Philippine Azkals head coach Thomas Dooley’s contract renewal still hangs in the balance despite steering the national men’s football team to its first-ever Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup appearance.
Dooley’s contract is set to expire today, four days after the national squad clinched a berth in the Asian Cup 2019 with a 2-1 win over Tajikistan.
Team manager Dan Palami said the decision would be based not only on that historic Tuesday night triumph at the Rizal Memorial Stadium but also on the overall performance of the American mentor since 2014.
“As I’ve said, it would be unfair to just base it on this game. This is a big result for us but we’ll take a holistic approach. It’s difficult to make commitments when you’re really happy. We have to approach that objectively and see where we want to go,” said Palami.
“We could be with him (Dooley) of course. He contributed a lot. But I’d rather not say for now,” he added.
Dooley began coaching the Azkals in 2014. The former US football team skipper led the PH team to the finals of the AFC Challenge Cup 2014, wherein an Asian Cup berth was at stake. The Philippines missed the big dance after losing to Palestine, 0-1.
Following their failed campaign in the Challenge Cup, midfielder Stephan Shrock and defender Dennis Cagara resigned from the national team, stating that they left because of Dooley.
“As long as Coach Dooley will lead the team, I won’t wear the jersey of Azkals again,” said Shrock through Twitter and Facebook.
“Dooley is also the reason why I won’t play for the Azkals for the moment,” said Cagara via Twitter as well.
The World Cup veteran got his contract extended for another two years in 2016, the same year that the country co-hosted the AFF Suzuki Cup with Myanmar. The Azkals bowed out early during the group stage after a 0-1 home defeat to Thailand.
Now that he guided the national team to an unbeaten run in the Asian Cup qualifier en route to a qualification to the main tournament, Dooley is hopeful that he will be given another chance to mentor the Azkals.
“Next is, I hope I get a new contract,” he said. “We’ve planned already. I’ve been looking ahead about what we’re going to do,” added Dooley, who holds a 21-12-17 overall win-draw-loss record as Azkals coach.
Meanwhile, Palami is contemplating on taking another role in the country’s football program.
After getting the team to the Asian Cup, I’ll have to look up for maybe another role for me in Philippine football. It’s been a long journey. My children are complaining that I might not have inheritance left for them,” he said in jest. “But it’s a happy culmination of all the heartaches.”
Since 2010, Palami has been the Azkals’ primary backer. He gained the Filipino football fans’ admiration after the Philippines pulled off a 2-0 upset against host Vietnam and advanced to the AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 knockout phase. It eventually became known as the “Miracle of Hanoi”.
Palami’s undying support continued even after the national squad struggled to sustain the momentum from then on. The Azkals patron’s hard work paid off following their remarkable entry into the Asian Cup next year in United Arab Emirates.
“It makes everything worth it. Sometimes you look at your bank account and then you just think at night if it’s all worth it. These are the kinds of moments that make everything worth it.”
Palami though wants to veer his focus away from the national team in the future.
“After being with this team from 2010 to 2018 and now to the 2019 Asian Cup, I’ll have to evaluate as well my role in Philippine football. Maybe in grassroots, I don’t know. I have to think about that,” he said.
But before leaving the seniors team, Palami has a one dream left for the Azkals.
“I want (the Philippines) to be the Iceland in Asian Cup. We’re not going there just to participate. We’re going there to compete and with us fully prepared. We want to make sure that we make an impact in the Asian stage.”