MANILA, Philippines – Football is alive and well in the country, thanks to the popularity of the Philippine Azkals.
But behind the resurgence of the sport in this basketball-crazy nation is a no-nonsense Azkals team manager named Dan Palami.
Palami, the current Leyte Football Association president, is credited for assembling the core of the Azkals team we came to know.
He became part of the Philippine Azkals in late 2009 when the Philippine Football Federation (PFF) asked him to manage the team.
“Nobody wanted the job… I mean nobody wanted to handle a team that was losing internationally so it was a losing proposition for somebody then,” remembered Palami.
“I just said that well, somebody has to take a chance, I grabbed it and see what I can do.”
He then took part in putting up a formidable national squad by bringing together the likes of Aly Borromeo, Anton del Rosario, Chieffy Caligdong, Ian Araneta, Phil and James Younghusband, Neil Etheridge and Robert Gier.
Back then, the Azkals were relatively unknown to casual sports fans. Sponsors were hard to find and the bulk of the team’s finances came from Palami’s pocket.
Palami’s support was not limited to managing the team’s funding. He made sure that the Azkals were properly taken care of by attending most of the team’s training sessions.
He did this while managing his company, a giant engineering firm engaged in the construction and maintenance of railway systems.
“I actually have a day job. My job is full time in football and full time with my company,” said Palami.
Things started to pick up for the Azkals when they qualified for the main tournament of the 2010 Suzuki Cup. They went on to score more victories, including a 2-0 upset of then defending champion Vietnam.
Palami is now helping the Azkals to prepare for their FIFA World Cup qualifier against Sri Lanka.
“I think I’ll never forget how it was when we all started. When the players, myself and the management were all trying to build the dream,” he said.
“It was those moments that when you go back and you find yourself where you are right now... you tell yourself that everything turned out well.”
Name: Dan Stephen Castillo Palami
Birthday: June 9
Birthplace: Tacloban City
Position in the Azkals team: Team manager
Favorite player: Lionel Messi
Hobbies: Reading and football
What’s the best thing you like about football?
Well, It’s everything... the whole team camaraderie, everything that happens before the game, after the game. It’s a good experience. Something that we don’t easily forget and when you go lie down on your bed and think about all the things that happened, you don’t have any regrets.
What is your comment on reports about some of the Azkals getting distracted by showbiz commitments?
I fully agree in the statement that focus should be given to the national team... But for as long as you show up and make good account of yourself on training, games and other official functions of the team then I don’t really mind."
Some Azkals are more popular than others... aren’t the rest of the team getting jealous over the attention received by their more popular team mates?
I don’t think so. It’s not about being the most popular players anyway. At the end of the day, as a manager, what matters is you build a team with team spirit and not just a collection of individuals. It doesn’t matter. Just make sure that work is shown.