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How six Germans write history with the Philippines at the Asia Cup
Six native Germans caused a sensation at the Asia Cup as Filipino national players. A crazy story that started with Football Manager.
Stephan Schröck on the left wing, John-Patrick Strauss and Kevin Ingresso in the center, Patrick Reichelt in the storm - what for most of them sounds more like the formation of a German second division, is actually the axis of the national team. The Philippine national team.
With exactly this formation, the 105 million-inhabitant state led by Captain Schröck competed against China in the Asia Cup last Friday and hoped to be able to continue the Azkals' latest success story.
Never before qualified for a major tournament, there are now just six Germans who are supposed to serve as the hope of the Asians. "Nothing is normal with us," assures Schröck in an interview with SPOX and Goal. A thesis that can be confirmed with a look at the 23-man squad for the Asian Cup. Only four national players were born in the Philippines. The multicultural team comprises a total of twelve different countries of origin.
Two pioneering Chelsea youth players
The fact that all these footballers, who grew up all over the world, still represent the Filipinos at the Asian Cup, is less unusual than the story behind the special composition of the squad. This has its origin in the video game Football Manager.
There, in 2005, two brothers from the youth division of Chelsea stood out. Both Phil (then 18) and James Younghusbad (then 19) kicked for the reserve of the Blues and turned out to be great talents at Football Manager. The special thing about them, however, was not their talent, but their nationality, because they were listed in the game as Filipinos. A fact that got around to the Asian island nation and led officials of the local football association to contact the brother couple from Ashford.
Enthusiastic about the idea of presenting their mother's homeland on the big stage, the native English accepted the association's invitation. After a few appearances in the U23, they both made their debut for the Azkals in 2006 and in the Philippines it quickly became apparent that these guys are better at kicking than the local footballers.
Filipinos want to bring football forward
"Even back then, the officials wanted to bring football forward and knew that the players in Europe had a much better education than someone who was born in Manila," explains Schröck. "Why shouldn't one look around Europe for half-Filipinos?"
Alfons Schunk took on this task in Germany. Through his job as a sales representative for various confectionery companies, he was regularly on the road in Asia, where he organized, among other things, the perimeter advertising for the Asian Championships. After he married a Filipina, he got to know the president of the Azkals indirectly and made it his mission to promote the national team - in the form of scouting work in his German homeland.
So he organized a training camp in Germany, to which he invited around 20 players from the Bayern League to the Bundesliga. "Kevin Ingresso, Mike Ott, Patrick Reichelt, I and a few others made it onto the shortlist back then," remembers the now 32-year-old Schröck, who played for Greuther Frühth in the 2nd Bundesliga. "In the end, I was the second after Manuel Ott to finally celebrate his debut."
Schröck and Co. suddenly "pop stars" in the Philippines
While Schröck was already known in Germany as a former DFB junior national player and Bundesliga player, this cannot exactly be said of Reichelt, Ingresso and the Ott brothers. When they made their debut for the Azkals, they were under contract with TSG Neustrelitz, 1. FC Nürnberg II, FC Ingolstadt II and VfR Neumünster. "For us it is of course a great thing that we have so many German-speaking players on the team," said Schröck.
In addition to a foreign country and a new culture, the German Filipinos also had to get used to the hype surrounding the national team at the time of their debuts. "When I was there for the first time in 2011, we were national players and pop stars," recalls Schröck. "No matter where we were, we were besieged by fans."
In a state with a population of 105 million, where the average monthly income is less than 200 euros, a fallen top talent like the Schweinfurt native suddenly became a star. "It was indescribable. Once we were at Starbucks as a team, we had to take the emergency exit so we could somehow get out of the store."
Political conditions with effects on football
At that time the Azkals games were sold out "and there were still thousands of fans standing in front of the stadium without tickets," reports Schröck. But just a few months later, the football world in Southeast Asia looked different. "I don't know why. After I was out for about six months, the national team suddenly no longer interested anyone. Instead of 20,000 spectators, only 150 spectators came to our games six months later."
The players themselves do not know the exact reasons for this strange development. "The political situation in the country is difficult," explains the international, without going into any further detail. "The ticket prices were massively increased and the media marketing was completely stopped overnight."
It was not until the Southeast Asian Cup at the end of 2018 that the national team's media presence came back. Reaching the semi-finals and the associated first-time qualification for the Asian Cup sparked enthusiasm for football again. Where the 23 national players were actually born didn't really matter to the fans as long as they proudly wear the white and blue jersey.
"Mixed bloods"? Multicultural national team causes criticism
But this multicultural national team was not seen as loosely everywhere as in the Philippines itself. A game against Indonesia in the group stage of the Southeast Asia Cup in particular caused a lot of discussion after the Indonesian coach accused the Filipinos of distorting the competition. "He complained and said that we mixed bloods had physical advantages. He assumed that we were all just naturalized," explains Schröck. "But I think you shouldn't judge someone based on their ethnic background."
Of course, Schröck, Ott, Reichelt and Co. were not born and raised in the Philippines, but all of them have a parent who comes from the Philippines. "Here it is not possible to naturalize someone foreign. Either you have Filipino blood or not. We are neither mixed blood nor naturalized, but Filipinos and that's what we would like to be called," the captain of the national team makes clear.
Statements like these show the pride that Schröck and his compatriots feel - regardless of where they were born. Because now the six German Filipinos not only play for the national team, but also all live on the Philippine island of Negros and earn their money as professionals with the series champion Ceres Negros in Bacolod City.
With Eriksson: Hoping for the football miracle
Football fans in the state with a population of 105 million feel the same pride when they see their Akzals on the pitch at the Asian Cup against the great Asian football powers. Despite the two defeats at the beginning against title favorites South Korea (0: 1) and China (0: 3), the Filipinos still hope to make it into the round of the last eight as one of the best four group thirds.
In view of the mini-preparation of only around a week for the biggest tournament in the association's history, reaching the knockout round would be a small football miracle. In addition to the many half-Filipinos, the hopes are mainly based on coach Sven-Göran Eriksson. The Swedish coach icon was signed shortly before the tournament and is already the fifth coach in the past twelve months.
"What is common with us?" Asks Schröck, looking at the high level of coach wear and the sudden cooperation with Eriksson. "With him we have got a name that everyone around the world knows. With his experience, he can help us a lot, especially in a big tournament - even off the field."
In view of what is perhaps the most wonderful national team in the world of football, nothing seems impossible in this constellation - not even progressing after two defeats at the start of the group stage. And possibly it is even the axis of the German-Filipino "mixed bloods" that tips the scales in the decisive game against Kyrgyzstan.
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