The Philippines National Team (the Azkals) closed out the group stage portion of the AFF Suzuki Cup with a disappointing goalless draw against Myanmar, but still managed to make the semifinals. In qualifying, the Azkals have momentarily captured the attention of their countrymen -- something driven home for me by the fact that my cousins back in Mindanao have taken to rating which of the team members is most aesthetically pleasing. The Azkals are coached by a 33-year old Brit named Simon McMenemy and feature a remarkable aggregation of Filipinos from around the world.
But, inevitably, more attention means a spotlight on the things that leave most pinoy shaking their heads.
Two-legged semifinal against Indonesia with both legs to be played in Jakarta? All because the ex-president of the Philippine Football Association informed the ASEAN Football Federation that the Philippines lacked grounds meeting the AFF's requirements and that the team had no objection to an away-away format should the team reach the semifinals?
Wait, the ex-President? Yes, Jose Mari Martinez, who was removed from his post on November 27th (by affirmative vote of 26 of 33 provincial associations), for financial mismanagement -- including an alleged loss of 2.8 million pesos, or 20% of the PFF's operating budget.
Why would an ex-President have any bearing on what happens with the Azkals? As Joaquin Henson reports, FIFA has not recognized Martinez's removal because the vote to remove Martinez "was not properly endorsed in the agenda" of the meeting wherein the action was taken. As a result, Martinez gets to keep speaking for the Philippines, even when the organization he ostensibly represents has clearly articulated a desire to remove him. Simples.
So, that's embarrassing. And while it is not Australia getting one vote to host the World Cup, the loss of a home tie is a huge missed opportunity for the development of soccer in the Philippines.
But wait, there's more: Henson's report includes Martinez ludicrously declaring that the Azkals would be even better if they were under his command. Criticizing the hiring of McMenemy by Azkals' manager Dan Palami, Martinez is quoted as saying:
“That guy applied to Palami and he was taken in without consulting me,” said Martinez. “He came in to take over a team that [former gaffer Desmond] Bulpin formed. I’m now negotiating to recruit a Brazilian coach Rick Figuerido who has about 12 years of World Cup experience with Brazil, Mexico and Jamaica. I can form another national team that’s better than what we’ve got now with guys they dropped. Chad Gould and Roxy Dorlas will be on that team. But I’d rather not elaborate on all of that. Right now, I’d prefer the national team to just focus on the Suzuki Cup and let’s see how far they go.”
To his credit, by citing his preference to Chad Gould, Martinez has not descended to the idiocy of detracting from the Azkals' achievements by arguing that the team is illegitimate because it is not drawn exclusively from the islands.
Instead, Martinez is making the equally spurious, though far less provocative claim that under his unrecognized genius, the Philippines would be a much better team. Why? Because they would hire a Brazilian coach. Brazil > England. Again, simples.
While pinoy may revile the mayabang, Martinez's claims are not arrogance, they are the lunatic ravings of a delusional moron. The Azkals just made the semifinals of the AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time. Under a coach who is younger than me, a motley crew of footballers from all corners of the globe humbled Vietnam and Singapore and will now go toe to toe with Indonesia. And the former head of the PFF is suggesting that the gaffer be fired and his team reformed?
Mike Limpag suggests that the real reason why both games are in Jakarta is that the Federation may be short of the cash needed to host a home leg. If that is true, it makes all of this even more absurd.
In the end, this story may be all too familiar to Filipinos: a chance at greatness frittered away by the ego of a small man and want of a few coins.
Now I remember the answer to the question of why there aren't better stories coming out of the Philippines.