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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Playing for flag and country

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The Philippine Azkals are now in Manama to face Kyrgyzstan on the 15th in an unofficial exhibition game and against host Bahrain on the 17th. As expected, several players are again absent in the training camp due to various reasons. The upside is there are new and returning Azkals to the team.

Azkals present in Manama are Neil Etheridge, Patrick Deyto, Kevin Mendaza, Jesse Curran, Daisuke Sato, Audi Menzi, Dennis Villanueva, Kevin Ingreso, Justin Baas, Jhan Melliza, Kenshiro Daniels, Jefferson Tabinas, OJ Porteria, Manu and Mike Ott, Sandro Reyes, Enrique Linares, Patrick Reichelt, Bienve Marañon, Marwin Angeles, Simone Rota, Joshua Grommen, Pocholo Bugas at Jarvey Gayoso.

Missing in the line-up are Gerrit Holtmann, Julian Schwarzer and Santiago Rublico either because of injuries, club commitments and other reasons. Rublico, from what I heard, was not given permission to leave for the Bahrain camp because the request came in too late. As per FIFA rules, “An association wishing to call up a player must notify the player in writing at least 15 days before the first day of the FIFA dates.” So feel free to speculate on what happened here. Hopefully, this kind of snafu or oversight can be avoided in the future. More on this in future columns. The much anticipated Raphael Obermair, however, is yet to suit up for the team.

In a recent chat with The Designated Kit Man, Azkals head coach Michael Weiss he revealed that included in his bucket list after the Bahrain camp is to go to Japan and catch up with two Filipino Japanese currently playing the Japanese league and convince them to play for the Azkals in the future. Aside from these prospects, there are other interesting and intriguing players on his radar. Weiss said these players will definitely bolster the team in future competitions.

“I have some plans to bring players over at the beginning of December and test them. I have a Filipino Japanese striker, who is a very interesting prospect, but have to test them first,” Weiss said.

He also added that Azkals prospects, especially in Japan and neighboring countries, offer a lot of advantages and practicality for the team specially during actual tournaments and competitions. According to Weiss, these players do not have to deal with jet lag and travel fatigue while coming to the country to suit up for the Azkals.

“So we can bring other players to the Philippines, then probably set up a small camp or something and let them train with local teams or players. So that we can actually see them play,” Weiss explained.

Speaking of playing, I had the rare opportunity to have two of the greatest Philippine basketball icons in our weekly show, Larong Pilipino, aired live over DZME 1530 Khz. Ramon “El Presidente” Fernandez and Rosario “Yoyong” Martirez were key stalwarts of many Philippine National Men’s Basketball Teams in the early 70s up to the 90s (in the case of Fernandez). Along with Cong. Butch Pichay and Chino Trinidad, the duo recounted their exploits, while donning the national team colors in the Asian Basketball Confederation, the predecessor of the FIBA Asia, and other international competitions.

There were many insights from the two OGs of Philippine basketball, but the most unforgettable one was when asked what was their primary motivation in playing for the national team, and the answer was simply it was an honor for them to have the Philippine flag stitched in front of their uniforms. Fernandez and Martirez also mentioned that playing for the national team required daily practices, which usually start from 5-7 in the morning and another session in the early evening. Martirez said after practices, they were happy then if the coach will treat them to some “Turon” or a banana cue.

Of course, they were many other perks that came after. Fernandez eventually won four Most Valuable Player awards in the Philippine Basketball Association.

“Sabi ng mga kaibigan ko, dapat mga anim,” Fernandez quipped.

For Martirez, however, he parlayed a successful career in the PBA into show business and politics, being a former vice mayor of Pasig City and a comedian in the movies and TV shows.

“Gusto ko lang talaga makarating sa Manila noon,” Martirez said.

Martirez, who earned his spurs first in Cebu, said that he got more than what he wished for.

“Nakapaglaro pa ako sa pinakamataas na level, I played for the national team,” he beamed.

So what’s the point of this kuwento, aside from the obvious? Fernandez and Martirez’s words of wisdom came before after a press conference by a national sports association about the Philippine Men’s Basketball Team that ended a 61-year gold medal drought in the Asian Games.

A few days after the golden run by Tim Coach and his boys, team officials heaped praise on the players that took the cudgels without asking for salaries or compensation for playing for the national team.

In the press conference, the officials said that at least two players, which they didn’t name publicly, asked for “the moon” to play for the team. These two players were eventually dropped from the pool.

These two players took the shine of the exploits of the men’s basketball team. The attention shifted on one of the issues that was rarely discussed in the public. Does playing for the national team warrant pay or a salary? There were so many contrasting opinions on this matter. Some would say players are entitled to get paid and can demand for payment for playing for flag and country. Others would contend that playing for the sun and three stars is good enough in donning the national colors.

These opinions are true and can’t be overlooked. At the end of the day, we can only guess what are the true motivations of selected and rare individuals in playing for the Philippines. Whether playing for the men’s basketball team or for the Philippine Azkals, compensation or payment is a tricky issue. Perhaps, gone are the days that playing for the country is enough. Or probably the saying “para sa bayan” now means a lot more that what meets the eye.

I wasn’t able to represent or play for flag and country all my life and will never be for the rest of my existence, so I can’t probably second guess what motivates these gifted athletes to represent the country. Nor judge them either. Times have changed from the team of El Presidente and Waray (before Martirez became known as Yoyong) and even the meaning of “playing for the country”. Values, too.

But we don’t have to be naive, too, that playing for the national team in certain sports is not a big business nowadays.

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, long lost relatives, former teachers, classmates and other big figures, while growing up in Calasiao. I also rediscovered some outstanding local restaurants on the side, while on a short trip with my best buddies and Bedan brothers Joey Gabrilo and Michael Azicate. Thank you my kumpares and see you again on our next road trip soon. Until then.

Stay safe. Stay happy peeps!

For comments or questions, you can reach The Designated Kit Man at erel_cabatbat@yahoo.com or follow his account at Twitter: @erelcabatbat

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