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Tiebreaker Times


Dooley, Schrock air sides amid preparations for Azkals’ crunch Asian Cup qualis

Just when there was hope that two of the biggest figures in Philippine football will be able to set aside their past differences and help the country seal a place in the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, things went south pretty quickly.

Unless a miracle happens, it is certain that Philippine Azkals veteran Stephan Schrock will not participate in the final Asian Cup qualifiers this June in Mongolia in what is coach Thomas Dooley’s first major pronouncement since his return to his post.

Dooley puts his foot down

Thomas-Dooley Dooley, Schrock air sides amid preparations for Azkals’ crunch Asian Cup qualis Football News Philippine Azkals  - philippine sports news“He is not a part of this 25 or 24 roster that we’re going to take over to Mongolia,” said Dooley in an interview with host Andrei Felix in the May 30, 2022, edition of CNN Philippines’ Sports Desk.

“That’s a decision that I made when I said: ‘You know we bring everybody in we can have. We train a little bit and then I make a decision.’”

The former United States Men’s National Football Team defender then probed Felix if the latter felt that Schrock deserved a place in the team for its upcoming mini-tournament. For his part, Felix pointed out Schrock’s stature in the Azkals and the “surprise” when the former Ceres-Negros star did not make the cut this time around.

For Dooley, this was simply his right as a coach to select who he thinks will win matches for the team. Anything else is simply immaterial at this point.

“I always want to be honest and thus I don’t have a problem with Schrock at all,” insisted the 61-year-old mentor. “I’m looking for my team. I’m looking at what’s best for my team and I’m looking at the statistics and I could ask you more questions. I would ask you why he should be there because he is the captain or because he was there before?

“It’s about performance and then I can ask a question when I’m looking back, 2014 to 2018 with me, we had a lot of success – How many games we played great and we were successful when he was there?

“Then I can ask, he was a leader of the team since I left – How much success they add since that time until now? That’s what I’m analyzing. I had to deal with him. Again, it’s not about the person. It’s about, again I have to say it, he is a football-specific fitness. In football-specific fitness, he’s maybe the best player in the Philippines,” he continued. “That doesn’t mean you can do the right thing on the field and with all that stuff, I make a decision on what’s best for my team. When he wasn’t there with the team, we had the biggest success and we played beautiful football. That’s why I make a decision. I need to build a team again who can be successful and that’s my decision.”

Dooley then shared that the reason why Schrock was inserted in the initial pool of players was at the behest of the Philippine Football Federation despite his reservations. After the initial training session, though, Dooley made up his mind and simply felt that Schrock did not fit his plans for the team.

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“I would like to form the team like I had before and there are certain types of players that you have to or people that you have to be in there. And what happened in the time when I was there, I don’t want to have the same thing happen again in the future games,” Dooley stressed.

Schrock answers back

2022-Tri-Nations-Meet-Malaysia-def-Philippines-Stephan-Schrock Dooley, Schrock air sides amid preparations for Azkals’ crunch Asian Cup qualis Football News Philippine Azkals  - philippine sports news

Photo from PFF

A day later on the same show with the same host, it was Schrock’s turn to air his side of the story. The 35-year-old midfielder shared that he got the big news by receiving a message from Dooley via a text message that he was cut from the team “without any further explanations, which confuses me”.

Beforehand, the erstwhile United City skipper was training with the team for six days with some of its local-based players. He claims that he essentially gave 100 percent during the sessions, his work ethic was high up there and that there were no problems on the pitch. Dooley’s call then left him very disappointed.

“Coach Dooley and I, we had history seven years ago,” Schrock said. “I matured during this time. I hoped he would also not let the decision-making not get into the personal side of him. But well, it is what it is. I think he still holds a grudge.

“I reached out to him asking for a sit-down to clear this up like adults and he refused. He would not let me speak to him and get this clearly out of the way, I think we have a common goal which is bigger than a personal pride, bigger than personal ego and unfortunately, I got denied this opportunity.”

Felix then provided Schrock with a soundbite of Dooley’s interview that stated the coach’s reasoning as to why the four-time Philippines Football League champion was cut. While Schrock agreed when Dooley described him as the best Filipino player in “football-specific fitness”, he lamented that the latter cannot find a way to fit him into his program for the Azkals.

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In fact, Schrock insisted that he would accept the invitation to be a squad player rather than a member of the first 11 on the pitch. He would take the role of an impact player off the bench to help the Azkals gain a victory.

“I don’t wanna burn bridges,” said Schrock. “I never wanted to. I think I made a mistake seven years ago. I can admit that. I grow up. I matured. Like I said, him… obviously couldn’t get over it. So, I make myself available if ever there is a need and every day is a demand. I’m always here for the country. I’m always trying to serve. You people have to understand, we play as we sacrifice a lot of things.”

“We players, we sacrifice a lot of time, money, relationship with clubs, contracts with future clubs, and then managers – we sacrificed that for the country while he was or is being a manager that was desperate on the job,” he added.

“I reached out to him. I tried to connect the dots for us to reach a common goal. Unfortunately, he denied.”

Mentioning that he was part of the Azkals side that reached a record number of points, 11, in the country’s World Cup qualification history amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as well as past performances, Schrock tried to debunk Dooley’s claims that the numbers forced the latter to drop the former.

Schrock then shared a personal anecdote about the sacrifices of suiting up as a member of the Azkals.

“Not many people know, the last two camps, my wife was pregnant. I left her at home for the national team without any outcome for me. The last camp especially, my son was at home with a broken leg, and I arrived 15 hours before the whistle blew and my whole family got COVID and I still refused to go home because I love the country,” he said.

“I love the country. I want to give back. I want to give it all out and sometimes it works out better than the other times but questioning the commitment or questioning my football abilities is purely not right and saying that I won’t fit in with the team is a lame excuse in my eyes.”

For Schrock, his love of the Philippines and his mother is what always brought him back to suit up for the Azkals despite it not being financially rewarding as well as it taking time away from vacations. He said that he and his teammates are “not there for (a) paycheck, unlike him” and that they “want to make the country proud.”

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He insists that he can still perform at a high level and says that he has offers from top clubs around Southeast Asia to play for them and can sign a “seven-digit contract” when he so wishes. He also hopes that “personal grudges” will be pushed to the side for the country’s sake.

“I know I can help the team. I know they might need me and even if it’s just for two minutes or five minutes, I’m ready to help. I’m ready to suit up,” said Schrock.

The challenge on the horizon

With the Azkals’ crunch matches against Yemen, Mongolia, and Palestine ahead of them as they seek to qualify anew for the Asian Cup, the last thing they needed was a bitter conflict between Dooley and Schrock.

Only time will tell which side is vindicated but as of this moment – Philippine football is a better place when two of its biggest characters are working side-by-side to bring glory to the country rather than at odds with each other.

Written By

Lorenzo's a frustrated author who knows a thing or two about Football and Basketball. Went all green from Ortigas to Taft. Supports Liverpool FC, FC Bayern Munich and the Alaska Aces

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