BANGKOK - Anto Gonzales fell short, but remained fulfilled.
Gonzales was part of the Philippine men’s football team that travelled to Thailand’s capital only for him and three others not to make the cut in the Azkals’ official 22-man roster for the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup,
Still, he cherishes the whole experience of representing the country since returning to the national team.
“It’s been a long road back,” said the 31-year-old midfielder, who got his first call-up in May after being inactive since 2007. “So really, just to be included in the pool is an achievement in itself considering that I’ve stopped competing internationally for four to five years already.”
Gonzales admitted he felt somewhat affected by the news that he wasn’t going to be part of the Final 22, along with Ian Araneta, who is set to retire this year, Nestorio Margarse, and the injured Misagh Bahadoran.
“Si Ian, he has worked really hard in spite not getting too many opportunities so I think it’s normal to feel a bit down. Ako, I’m a bit down as well. But I cannot complain how coach (Michael) Weiss chose the team because lahat deserving.”
Before his return to the national team six months ago, Gonzales had been focusing on his corporate day job and as head coach of the University of the Philippines’ men’s varsity team.
“I worked in an office, and at that time, yung pamilya ko hindi naman ganun ka-yaman, so I also had to earn, and football back then didn’t give you everything financially, so I thought to myself if I wanted to sustain myself, if I wanted to have a family in the future, then I would have to change careers.”
But deep inside, the passionate football athlete felt his `retirement’ from the national team was just temporary and sooner or later, he would have a chance to make a comeback.
So he prepared for it.
“Actually, even when I stopped, all those years, I really kept myself in shape because at the back of my head, I just wanted to be ready whenever the time comes na mabigyan ako ng opportunity to play at a high level (again).”
And when he did, Gonzales didn’t disappoint as he stayed toe to toe with his younger and more technically skilled teammates.
But a part of Gonzales, who also plays for club team Loyola Meralco in the United Football League, wished that he hadn’t gone away from the national team.
“Looking back, I wish I hadn’t stopped that soon because yung years na yun sana nagamit ko rin competing internationally and ngayon nakikita ko yung backlog in terms of experience.”
“Siguro that’s what I would have wanted to have done before. If we could only turn back time, that’s one of the things I would’ve hoped for,” he added.
Now on the sidelines, Gonzales is entrusted to do what he had been doing for the last five years—be a coach and scout opponents.
“That’s the assignment coach Weiss gave me and kahit naman hindi niya sabihin, I’d make the initiative to do that for the team.”