Ex Azkals coach Thomas Dooley hails Younghusbands — ‘Pleasure to work with them’

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Jul 06 2020 11:55 AM

Two-time United States World Cup team captain Thomas Dooley, who managed the Philippine Azkals from 2014 to 2018, has nothing but glowing words for James and Phil Younghusand, describing them as “extremely professional and leaders” on and off the field.

“It is sad to see legends like James and Phil retiring from football,” Dooley said after learning that older brother James retired June 25.

Phil called it a day seven months earlier, following the national squad’s Asian Cup debut in January 2019 in the United Arab Emirates.

“Not only was their football knowledge very important, but also their personalities made an impact for football in the Philippines. They will be missed,” noted Dooley, who now works as the sports director of Vietnamese club Viettel FC, of his fond memories of the Younghusband brothers.

Despite having no actual experience in coaching a national team, the American, who skippered the US squad in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, was hired by the Philippine Football Federation in early 2014 as a replacement for German coach Michael Weiss.

Dooley, who marked his 59th birthday last May 12, likewise had a stellar professional career as an outstanding defender and midfielder in the German Bundesliga, anchoring Kaiserslautern to the German Cup In 1990 and the league title the following year. 

“It was a pleasure to work with both of them (the Younghusbands) and write some great history for the country (the Philippines),” recalled Dooley of his experience with both brothers as well as the national team.

During his four-year stint, the American-German mentor and the Younghusbands collaborated in boosting the Azkals -- and Philippine football -- to new heights in setting a couple of milestones.

Ex Azkals coach Thomas Dooley hails Younghusbands — ‘Pleasure to work with them’ 1
With coach Thomas Dooley at the helm, the Younghusbands and the Azkals made history on March 27, 2018, by qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time. Richard Esguerra, ABS-CBN Sports/file

Shortly after taking over in early 2014, Dooley steered the national team to its maiden appearance in the finals of the AFC Challenge Cup, the Asian Cup qualifying tournament then, in the island resort country of the Maldives. 

With him at the helm, the Azkals topped Group B with two wins and one draw, highlighted by a 2-0 conquest of Turkmenistan, avenging a stinging 1-2 loss when the two sides met in the 2012 edition held in Kathmandu, Nepal. Phil Younghusband and Patrick Reichelt were the goal scorers in the match.

Tantalizingly close to making their first Asian Cup appearance, the Filipinos dropped a heartbreaking 0-1 decision to Palestine in the championship match held in the Maldivian capital of Male.

Dooley also led the Filipinos to their third straight semifinals in the 2014 ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup, Southeast Asia’s men’s football tournament, after placing runner-up to Vietnam in Group B in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

Most notable in that outing was the Filipinos’ 4-0 rout of Indonesia, snapping a 56-year, and 21-match losing streak to the Merah Puti (Red and and White) dating back to the 1958 Tokyo Asian Games.

RISK-TAKER, INNOVATOR

Dooley was known as a risk-taker and innovator, as long as his charges gave their 100 percent effort, allowing homegrown players such as defenders Amani Aguinaldo and Daisuke Sato, keeper Patrick Deyto and striker Misagh Bahadoran to flourish under his system. 

But it was not all a bed and roses for the American mentor, who would not be cowed by popular sentiment, once leaving gifted but mercurial midfielder Stephan Schröck out of the Philippines side for not following his instructions.

Dooley’s stint with the Azkals reached its lowest point in the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup, in front of a hometown crowd no less, as the country hosted one of the group stages for the first time at the 20,000-seat Philippine Stadium in Bocaue, Bulacan.

Although tipped as one of the favorites in Group A, the Filipinos stumbled out of the gates, settling for a goalless draw to Singapore, which was in the midst of a major team overhaul at that time.

They found themselves in dire straits following another deadlock -- a 2-2 all standoff with Indonesia -- before bowing out of contention in a 0-1 setback to group topnotcher Thailand, which went all the way to clinch the Suzuki Cup trophy.

Much to the disappointment of Filipino fans, the Azkals, despite what many saw as a powerhouse cast, fell short of reaching the semis for the fourth straight time since their stunning success in 2010. 

REDEMPTIONS ARRIVES IN 2018

The American mentor’s redemption, however, came two years later when he adroitly piloted the Pinoy footballers to finally qualifying for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time.

With both Younghusbands involved in the fray, that epic and unforgettable moment came on March 27, 2018, in front of a banner hometown crowd at the heritage-rich Rizal Memorial Football Stadium in Manila.

In what would be Dooley’s fitting swan song in charge, the Nationals came-from-behind to nip Tajikistan 2-1 to rule the four-team Group F in the third and final round of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.

Fittingly, it was Phil Younghusband who came through with the winning goal, a penalty kick in 91st minute, a golden marker that went down as his 50th in international play, as James came off the bench late in the second half to shore up the midfield. 

The Azkals topped the group with 12 points with three wins and a draw, with Yemen taking runner-up honors with 10 points (two wins, four draws), as both sides advanced to the continental football showcase in the United Arab Emirates in January 2019.

At the end of Asian Cup qualifying campaign, the Philippines rose to its highest ranking ever in the International Football Federation rankings at No. 111.

Despite these outstanding achievements, however, Dooley’s contract was not renewed by the PFF, a decision that some quarters believed the coach did not deserve.

Dooley showed no bitterness in paying tribute to the retired Younghusbands.

“When things did not go well on the field, they (the Younghusbands) always handled everything very professionally,” he enthused. “Philippine football lost some of the best footballers, and, just maybe, the best human beings. I wish both of them a bright future.”

(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).