GERMANY will look to defend their crown when the World Cup begins on June 14th, and it is also a crucial date for the German-born coach of one of Southeast Asia’s fastest improving nations.
Thomas Dooley, a former Bundesliga rival of Germany boss Joachim Loew, will soon find out if his services will still be required in charge of the Philippines.
He parted ways with his adopted nation at the end of March, having helped the Azkals qualify for their first-ever Asian Cup. He’d like to extend his contract, but nothing is guaranteed ahead of next week’s announcement of a new coach by the Philippine Football Federation (PFF).
British-born former Philippines defender Rob Gier is believed to be among the other candidates to lead them to November’s AFF Suzuki Cup, but Dooley would love to extend his tenure.
“In my opinion, they don’t need a new coach… they should support the old coach. I’m in this business for 30 years and all I was asking was for them to follow the plan and to help the coach to get what he needs.” Dooley said.
“Jogi Loew is already 12 years as Germany coach. It took him eight years to win his first tournament, with consistency, discipline, organisation and delegation.”
Dooley, who went from accomplished Bundesliga midfielder to representing the United States at two World Cups due to his American father, was in charge of the Azkals for more than four years. He helped them rise up the FIFA rankings, advance to the semi-finals of the 2014 Suzuki Cup, and oversaw their first-ever victories in the second round of World Cup qualification.
However, his greatest achievement was overcoming adversity to ensure that Philippines booked their place at January’s Asian Cup in United Arab Emirates at the final hurdle. They put their fans through a nail-biting final qualifier before coming from behind to beat Tajikistan 2-1 in Manila on March 27 to finish top of Group F.
Phil Younghusband scored an added-time penalty to secure a third victory in six games, completing an unbeaten third-round campaign.
But Dooley was frustrated that he’d been given limited time with his squad in national camps, due to a congested domestic fixture list that exhausted key men from big clubs like Ceres-Negros FC.
“I was begging all year long for a schedule change and for some support for the national team. We were gambling with qualification, and the health of our players: a game every three days for six months is unheard of,’’ Dooley said.
“In the qualifier against Yemen, we had eight injured players and we had seven injured against Nepal. But we still qualified in the last game, because of the incredible, spiritual, energised, and positive camp we created.”
But Dooley’s euphoria soon turned to disappointment when he heard indirectly that Asian Cup qualification hadn’t earned him a contract extension.
“I was stunned when I saw on TV that [the PFF]weren’t sure and wanted to evaluate everything and ask the players if I am the right coach to bring the team to the next level,’’ he said. “But why should we change the coach if the arrow is going up with the team? You do that only if a team is not successful.
“It was very disappointing, of course. It is sad. It’s like your best friend is stealing something from you. I know, in this business things happen quickly, but I also must defend myself. This is about my reputation.’’
The PFF’s period of reflection could be related to Dooley’s occasional spats with overseas-born senior players, including Stephan Schrock and Martin Steuble. Ex-Bundesliga midfielder Schrock had been one of the stars of Ceres in the AFC Cup, but he didn’t feature in key Asian Cup qualifiers after a second falling out with former U.S. captain Dooley.
There was also the disappointment of a group stage exit when the Azkals co-hosted the 2016 Suzuki Cup with Myanmar.
But Dooley’s credits far outweigh his debits as he helped turn the Philippines into one of Asia’s most improved sides. Their current FIFA ranking of 111th is their best ever — they were 191st in 2005 and 147th as recently as 2012 — and they are now capable of stretching the region’s best sides. They will be in Group C at the Asian Cup, along with South Korea, China and Kyrgyzstan.
If Dooley is overlooked for the Philippines, he could switch his attention to Singapore who will look for a full-time coach in 2019 after this year’s caretaker stint from youth boss Fandi Ahmad.
“I love the Philippines and I hope I get the chance to finish what I have started here,” he said.
“But if that’s not possible, I would be very interested in the Singapore coaching position. I know the players and have watched a lot of their games. It would be very interesting and exciting to work with such a beautiful stadium and great supportive fans.
“The Lions are a very interesting team, but they don’t bite anymore. So, I would love to work with them and implement the right things. I’m sure I can make a difference there, as well.
Jason Dasey is Singapore-based TV broadcaster and event emcee. Twitter: @JasonDasey