For Stephan Schrock, the key to the Philippine Azkals' success in the foreseeable future will rely heavily on the strength of the country's national league and grassroots program.
Sounding off after he played his last-ever game for the men's national football team last Monday, the Filipino-German midfielder said the squad will eventually have to be less dependent on overseas-based players and stand on its own with the best local talents.
"The league has to improve, the professional side of the game has to step up overall for the grassroots and especially for the league," said Schrock.
For the grizzled veteran who officially retired from international football on Monday, it would primarily mean having a more competitive local league that shall push individuals to become even better players.
"Then, you don’t rely so much outside of the FIFA window on the overseas-based players. If you catch up the level, then you would have a fantastic national team but until then, there’s a lot of work to do," mentioned Schrock.
"I wish that things go well and that people support us and have patience with football and not be so quick to judge."
In the AFF Mitsubishi Electric Cup 2022 where the Philippines finished with its worst campaign since 2008, the Azkals paraded a good mix of local pros: members of the Azkals Development Team (ADT), and foreign-based stalwarts like Amani Aguinaldo, Jefferson Tabinas, Christian Rontini, Oliver Bias, and Kevin Ray Mendoza.
While the results were disappointing to spectators, Schrock encouraged supporters to look at the "behind the scenes" where the silver lining is getting the younger players immersed in a high-level international competition.
"We kickstarted now, the transition in Philippine football. You have to develop a lot of things. You cannot just throw the kids into the pool and hope that they can swim," said the four-time PFL champion.
"I hear left and right that people are judging really quick and I’d love to encourage them to look behind the scenes and trust the process and believe in the national team."
Azkals head coach Josep Ferre Ybarz seconded Schrock when it came to seeing positives, heaping praise on his group after a slim 1-2 loss at the hands of eventual semifinalist Indonesia at home.
"I think everybody who watched the game can see a team that can be proud of them. The fight, the spirit, the commitment, never (giving) up until the last minute, it has been an amazing experience for me to join the team in this tournament," said Ferre.
"Why I am here, of course, is because I want to push the Philippines as much as I can into the next phase but there is another objective in this project—that is to develop the young talent in the country. That’s where I am focused."
Schrock, who wound up with 57 international caps with the Azkals, added that he has left everything on the pitch in the 11 years he represented the country, and that it would be time for others to take charge.
"I am really honored and proud that I was part that long of the national team, showcase what I am coming from my mom; to make my mom happy and proud is my biggest achievement," he said.
"I think there is a time where you have to step back. It’s part or time now for others to step up and if they have to step up, I have to step down, as simple as that."