For the fourth straight season, the National University Bulldogs have failed to reach the Final Four. After the Bulldogs had missed out on the Season 77 post-season by just a measly two points, expectations were high for them in the UAAP Season 78 Men’s Football Tournament. Expectations, though, proved too high, as the Bulldogs finished in sixth place with 17 points to end their Season 78 campaign.
“We have to restructure siguro yung training. There are things we need to fix within sa NU football community. The games are affected so yun siguro yung aayusin muna. One is the mga outside football na mga issue we need to settle siguro muna,” reflected Bulldogs head coach Lem Laranas after their 3-3 draw against the Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles.
Laranas believed that his players have performed to his expectations, but lacked important factors like mental toughness, composure, and maturity. Those three factors were missing at times this season and it had affected how his players executed the tactics and their skills in a game. “We’ve done so much in training. The preparation is there kaya lang the moment they play, they’re good only for some time pero pagdating ng mga gitgitan dun kami nagkakaroon ng problema,” Laranas explained.
One major regret of the Bulldogs this season has been the crucial chances they missed. Laranas felt that the Bulldogs’ wastefulness has cost them this season. “One is the supposed to be goal of Abalunan against UP (first round) and then the two games against La Salle so hindi namin na-convert yung mga chances namin dun. That’s nine points. Yun yung nasayang sa amin. Ang factor talaga is yung yung pinakamasakit on our part kasi conversion ng goals kasi wala.”
“Pinakamagandang part are those games against FEU. That’s the best one. Yun yung pinaka the best kaya lang hindi kasi siya nagtuloy-tuloy sa ibang teams eh. I mean one of the best is this one, the last game. Nagkaroon lang talaga ng breaks sa free kick ni Gayoso so nag-draw,” Laranas added.
With the Bulldogs’ failure to enter the Final Four, Laranas is under no illusion that his job is safe. “It’s all up to the management. It’s all management’s decision. I hope, I hope because they’re eyeing on the Final Four but we failed to get it this season. If they still trust me, then I will be back next season.”
Regardless of whether he will be back or not come Season 79, Laranas feels that NU’s team is prepared for the exodus of eight players, including star forwards Jay Abalunan, Paolo Salenga, and Nico Macapal. Laranas mentioned players like Francis Mbe, Elmer Sampaga, Alberto Frias, and Hayeson Pepito will be brought into the fold next season.
“We’re still good. We just need to train new breed of strikers lang siguro but the tactical (plan) will be different next year kasi wala na akong Macapal, wala na akong Abalunan, wala na akong Salenga eh. It will be different yung tactics next year”, Laranas stated as he then continued mentioning the likes of Patrick Valenzuela, Chima Uzoka, Marvin Viray and Jacob Gomes as people who can hopefully replace the aforementioned trio. “Meron pa naman kaya lang yun nga mag-iiba siguro yung tactics kasi if you come to think of it the speed of those three is really different. Ibahin na lang yung taktika dun,” he emphasized.
NU may not have gotten the results they needed this Season 78, but a lot of observers have praised their attacking verve and, if the Bulldogs were set up defensively, their positional sense and discipline. It would be a shame if Laranas doesn’t continue at the helm. While this is a results business, Rome wasn’t built in a day and Laranas has proven he deserves another crack.