Good luck El Capitan. Thanks for your service and see you in the national team, soon.