BANGKOK – Michael Weiss appeared for the post-game press conference of the Philippine men’s football team’s thrilling 1-0 win over Vietnam on Tuesday night in the Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cup, without three companions who have earned the right to be there.
Edwin 'Deding' Cabalida, Edzel 'Brax' Bracamonte, and Roland 'Roroy' Piñero should have, at the very least, taken a bow after taking over the national squad while the Azkals’ German head coach watched from the stands, having been suspended following his ejection against Thailand three days before.
But the trio were nowhere to be found, staying away from the limelight after the victory that keyed the Azkals’ trip to a second straight semifinal appearance in Southeast Asia’s premier football competition.
“Okay lang yun. Sanay na kami doon,” Cabalida, accompanied by his two fellow assistant coaches, said in a chat with Spin.ph in his hotel room on Thursday.
These three assistants have gone largely unnoticed during their long service to the national team, having been a part of the squad even during the time when being part of the Azkals football team wasn't yet cool.
Cabalida was the first among the three to join the Azkals coaching staff. Three years after he started in 2000, fellow Dumaguete native Piñero followed suit. Barotac Nuevo-born Bracamonte, who played under Cabalida and Piñero for the Air Force, was the last to join after being recommended to Dan Palami to become part of the staff in 2009.
“Yung track namin parang isa lang,” said the 39-year-old Bracamonte, the former University of Santo Tomas Tiger booter and commerce graduate who was once recruited to play in Germany to play for German club Bayer Leverkusen, but only lasted three weeks due to homesickness. “We’re the Big Three, kung baga.”
“May kasabihan na two heads are better than one, pero three heads siguro are better than one,” he added. “May hindi nakikita ang head coach na nakikita namin so positive naman siya (Weiss) sa mga suggestions.”
They are happy with their current roles, considering that owing to the lack of personnel they had to go well beyond their job descriptions before the businessman Palami started to bankroll the team in early 2010.
“Nung nag-start kami, halos lahat nagampanan namin,” Cabalida said. “Mula sa paghakot ng bola at pag-print ng mga jersey nadaanan namin lahat yan eh.”
“Dati pati administrative (work) ginagawa namin yan,” Piñero butted in.
Before the Azkals' popularity soared to new heights, the three even had to play during practice sessions just to make up the numbers since players who wanted to don the country’s colors were still scarce.
“Apat o lima lang yung players before. That time sumasali kami sa drills kasi ang hirap (maghatak) ng player eh kasi wala pang naniniwala. Hindi nabubuo yung team,” said Cabalida, a former national booter and Air Force Airman.
“Mas marami pa yung coaching staff (sa players),” added Bracamonte, a striker during his playing days but now one of the team’s goalkeeping coaches.
“Pero ngayon na marami ng tao at kumpleto na yung staff, medyo naka-relax na kami. Nakaka-focus na kami ng maayos sa technical side (ng coaching),” said Cabalida, now in charge of the passing drills in training.
With the influx of resources and foreign-bred players, the Azkals have gone on to unprecedented heights in the past two years. And the three homegrown assistants are proud to be part of the ride.
“Masaya kami na well-known na yung football sa Pilipinas. Proud kami na part kami nun,” said Piñero. “Hihintayin na lang natin yung time na magkaroon tayo ng homegrown talents. Darating rin yan Kasi tuloy-tuloy na yung interest sa football eh.”