When the German national men’s football team defeated Brazil in a friendly last Wednesday, it barely made any ripples in Philippine media. But fans of the Philippine national men’s football team would do well to sit up and take notice.
There is already a link between the national football programs of Germany and the Philippines; the German Football Association (DFB) has pledged support for the Azkals, who have held training camps in the European country. A German national, Hans Michael Weiss, currently calls the shots for the Philippine team, which also counts among its members Filipino-Germans Stephan Schrock and Manny Ott.
With Weiss and team manager Dan Palami declaring their intention to further bolster the Azkals via recruitment of more foreign-based Filipinos, it would be very interesting, to say the least, to examine how the Philippine team’s benefactors are doing with their preparations for Euro 2012.
After the Azkals’ success in last year’s Suzuki Cup, opposing coaches from Vietnam and Singapore accused us of fielding a “European team.” Journalist Rick Olivares, who acted as the Azkals’ media officer during the team’s semifinal round matches in Indonesia, reported that a Jakarta Post columnist alleged that the Azkals “fielded nine naturalized players.”
That hit a raw nerve with the Philippine football fans. How dare Indonesia accuse the Philippines of fielding naturalized players when they themselves have a naturalized player in the form of Cristian Gonzales, a Uruguayan player who is married to an Indonesian? And it’s not like the Philippines has a monopoly on recruiting and prioritizing half-blooded national into their football teams; even Indonesia suits up star center-forward Irfan Bachdim, who is half-Dutch on his mother’s side.
Globalization of the game has made it common to see foreign-bred players play for national teams of either one of their parents. This has never been more evident than in Germany’s football team. During the last 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, Die Mannschaft had no less than 11 players with foreign backgrounds in their 23 man line-up. They either were born outside Germany, or have a non-German parent. That squad, believe it or not, has roots in nine different countries.
This is because, in Germany, one in five people was of foreign descent. To illustrate, German team regulars Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose and Piotr Trochowski hail from Poland. Mesut Ozil and Serdar Tasci have Turkish parents. Brazilian-born striker Cacau usually shares the bench with Mario Gomez, who has a Spanish father. Winger Marko Marin was born in Bosnia. Dennis Aogo (Nigeria), Jerome Boateng (Ghana) and Sami Khedira (Tunisia) complete the cast of “half-Germans” proudly donning the tri-colors of Germany.
This mishmash of cultures and former nationalities was obviously NOT a factor in Germany’s campaign in Johannesburg. Exceeding all expectations, Die Mannschaft went all the way to the semi-finals, beaten only by eventual World Champions Spain 1-0. You may remember that along the way, they shipped no less than four goals apiece against football minnows Argentina and England.
Sami Khedira said the different backgrounds was never a factor for them.
“We are a team,” he said. “We all want success at the World Cup, never mind where you come from.”
Critics of foreign-bred Azkals should do well to take heed. It is best to remember that once they don the colors of the Philippines, it should not matter if they grew up and learned to play the beautiful game in Enfield Town or Barotac Nuevo. All that matters is they represent the country with pride and honor.