MANILA, Philippines – History will show that Global Cebu FC lost to Ceres-Negros in the finals of the first season of the Philippines Football League (PFL), that they gave up three goals in the first half en route to a 4-1 loss at Panaad.
Yet for Global Cebu coach Akbar Nawas, their 2017 campaign was still a satisfying one, for several reasons.
In his first year in charge, Global Cebu reached two finals. They made it to the championship match of the 2017 Singapore Cup in November, losing to Japan's Albirex Niigata in penalties. A month later, they advanced to the PFL finals.
Global Cebu did all these despite a depleted, injury-ravaged roster. There were even times in their campaign when Nawas only had 14 players to call on.
Indeed, Global Cebu was not even favored to reach the PFL finals. They were seeded fourth after the elimination rounds, and were up against the No. 1 team in Meralco Manila. But they took down the Sparks in the semis with an aggregate score of 3-2.
"I'm immensely satisfied with the whole season," Nawas said Monday, two days after their loss in the PFL finals. "We had to dig deep."
"The players, myself, the staff, the coaches – everyone had to dig deep. Every single game, we had to dig deep in our approach to beat the opponents," he added.
Nawas, a Singaporean coach who took over for Global in June, stressed that their achievements this year were no joke when the circumstances are taken into account.
"We had a depleted squad, and for most of the season we played with only 14 players. Sometimes, 13 players. Sometimes, we played without a goal-keeper," he bared. "I mean, it wasn't easy for us."
"For the players to have managed two finals, I think it's an impressive feat," said Nawas, who added that their game against Ceres in the PFL finals should not define their season.
"It was a great season for everyone," he added emphatically. "Credit to the players for achieving this."
Yet Nawas is also aware that what they did this year is simply not sustainable, especially if Global Cebu wants to keep contending for championships in 2018. The coach admits that in their run to the PFL finals, they took "too many magic pills."
"We got out of trouble so many times because we dug deep to win games," he explained. "But why do I say magic pills? It's because not every time you can do this and suddenly, hope to get a result."
"The final (against Ceres) showed that," he pointed out. "I guess in my suitcase, I ran out of magic pills."
They simply had no answer for a deep, talented Ceres squad that featured players such as Stephan Schrock and Iain Ramsay. Bienvenido Marañón set the tone for Ceres with a goal in the fourth minute, and Ramsay then had his way as he grabbed a hat-trick.
"The first goal came too early," said Nawas. "And to be down 3-0 after 27 minutes, it was a bit too much."
Even as he lauds his players for the grit they showed in reaching the final, at the end of the day it was not enough to match with the explosive Busmen.
"Spirit alone won't win you championships," Nawas stressed. "That is important, but you need all the other factors."
Thus, the coach said there is plenty that Global Cebu needs to do in order to improve upon their finish this year. The first thing on his list is simple: the team needs more players.
"We have to have additional players on the squad, and I'm not talking about two or three additional players," he added. "It could be seven or eight players."
Nawas revealed that right now, they only have 18 players on their roster, and they need 25 players in order to play at a high-level all throughout the year. After all, Global Cebu won't just play in the PFL as they will also compete in the AFC Cup -- and Nawas is determined to bring the team past the group stage.
Thus, as early as now he and Global Cebu management are in discussions regarding the steps they have to take so they can field a much-improved team next year.
"We need to have players, we need to find good quality players to make the team stronger," stressed Nawas.
"If you want a championship team, you can't just rely on miracles."
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