The Philippine U16 youth team suffered a humiliating 8-0 loss to hosts Indonesia in their most recent game in the AFF U16 Championships, but should we really be surprised by this?
Let’s get straight to the point, the gap between the senior Azkals and the youth teams is immense, and results like this should not be a surprise given the current circumstances. It was coach Reiji Hirata’s first outing with the youth team and it could have gone much better. Expectations were always low, but that doesn’t mean it should stay that way. What can the PFF do to address the ever pressing problems present with our youth setup? Here’s a couple of areas where I think the PFF can do better.
Cast the net wider by creating a nationwide youth scouting system.
Let’s face it, most PFF coaches tend to lean towards the familiar with the makeups of the youth national teams. We’ve been witness to past teams composed of players majority of which came from one school. Without proper professional youth academies in place in the country, schools and universities will continue to be the main source of talent for the youth teams. When coaches from certain universities are tasked to handle the youth teams, you can be pretty sure that majority of the makeup of the team will be pulled from the said coaches’ school. This is a very flawed system but we can’t totally blame the coaches for this. Philippine football is still in its infancy compared to our ASEAN neighbours even if the federation has been in existence for over a hundred years. Hence our system for identifying top talent still has ways to go.
One remedy would be to create a comprehensive nationwide scouting system. This is easier said than done but what they can do to start would be to keep tabs on all existing players of the countless youth teams in the country. They can do this by holding a year long annual youth competition for all the member local FA’s. The local FA’s can then identify the top talents in said competitions. That information can then be relayed to the head office of the PFF which the youth head coach can then utilize to consider who to call up for the national teams. This system is far from perfect, but it can be a good solution in the short term. A long term solution would be a mix of this system and having professional youth academies running nationwide, preferably affiliated with existing PFL teams.
Preparation is KEY.
By FAILING TO PREPARE, you are PREPARING TO FAIL. This quote couldn’t be used at a much better time than now. This youth team was given TWO WEEKS to prepare for this tournament. That could work if they were joining a competition where they are the overwhelming favourites, but sadly this isn’t one of those contests. We were going in as perennial underdogs as usual, and two weeks of preparation was pouring salt into the wounds so to speak.
This team was hastily assembled and it showed on the field. The players were everywhere, and in a bad way. Attackers didn’t know whether to stay in their positions, or make the run. Defenders didn’t know if they should commit to their opponent or drop back. They were confused. Clearly these kids weren’t familiar with each other’s tendencies. Having highly touted recruits from abroad did not do much because of the lack of familiarity between the players.
The lack of attention to prepare for these tournaments, no matter how talented we think the players we are sending will only have negative results. In age group tournaments, especially international competitions, preparation is always the most important factor. These kids rarely, if ever, play with or against each other. The only way these players can perform as a unit is if they were given time to train and learn together.
This has been a difficult result to stomach for Philippine football fans. One can only hope that the players of our youth team pick up valuable experience from these events. Let this serve as a wake up call for all the shareholders of Philippine football that we still have a lot of catching up to do. These kids are the future of our national team, and they deserve better.
Photo credit: The Philippine Football Federation