Villaflor: Thomas Dooley’s ‘halo-halo’ football

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Monday, May 26, 2014


IF Spain has the tiki-taka, Brazil has the samba, and the Netherlands has total football, what does the Philippines have?

Since the “inception” of the Azkals close to a decade ago, one of the questions that would pop up from time to time had something to do with national team identity, which consequently leads to questions about style or, well, the lack of it.

For years Philippine football has been described as “bara-bara,” a style of play whose sole purpose is to obstruct by force, often mindlessly. Then at lower levels, there’s the “lamok-lamok”: like the mosquito (lamok), players, skilled or not, swarm around the ball or the person nearest the ball, never mind if he happens to be a teammate.

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But any self-respecting football coach, player or fan won’t have anything to do with these styles.

Which brings us back to the initial question: will Philippine football ever have a style it can be proud to embrace as its own?

Well, don’t look now, but it seems that Philippines coach Thomas Dooley has stumbled upon such a style, and one of the country’s favorite desserts offers the best analogy: the halo-halo, that sweet, cool and fun dessert that only makes sense with the right mix. But before we get into details over this “halo-halo” analogy, let’s see, in a nutshell, how different Dooley’s system is from those of his predecessors.

The man who came before him Michael Weiss (January 2011- January 2014) opted for a more rigid system, one that relied heavily on long balls and target men up front.

While it had some success, Weiss’s system eventually proved too predictable and unimaginative. It also stifled the team’s growth, especially since he relied mostly on foreign-based players during the big matches. Pinoy football fans also found his style monotonous (read: boring).

Before Weiss, there was Simon McMenemy (2010-11), whose defensive-minded approach was simple: to park the bus in Azkals’ territory and counter-attack like mad. To everyone’s surprise, it worked, and the team made an historic run under him in the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup with its first ever semifinals berth. But for the sake of the Azkals, McMenemy and his one-dimensional system had to go, although some pundits would
argue, “What system?”

So what makes Dooley different from his predecessors? The German-American has employed a system that’s based on performance and trust in the players and their abilities. This has fostered good judgment and awareness among the players who now play with confidence.

The result: attacking football defined by diverse tactics and unpredictable plays that so far have paid dividends for the Azkals in their 2014 AFC Challenge Cup campaign.

Quick, precise short two-touch passes are mixed efficiently with long balls or long sprints toward the opponents’ danger areas. There is no target man. The players switch places as if on cue.

And consider the player mix: of the 23-man squad, 13 footballers ply their wares in the United Football League. Of the 12 who have seen action, 10 were included in the first 11 in at least one game.

It might seem that Dooley cannot decide on his first 11. But if you look at it from a non-conventional football sense, he’s having success shuffling the players.

As far as Dooley’s football philosophy goes, as long as the system and the basics are in place, the individual elements don’t need to be set in stone. It’s much like, well, a good recipe, say, for halo-halo: as long as you have quality ingredients, chances are, you’ll end up with something that works.

Of course, not all halo-halo is good, especially if you mix it the wrong way. But Dooley’s halo-halo football has been a treat so far, something the Filipino football fan can embrace as its own. Let’s just hope he uses the right recipe when the Azkals
go up against hosts Maldives in tonight’s 2014 AFC Challenge Cup semifinal.

(nsvillaflor@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 27, 2014.

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