07 April 2017

A Disastrous NCAA and the Youth Tournament


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That was as good as it got for us. We failed to even make the semi-finals, and for a seven-time defending champion, the season was a total disaster. Mapua, the eventual champion, had a core of Thai and Iranian players carried over from the previous season, when they were narrowly beaten by DLSU in the final. In contrast, we were practically a patch up job made up of many new players who barely knew each other. Moreover, we even had players who did not join our regular training because they already trained with their respective semi-professional clubs. It was not so much that as players, at least individually, we weren’t any good. But we were an abject failure as a team, if at all you could call us that.

It’s hard to be overly critical of Dima without sounding unfair, since his credentials as player and subsequent record as coach was second to none. However, tactical discussions were, at best, rather limited. Neither did we practice any playing patterns. Basically, his role as coach was to name the starting eleven and make the substitutions.

I think his assumption was that, since we were already college players, we all knew what to do. If he had a team of players whom he brought up together, well yes, perhaps minimal coaching would have sufficed. On the other hand, we were diverse players coming from different football-playing backgrounds. Each of us had our own concepts about how the game ought to be played. As coach, he could have unified all these concepts into one cohesive plan. I, for one, would have welcomed – not to mention benefited from – comprehensive coaching.

Sometimes, I wouldn’t even understand the instructions that he would shout at me. For instance, he kept shouting, “Cut the arch! Cut the arch!” It took me a while to figure out that all he wanted me to do was to make a curving run. How was I to know? It was jargon that all who trained under him at La Salle Greenhills probably understood. But I was the farm boy from Lipa. Again, how was I to know?

Although we exited from the NCAA tournament early, I was playing almost till the end of the semester because of a youth tournament organized by the Philippine Football Association to select young players for a youth national team. Dima formed a team that was sponsored by Gencars and would carry that company’s name. Half of the team was from DLSU while the other half came from La Salle Greenhills.

We did significantly better in this youth tournament than we did in the NCAA, but this was another tournament when I felt I could have benefited from better coaching. Although I started most matches on the right wing as I did in the NCAA, Dima substituted me in most of the matches without letting me know what I was not doing right. In fact, most of the time, I would leave the field disappointed because I felt that I was actually playing well.

This difficult tournament was potentially damaging to my confidence as a player. It was fortunate that I had a sounding board in my Malaysian friend and teammate Razlan Zaba. It was to him that I would often open up about how confused I was about being frequently substituted. He was older than I was and was on his second year with the team. I suppose, being a rookie, I looked up to him; and it was his encouragement that convinced me that I should just continue working hard.

Although I was eligible to play in this youth tournament, I was too old to have been selected for the youth national team that was being formed to train under the expert eye of the German consultant hired by the Football Association. His name was Bernd Zgoll, and he would work closely with the association well into the eighties when I myself was already a coach.

Of my teammates, only Paul Zuluaga was selected for this youth national team. Paul was actually still a senior high school student at La Salle Greenhills, but Dima had opted to promote him to the DLSU team for the NCAA. He was not what you could call a gifted ballplayer, but he was a horse and could run all day long. He also had a great understanding of the game and, despite his age, possessed a cool disposition. It was always a pleasure to have him as a teammate.

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