24 September 2012

Leaving Out the Younghusbands: Pros and Cons

Having coached football teams for all of three decades, I understand perfectly where the Philippine Football Federation is coming from when it put its foot down on the matter of player commitment vis-à-vis the preparations leading to the Suzuki Cup. The team has to come first; and no player can be greater than the team.

On the other hand, when you go to battle, do you leave behind your big guns? This food for thought stems from an official statement released by the PFF with which it emphasized its desire to do well in the 2012 Suzuki Cup. In that case, then all the more you bring your big guns along.

The main talking point relative to this is, of course, the dropping of the Younghusband brothers James and Phil from the Peace Cup squad which is due to commence this week. A PFF spokesperson, speaking during a press conference this morning, hinted that the issue at hand was partly economic and partly non-economic – probably the inability of the brothers to make themselves available for team sessions.

In fairness, everything has been refreshingly polite and civilised; quite the opposite, in fact, of how we Filipinos rather tend to handle things like this. In the interests of the country, though, we need more than politeness and civility. We need for all concerned parties to sit down and TALK.
The matter of allowances is something that the brothers have gone on record to say that they are open about. While they do not deny having asked for higher allowances, they stated during a televised interview that they had told the PFF that they are fine with the old rate.

This is touchy because the matter of Filipino pride when suiting up in the all-blue of the national team comes into focus. Indeed, some have pointed out that the honour of representing the country is something that one cannot put a price on.

I am torn about this issue, which is in no way unique – players have been known to hold their associations to ransom sometimes even during World Cups.

On the one hand, enough has been said about player power; and that the matter of money has even been raised leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth.

On the other hand, players like everyone else have economic needs; and their careers are relatively short compared to most. At the end of the day, the question that has to be raised is do they receive what is fair to them based on the value that they bring to the team’s – for lack of a better word – profitability.

Frankly, I am in no position to answer this; and if the Younghusbands say that they are fine with the old rate, then the matter even becomes moot. That said, this is the perfect opportunity to point out that the relationship between players and management – as it is in any other organisation – is what my high school Biology teacher used to call symbiotic.

One side just cannot exist without the other. Thus, in a perfect world, both sides should benefit from each other.

I am torn about the matter of scheduling as well. If the brothers cannot meet the required levels of fitness, then by all means leave them out. After all, others will have to pull more weight if neither brother pulls the weight expected of them.

On the other hand, if the brothers can maintain a reasonable amount of fitness, won’t it be comforting to have both at least sitting on the bench ready to join the fray at a moment’s notice? Since both have been regulars for years, then Weiss’ tactical preferences should not be alien to either.

That is how the Europe-based players blend in seamlessly with the rest of the team whenever they cross the Continental Divide. None of them are schoolboys, after all; and arguments that the conditions are not the same for those based locally and those based in Europe just won’t hold water.

Note that leaving the Younghusbands out may not necessarily be a bad thing. The heroes of the 2010 Suzuki Cup were largely unknown prior to the shock win over Vietnam. Since crystal balls happen only in fantasies, nobody really knows how far a Younghusband-less team will go.

For all we know, there may be new heroes just waiting to be liberated from within the shadows of the brothers.

On the other hand, we are not Brazil or Spain which has thousands of professionals to choose from. The quality that the Younghusbands bring to the national team is unquestionable; and unless there is the same quality to replace them with, then any decision to leave them out may yet turn out to be a classic case shooting your own foot just to prove a point.

In fairness, everything has been refreshingly polite and civilised; quite the opposite, in fact, of how we Filipinos rather tend to handle things like this. In the interests of the country, though, we need more than politeness and civility. We need for all concerned parties to sit down and TALK.

Raise your hand if you do not want the Philippines to play in the Peace Cup with our strongest possible team – so I can strike you on the head with a hammer! We need to win this not only because the tournament is at home and we are the highest ranked team; but also because the display room is not exactly filled with silverware.

On the matter of the Suzuki Cup, perhaps the time has come to stop managing expectations by always being apologetic and fly out to Thailand instead with a bit more swagger. What for had we been playing against our Southeast Asian neighbours lately if not to discover if we can stand up to them? Is it just me; or is the answer to this question really yes because have we become significantly stronger than the 2010 team?

Intelligent fans will support the national team with or without the Younghusbands. It is the Philippines, after all, which will be playing. But how much more comforting will it be for the armada to set sail knowing that all the big guns are on board and loaded?

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