The curious case of Philippines national team head coach for 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers

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It looks like the Philippines national football team will go into yet another major competition — the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers — with a new man at its helm. Or will they?

The Azkals are in Group A of the 2022 World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup Joint-Qualifiers second round where they are pooled with China PR, Guam, Maldives and Syria. They will open their campaign against Syria at the Panaad Stadium in Baccolod on September 5 before travelling to Dededo to face Guam on September 10.

A 23-member Philippines squad, featuring a good share of players who represented the country at their debut AFC Asian Cup earlier this year, was announced by the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) on Saturday, but along with it came another major announcement, albeit without any fanfare.

“Serbian coach Goran Milojevic is the Philippines’ head coach for the qualifiers. He will be assisted by Hezirdan Ramadani and goalkeeping coach Milos Simic. Scott Cooper is designated Assistant Team Manager,” the PFF said on its official website.

54-year-old Milojevic has no prior experience in coaching at the international stage and has spent most of his career with clubs in Europe — his last assignment coming with Montenegrin top division side FK Mornar.

The Serbian becomes the fourth different coach to manage the Azkals since the departure of American tactician Thomas Dooley in 2018. Terry Butcher, former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson and Cooper all have helmed the national team over the last year or so.

English coach Cooper, on the other hand, has been with the Philippines national team set-up since 2018 and took over as the permanent coach after the departure of Eriksson following the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates early 2019. He also has proved himself at the club level winning the Thai League, Thai League Cup and Thai FA Cup with Buriram United.

So, what has stopped PFF from naming 49-year-old Cooper as the head coach of the Azkals? Coaching license, or the lack thereof! FIFA regulations state that all national team managers must hold a UEFA Pro Coaching License or equivalent to take charge of a side in official competitions.

Unfortunately for Cooper, he is yet to complete his UEFA Pro License certifications forcing himself to once again settle for an assistant coach role.

So, will Milojevic’s lack of international experience prove costly for Philippines at the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers? It might not, as there is a twist in the tale.

Because, according to reports, it will be Cooper himself who will pull the strings for the national team despite his assistant coach monicker.

“It is what it is. Goran Milojevic has been named head coach because he has a UEFA Pro Licence, which is something I don’t have at the moment,” Cooper was quoted as saying by the Inquirer recently where he also clarified that he will be in charge of the team.

So, what will Cooper and his ‘assistant’ head coach Milojevic be able to pull off in a group where they can actually fancy their chances? We will find out soon enough.

Philippines’ 23-man squad to face Syria and Guam in 2022 World Cup Qualifiers

GOALKEEPERS: Patrick Deyto (Suphanburi FC), Michael Falkesgaard (Bangkok United), Kevin Hansen (HB Køge)

DEFENDERS: Amani Manuel Aguinaldo (PKNP FC), Mikel Justin Baas (AZ Alkmaar), Marco Alessandro Casambre (Chainat Hornbill), Carlos De Murga, Sean Patrick Kane (Both Ceres Negros FC), Daisuke Sato (Muangthong United), Alvaro Silva (Suphanburi FC), Martin Steuble (Port FC),

MIDFIELDERS: Yrick Gallantes (Gala Fairydean Rovers FC), Angel Guirado (Chonburi FC), Kevin Ingreso (Buriram United), Manuel Ott (Ratchaburi Mitr Phol FC), Mike Ott, Stephan Schrock (Both Ceres Negros FC), Iain Ramsay (Sukhothai FC), John-Patrick Strauss (FC Erzgebrige Aue)

FORWARDS: Mark Andrew Hartmann (Nakhon Ratchasima Mazda FC), Javier Patino (Buriram United), Jose Elmer Porteria (Ceres Negros FC), Patrick Reichelt (Melaka United)

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