Robbie Fowler – Bacolod and Philippines Football Needs You and LFC

One of the very few downsides of retiring to, and living in the Philippines is missing my football fix, particularly when it involves Liverpool Football Club. Robbie Fowler, you are needed here. Let me explain.

 

As my readers will know, I have been an avid fan of Liverpool Football Club for just over 60 years now, having seen my first football match at Anfield back in the old Second Division days under our then new manager, Bill Shankly.

Yesterday, I had the most pleasurable experience watching two back to back games at the Panaad Stadium, Bacolod. It was the first in three days of football matches in the Regional Under-22 Play-Offs to decide who goes through to the national Philippines finals.

Those two games yesterday involved Negros Occidental Football Association (NOFA) who played Negros Oriental F.A. (Dumaguete) followed by Cebu vs. Leyte. NOFA is essentially the Bacolod representative team, so they were on home turf.

As I say, it was a pleasure to watch these young guys in action in both of the matches. The level of skills were amazing especially seeing they were playing in a temperature of 30C, as well as a strong blustery wind and a somewhat bobbly playing surface.

Despite playing in that kind of heat, it wasn’t the slow slow, tippy tappy, tiki-taka possession football that maybe you  could expect in those energy sapping conditions. No, it was a full-blooded contest with possession being fought for at every opportunity. Full-blooded yes, but the tackles were well timed (in the main) and sportsmanship was prominent despite the will to win every ball. The referees in both games had little to do, even the slightly whistle happy ref in the second game! They both officiated splendidly and let the game flow. Even their assistants, or linesmen as they used to be called, managed to get the offside decisions right (with one major exception!)

The attacking skills on display were silky and a delight to witness. The quality of the crossing was first class. The defenders were excellent too, and mainly made the right choices as to when to play the ball out of defense or simply clear their lines (read – boot the ball upfield!)

Two Stand-Out Players

There were so many good players on the pitch, but it would be remiss of me not to mention two of them. For me, they were stand-out players. The first was # 11 for NOFA (Bacolod). I believe his name was Dutsome, but I’m not 100% certain. A small, quick winger who could dribble and had an excellent cross. He had that low center of gravity that is the hallmark of many great players like Maradona  and Luis Suarez.

The second was # 32 of Cebu. I believe his name is Decena. What a player! A midfielder who seemed to have all the time in the world. He reminded me so much of Michael Essien. He played it simple most of the time, giving short passes to the feet of his team mates but then significantly always moved into space to make himself free for a return ball. “Pass and move” in the best Liverpool traditions!  He also had an eye for the long ball capable of splitting defenses but used it sparingly and wisely. I also liked his composure. He always had his head up, ball under control and looking for the best options.

I would like to see him play against tougher opposition just to see how good he really is. The thing that made life easy for him was the lack of numbers in midfield from the opposition, Leyte. It was strange really as Cebu played a really old fashioned 4-2-4 set up which should have meant that the two Cebu midfielders, including # 32, were out numbered.

I had met the coach of Cebu in the Luxur Place Hotel, Bacolod before the games were played. Indeed, it was through him that I became aware of these fixtures. He is a really nice guy who clearly loves his football and enjoys coaching at that age level.

I saw him after the game and asked about # 32. His reply surprised me. he said, “Do you mean the slow player?” I knew what he meant by that so I said, “Yes.”

It’s true I never saw # 32 trot, never mind run! But he didn’t need to. He bossed the midfield and played the game his way. It was a delight to see.

These young men were a credit to football, a game I love. It made me yearn to be young enough and free of arthritis so I could kick a ball again.

Bacolod has been described as the “football capital” of the Philippines. The Panaad Stadium is host to the Philippines champions Ceres-La Salle F.C. They are a professional side and boast several foreigners amongst their ranks complemented by homegrown squad members. Panaad also hosts some Azkals matches – Azkals being the nickname for the Philippines national team.

Recently I wrote here about the amazing football skills I had witnessed displayed by a street kid in Bacolod.  Football is already popular in Negros Island and Bacolod in particular.

Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush – Both LFC Ambassadors

I seriously think the game would benefit by having ambassadors from Liverpool FC such as Robbie Fowler or Ian Rush visiting Negros Island and holding clinics. That would benefit the youngsters here and, of course,  would be great PR for Liverpool FC and promote another fan base for the club in Asia just like they have already done in places like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. There is already a Philippines Facebook Group dedicated to Liverpool FC with over 1000 members so why not boost the profile of LFC in the Phils and arrange for Robbie Fowler or Ian Rush to visit in an ambassadorial role?

 

There would also be another great benefit. Prior to the Cebu game,  I watched Cebu warming up and holding shooting practice. It is one part of their game they need to dramatically improve. The overall standard was excellent, but the shooting was “powder puff.”

There were a number of things they all need to work on and I include players from all the teams I watched, not solely Cebu. They need to put these things into practice:

  • composure in front of goal
  • head over the ball
  • stop leaning backwards as they shoot
  • aim for timing, not power – power will come if you time the shot “sweetly”
  • practice, practice, practise – left foot – right foot – left foot – right foot
  • use a wall or shooting board to practice
  • use the conditions e.g. it was windy and a bobbly pitch – use them to surprise the ‘keeper
  • shoot, shoot, shoot – don’t be shy!

Shoot!

I mentioned the shooting to the coach of the Cebu team and several of his players after the game back in the team hotel. The young guys smiled and it was a smile of acknowledgement. They know where they need to improve. I also mentioned the 4-2-4 set up to the coach and commented that was going to be a problem vs. the physically strong Bacolod team in the final as they employ 3 at the back with 3 midfielders but the wide men also drop into midfield. Coach smiled and said, “We will work on that. We had the same idea.”

Who better to hold a clinic and show them how to shoot? Two of the greatest goal scorers the Reds  ever had – Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush!

Back to the Regional Play-Offs,  and I must give credit to the Philippines Football Federation for the organization of the tournament. I liked the fanfare accompanying the teams on to the pitch and the short ceremonies before kick off. It was a great day.

I am looking forward to watching Saturday’s final games particularly Bacolod vs. Cebu.

Liverpool FC, Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush – C’mon lads! Get over here! You will also enjoy the hospitality and friendliness in the City of Smiles!