FORMER national football coach Juan Cutillas believes it's high time for some "policy changes" in the national team set-up, calling for more homegrown players in the Azkals roster and the setting up of a youth academy to sustain the tremendous gains of the sport in the country.
“The impact of the Azkals has been something really unbelievable,” the 73-year-old Spanish mentor said on Thursday after the Fiba-Asia Championship draw where he was recognized along with the other members of the championship-winning Philippine team in 1973.
Cutillas, the trainer of that all-Filipino 1973 national team, said the Azkals’ achievements were reminiscent of the time when he first came to the country in the early seventies.
Cutillas claimed that from 1971 to 72, they put up a 'Manila selection,' composed of a mix of foreign and Filipino booters which beat the likes of South Korea, Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and Singapore.
“We have all the records. But what happened at that time, there was no (Azkals manager Dan) Palami," he said, referring to the Azkals' manager and top financial backer. "Now the Philippines is very lucky to have him.”
Cutillas, who last coached the national football team in 2009, lauded Palami’s efforts, but believes the Azkals have too many abroad-based Filipinos in the squad that takes the playing time away from homegrown booters.
“Our local players must be very upset that they are not given the opportunity to play. I know they are discouraged,” said the outspoken mentor, who handled current national team mainstays Chieffy Caligdong, the Younghusband brothers, Neil Etheridge, and Chris Greatwich during his time.
Cutillas said from the Filipino-foreign players in the Azkals pool, only “five or six are outstanding” and should be kept.
“The others are pretty average players, although they are better than (local players) because they have better competition, so I think we should already start changing policies and start giving more chance to our players.”
Cutillas cited the recent friendly against Hong Kong, which he said could’ve been the perfect chance to let the locals play.
“You don’t need these players from Europe (to play in the Hong Kong friendly). It was the opportunity to give chance to other players. Even in the Southeast Asian Games, they are looking for Fil-foreigners everywhere when there’s the opportunity to give chance to others.”
“It’s not so important that the Azkals keep on winning all the time. They are established in Southeast Asia already,” he continued. “Teams like Thailand and Singapore, they’re not crazy to organize games all the time. They participate in the important competitions. This is what the Azkals should do.”
Cutillas said instead of spending millions of pesos to “mobilize players coming from Europe," the Azkals' financial resources could be used for a youth academy where youngsters with potential can stay and train together with free accommodation, food, and studies.
The academy, which Cutillas has long envisioned, should identify the best young players in the country and let them travel only once a year to play in competition.
“That is money well invested because you train the best players in the country, and slowly but surely, they will become really good, like what Australia has done,” Cutillas said.
Cutillas, which is still affiliated with the PFF as member of its technical committee, also suggested putting up a “Team B” for the Azkals.
“Put up another national team, mostly Filipino players, give them the opportunity to participate in small tournaments then you develop them,” he said.
Cutillas said there are tons of deserving local-based players from the UAAP as well as the football hotbeds of Bacolod and Iloilo.
“I’m not that familiar with the players anymore, but there are Filipino players who can play, given the chance.”