After Kaya defeated Victory Liner-Diliman FC 3-2 last Saturday, I made my way down to the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium pitch to seek out players and coaches from both sides. I congratulated the Señor — Kaya coach Juan Cutillas — on his squad’s victory.
While doing the game analysis for AKTV, I mentioned that I thought the match was not only the best played and the most thrilling, thus far in the young UFL Cup but it was also a delight from a footballing standpoint. It was like a chess game between the two coaches –- Cutillas and Victory Liner Diliman FC coach Bob Salvacion.
Juan Cutillas first arrived in the Philippines in the early 1970s as part of a Spanish contingent that included Tomas Lozano, Manuel Cuenca, and Julio Rojas, among others, that was tasked to inject new life into Philippine football.
Cutillas later called the shots for local champion side San Miguel, and served as a longtime national coach, handling many of today’s prominent names in the football scene: Nonong Araneta, Bert Honasan, Norman Fegidero, Elmer Bedia, Rudy del Rosario. He was also able to coach some of the current Azkals, among them Phil and James Younghusband, Aly Borromeo, Chieffy Caligdong, and Anton del Rosario.
A doctor of medicine, he also served as the trainer for the RP national basketball teams to the Asian Basketball Championships in the 1970s, which included legends such as Robert Jaworski, Ramon Fernandez, Bogs Adornado, Francis Arnaiz, Yoyong Martirez, and Abet Guidaben among others.
Cutillas, a former Atletico Madrid player, later left the country for Australia, where he won many honors including coach of the year. He returned to the country in the late 1980s and has stayed for good in the Philippines, where he is married to a Filipina.
Having known Coach “Cuto”, as Cutillas is fondly called by his players, for some time, we often have some coffee to chat about football and other matters. We agreed to meet up last Tuesday over lunch at Sentro in Bonifacio High Street to catch up.
Over a lunch of sinigang na corn beef and lamb kaldereta, bagoong rice and coffee, this is what the Spanish coach had to say about certain things.
On criticism that he is “too old school” to be coaching a modern day football team.
I don’t think that people should be judged on their age. It is about their experience, what they have done, and what they can still do. I’ve coached in different levels not just here in the Philippines but also in Spain and Australia. And in the highest levels too. I think my track record shows that my teams still win.
While coaching the Taringa Rovers in Australia, Cutillas only had a handshake deal with team management regarding his employment. The doctor called the team owner a man of honor, and he said that should his contract not be renewed, he had no problem with it. “I will just sit under the sun and play my guitar,” he told Australian journalist Bernie Pramberg in an interview with the Courier Mail in 1994.
How long do you think you’ll continue to do this – coaching, I mean?
Maybe about a year more? After that I still want to be involved but in a more technical nature. I love the game. I gave up a career in medicine for football.
Yes, it is a little known fact that you are actually a doctor of medicine. How does one give up medicine for football? And didn’t you play with Atletico Madrid’s youth team?
I played with Atletico Madrid’s youth team and got called up a few times for the first team. At that time, I was also doing military service that was compulsory. My father wanted me to study law but I didn’t want. I wanted a career in football. I choose medicine and he was very angry at me that he wanted to shoot me. I finished my medical school but found it very hard to play football at the same time. I practiced medicine for four years then went back to football. You see, I love the game so much. By then I began to take coaching courses because I had been left behind also by my peers.
While at Atletico Madrid, Cutillas got to work with Luis Aragones who would later gain fame as Spain’s coach who masterminded their Euro 2008 win. Cutillas did suit up with Atletico’s first team in a match against Zaragoza.
So I take it that you do not like Real Madrid?
“Not like” is strong. I root for Atletico so Real is the rival. But I have many friends in Real Madrid. Even with Barcelona. And I still watch Atletico Madrid every chance I have. I am fortunate enough to know a lot of people in both organizations that when I am in Spain I can watch those teams play.
You’ve coached in a lot of places but is there anything distinctly Spanish that you have brought to your coaching especially here in the Philippines?
Spanish football is just basic football. Not so much flair but a deliberate short passing game. The more possessions you have the better the chances of scoring. But as a coach I give my players room to express themselves in the game. I do not want to be too strict on those things. We have a system to run, yes, but there is also room for them to improvise based on their talents and skills.
You once left the Philippines for Australia because you thought that football was going nowhere. How do you feel about the attention and interest it is getting now?
Oh, it is fantastic! All I can say is, ‘It’s about time!’ I feel that there should be greater focus on the club system. The PFF and the national team should work their schedules around the club competition. The club system should provide the national team with a lot of its players. Right now the national team is filled with Fil-foreigners. Are all of them better than the homegrown talent? The Under-23 team to the SEA Games has always been the domain of local talent. They should give the locals a chance to play. You only have one homegrown talent in the starting eleven? That’s ridiculous.
Speaking of club competition, what prompted you to leave Pachanga to go back to Kaya?
I had problems with some people in management. It was all about a lack of respect. Fortunately with Kaya it is a much better situation right now. I am happy with what we have.
So everyone must be happy with that win over Victory Liner-Diliman FC?
Oh, morale is very high. That was a big win. I made a few tactical mistakes in the first half but we were able to correct that in the second half. Big win. Big win. But there was a cost – because Aly Borromeo is out. I’m sure you know about that.
How about Anton del Rosario? That was a gamble to use him considering he wasn’t 100%?
He went up to me during the game and asked if he could play. I asked him, ‘are you sure?” He said that he can. And a 70% Anton del Rosario is still a very good weapon. He can play many positions and we were fortunate that he played a very good game.
And we have a very good midfield who were instrumental in winning that game – [Adrian] Semblat. There’s Eddie Mallari. Masa [Omura]. Many players played well. [Ruffy] Llorente. The del Rosarios. [Nate] Burkey. Everybody played well – the defense. That was one of my best wins. Very very satisfying. We were down to 10 field players. And UP is a very good team. Lots of good players there. Outstanding coach in Bob Salvacion. I’ve had a lot of very good wins in my career and this was one of them.
But as good as football is today, we are still a long way in many things. Today we practiced in a baseball diamond because there aren’t may good football fields. The state of UMak is terrible. So we trained in a baseball field and you know how difficult that is to train in a small place.
You mentioned “satisfying wins.” Can you name some? Not just on the club level but also on the national level.
Well there was the time when [the Philippine national men's football team] played in Hawaii in a four-team exhibition event. Four countries with ties to Hawaii were there – Japan, the United States, and Taiwan. The New York Cosmos represented the United States and they beat Japan 4-0. Pele scored all of the Cosmos goals. The Philippines beat Taiwan 1-nil with Pepito Genato scoring the goal.
We beat Singapore 2-0 in the President’s Cup in Iloilo. Rudy del Rosario and Jeffrey Lobaton scored the goals for us. We had a very good team. Norman Fegidero was there. Nonoy Carpio. Filamer Russel.
We beat South Korea 2-0 in Bacolod.
We beat Taiwan 3-0 in South Korea in pre-Olympic football qualifiers. That was the Philippines’ first international win after World War II.
There’s more and maybe we will spend all day long talking about it.
Rick Olivares is a prolific writer who covers football for InterAKTV. This is the first installment of his new football column, Woolyback. For more of Rick’s work, visit his blog Bleacher’s Brew or follow him on Twitter.