At the start of the year, Stephan Schrock and Bienvenido Maranon wore the historic yellow kits of Ceres-Negros Football Club in the AFC Champions League.
Life is full of changes, though. The two players still play for the same team, but now in the white-and-gold of United City Football Club.
In an interview with hosts Cedelf Tupas and Paolo del Rosario in Tiebreaker Vods’ Crossover Podcast, presented by SMART, the two players shed light on the experience of extending the winning legacy of a club despite its change of identity in the 2020 Philippines Football League sponsored by Qatar Airways.
“In the end, the bubble, the pandemic is playing a major role. But at the end of the day, it comes down to preparation and to the game itself,” said Schrock. “We’re not playing the other team; we’re not playing the bubble setup.
“We end up playing nothing, just the game, and focusing on the basics. […] I think we are way ahead of every other club because of the work rate, the cohesion we built up in the last five years.”
Heading into the condensed tournament, many saw United City as favorites to retain the PFL crown. Its new owners, MMC Sportz Asia, had retained the club’s key players such as Schrock, Maranon, OJ Porteria, and Mike and Manuel Ott. Despite that, there were whispers that their rivals now had the chance to steal the title away.
After a relatively slow start against the Azkals Development Team, Frank Muescan’s men ran rampant against the likes of Maharlika Manila, Mendiola 1991, and Stallion Laguna. Not even a defeat in their last game of the season by Kaya FC-Iloilo could dampen another impressive domestic campaign. It’s as if the more things changed, the more they really stayed the same.
“Don’t get me wrong, Risto (Vidakovic) is not part of this team, but Risto still lives in this team. He built it up for the last four to five years. Also boss Leo Rey Yanson is still a big part of this team.
“We are happy with the new management. We’re very grateful (of them) giving us the opportunity to perform and to showcase our skills,” said Schrock. “There are many, many things over the past five years which come together, and when it’s time to perform, we can deliver. And we will always deliver because this group is a very, very tight family. […] I’m very proud to be a part of this.”
In hindsight, doubting United City’s championship hopes due to the absence of the legendary Vidakovic and esteemed benefactor Yanson seems misplaced.
Truly, the winning mentality instilled by the Ceres-Negros’ leading figures passed to the new team.
“Same like Stephan. For us, it was very simple to play this league, to play this game, because we did the job a few years ago with Risto, with LRY, with all of them. What we saw in this game is part of them, because it’s practically the same thing. We show out what they showed us, what they taught us,” said Maranon.
“But with this opportunity like… Okay different name, but in our heart, we will always be Ceres because this is part of them. […] I feel and [am] sure that they’re happy for us, and they are one of us. So for me, I agree with them 100 percent. This is part of them, and we have to be lucky, not only because they are very good players, but they are a very good person[s] also.”
Before the start of the 2020 PFL season, United City’s holdovers from Ceres-Negros won titles in domestic and continental competitions.
It would have been easy to rest on their laurels, but the chance to compete as one team despite the dire circumstances drove them on to familiar success.
“When the first training, I went there and I saw the guys, and they have every single minute of the training, then I can feel like we can play like before. Also just Stephan had to come at that time, and when Stephan come again with all the squad there, we feel like we are like Ceres. We are the same team as Ceres in terms of everything, we can enjoy like before and that happened,” said Maranon.
“We show in the pitch how together we are — not only in the games, in the training, in the bubble, in the hotel, in the bus. The atmosphere in this team is different with another. You can go to any team, but I don’t think you can find a team like Ceres, the way how you play and the way how you are happy every time you go to training; you are happy every time you play the game. So we can’t ask for anything else — just continue with the same and be happy forever with these guys.”
Ultimately, Ceres-Negros’ legacy lives on through United City. With the PFL crown in the bag, United City looks to make forays into the 2021 AFC Champions League.
For now, though, it’s about basking in the achievement of something that looked impossible a few months back because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m very, very confident in the abilities of the players. I’m very confident in their work rate and the buildup, and we have master of adjustments. We can overcome any circumstance and that’s just what you saw. We work hard the whole year, no days off, and we deserve it. We called it and we deserve it.”