Dubai: Banishing Stephan Schrock could come back to haunt Philippines coach Thomas Dooley if his side fails to qualify for the Asian Cup for the first time this month.
The Azkals (Street Dogs) only need to avoid defeat at home to Tajikistan on March 27 to reach the UAE-hosted event next January, where almost 700,000 expatriate Filipinos will be waiting to cheer them on in what would be their debut in the continental competition.
One way to help strengthen their chances of qualifying would be to deploy the 31-year-old Filipino-German midfielder, who was pivotal in Ceres-Negros’ 3-2 win away to Australia’s Brisbane Roar in January’s Asian Champions League qualifier, which was the greatest single result by a Filipino club side ever.
But Schrock labelled Dooley’s Philippines set-up a ‘chicken farm’ in 2014 – a German phrase for disorganisation - and refused to return to the national team fold while Dooley was still in charge, citing the coaches’ lack of respect for senior players. The two patched up briefly in 2015, but Schrock hasn’t played since 2016 after issues resurfaced.
It echoes similar sporting rifts like Roy Keane’s bust-up with Ireland boss Mick McCarthy ahead of the 2002 World Cup in football, and Kevin Pietersen’s row with his England cricket teammates in 2012, where a maverick player is tragically left out for the greater good, leaving fans to wonder what if their favourite player had been included.
“A lot has happened in the past that is too much to explain,” Schrock told Gulf News. “I got a lot of support for the things I said. I stepped up for those who couldn’t afford to and who might not have had the voice and the coach knows that.
“I know the things I’ve done were for the good of my friends. I don’t shy away from things when they get harsh and I don’t have a problem with being the villain, as long as it’s for the good of my friends. You might say it’s not for the good of the country, but I didn’t choose it to be that way.”
Of the Tajikistan match, the former Hoffenheim and Eintracht player, added: “It shouldn’t be taken for granted because on paper we’ve missed some easier opportunities to qualify. To have a bigger chance I think the best 23 players should be invited.
“I’ve never said there was no desire to play for my country again. It’s always a pleasure to serve my country. If I get a call-up I’ll wrap my boots and try my best to lead us to the Asian Cup. But I’m not the one doing the call-ups and since I know I won’t get invited, I just wish them well from wherever I’ll be on that date.
“It feels like a number of misunderstandings and miscommunications from both sides,” he added of his rift with Dooley. “But it doesn’t matter for me anymore, what does matter is that the country makes it to the Asian Cup – this game will be more important than any other match in our history.
“I don’t know why I should apologise, because I haven’t done anything wrong since the first fall out we had and I apologised for that already for the way I expressed myself but not for the content. Things got twisted by the media but I’m straight forward, so he didn’t read anything that I haven’t already told him face-to-face.”
Asked if he now regretted his bust-up with Dooley, given that it could deny him an Asian Cup run out, he replied: “No, absolutely not. Football is a crazy business and situations change very fast.”
Approached for comment, German-born former USA captain Dooley said of Schrock: “Everybody deserves a second chance but he’s blown his second chance and there’s no reason for a third. We’ve played incredible without him and have broken multiple records. And we were successful because we were a team.
“Schrock is not a bad player but I am not deciding on political reasons. It will always be based upon what is best for the team.
“I was a player for 20 years and have been involved in the highest level of football for 28 years. I had a lot of success and failure. You don’t need the best players to win big games you need to have the best team to be successful.
“The success I had was when everybody had respect, worked with each other, for each other, and was there for one another.
“The failue I had was when we had players who were selfish, didn’t follow rules, had no respect and weren’t willing to do what was necessary. There is a code of conduct and that counts for everyone.”