EVEN this early, Philippine men’s football team manager Dan Palami can already see how far the Azkals have come under new coach Thomas Dooley.
Barely a month into his appointment as national coach, the former US World Cup captain has already instilled an attractive system that was evident in two recent friendlies against formidable European side Azerbaijan and full-strength Southeast Asian neighbor Malaysia.
Asked to compare the style of play then and now, Palami saw the difference.
“That’s the word: there’s a style of play,” Palami said. “There must’ve been (before), but it was not as discernable as it is right now.”
“It is clearer now,” he added of the fresh style of the Azkals, who sometimes relied on sheer talent and resiliency alone in the past. “This time, it’s not just fighting hard, but also fighting smart.”
Dooley took over the coaching reins from Michael Weiss.
The Azkals failed to score a single goal in both friendlies -- a draw against Malaysia and a 0-1 loss to Azerbaijan, but the results hardly reflected the marked improvement in the team’s passing game.
Still, the development was not lost on Palami.
“Even with six sessions (including the friendlies), we have been able to achieve good results and what’s important is that we can actually see the players respond to how the coach would want them to play.”
“Credit to the coach, who is able to impart the way he wants the players to play, and as well as the players, who are up to the challenge,” added Palami, who is looking forward to the near future as the Azkals continue to prepare for the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup in May.
“It might sound too poetic, but it’s the dawn of a new era,” beamed the man behind the renaissance of Philippine football. “I think it’s an era that is exciting and I think it will be a successful one for the Azkals in the next few months.”
“The key is to have more sessions together,” the 43-year-old team manager added.
It’s the reason why the Filipino booters press their buildup next month when they embark on their next international training camp in Qatar, where the Azkals face Nepal in a friendly on April 11 and Qatari club team Al-Ahli three days later.
The Azkals will have another Middle East camp in Bahrain in the middle of May, not to mention local training sessions before going to Maldives for the Challenge Cup.