Lately, nothing good has come out of the Philippine men’s national team, which has struggled to stay relevant amidst the success of the women’s team. Called the Azkals because they are supposedly the embodiment of the Filipino fighting spirit and resiliency despite the lack of support from the government and public, they have, in recent times, alienated what small a fanbase the team has kept with secretive and questionable coaching moves.
Last week, two announcements have fans abuzz–the appointment of everyone’s favorite captain Stephan Schrock to the coaching staff and the naming of Rob Gier, everyone’s favorite Azkal, as head coach of the U22 team.
Gier was with the squad pre-Hanoi and was one of those who was very vocal regarding questions about their lineage. One of my favorite Rob Gier moments was when the England-raised footballer threw his body to stop a shot inside the box during the AFF Suzuki semifinal in Singapore. It reminded me of a similar sacrifice by John Terry (or was Frank Lampard) in the World Cup two years prior.
Gier announced his retirement shortly after that match but as early as then, fans were already pining for his appointment as a head coach of the Azkals. I knew he couldn’t jump straight to the job and needed to have some head coaching stint in his resume, so I kept following him on social media.
He became the head coach of the women’s team of Oxford University before getting appointed as the academy manager of Reading FC women’s. Now, he’s back in our country to take charge of our U22 team for the Southeast Asian Games.
Schrock has been handling the U22 squad in the PFL and how well the two will work together I think will define Philippine football in the next decade or so as I think both will play prominent roles in the Azkals team two or three years from now.
Both are perfect role models and can teach the players raised abroad what it means to be an Azkal. Sometimes, fans have this nasty feeling that some players are suiting up for the national team only to earn eligibility as a heritage player in the Asean Leagues.
After the announcement, the Azkals lost to Kuwait in a friendly. I guess good news doesn’t come in threes for this team. Still, I take that as a positive development. We haven’t had friendlies in a while, heck some of the updates we’ve gotten from the national team lately has all been about coaching changes.
Is this a start of a turnaround for the Azkals? I hope so.