About Last Sunday…

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Fernando Torres captioned this photo as “Liverpool family”. I can’t even muster any eloquence to describe what the All-Star Charity Match (a.k.a. everyone’s chance to say goodbye) means to the fans. This club is making me weepy again (apart from the huge blows against Arsenal and that club made of manure).

Pope Francis in Manila: Algunas palabras de Santo Papa

From his meeting with families:

It is important to dream in the family. All mothers and fathers dream of their sons and daughters in the womb for 9 months. They dream of how they will be. It isn’t possible to have a family without such dreams. When you lose this capacity to dream, you lose the capacity to love, and the energy to love is lost. I recommend that at night when you examine your consciences, ask yourself if you dreamed of the future of your sons and daughters. Did you dream of your husband or wife? Did you dream today of your parents, your grandparents who carried forward the family to me? It is so important to dream and especially to dream in the family. Please don’t lose the ability to dream in this way. How many solutions are found to family problems if we take time to reflect, if we think of a husband or wife, and we dream about the good qualities they have. Don’t ever lose the memory of when you were boyfriend or girlfriend. That is very important.

From his homily in Tacloban:

I’d like to tell you something close to my heart. When I saw from Rome that catastrophe I had to be here. And on those very days I decided to come here. I am here to be with you – a little bit late, but I’m here. I have come to tell you that Jesus is Lord. And he never lets us down. Father, you might say to me, I was let down because I have lost so many things, my house, my livelihood. It’s true if you say that and I respect those sentiments. But Jesus is there, nailed to the cross, and from there he does not let us down. He was consecrated as Lord on that throne and there he experienced all the calamities that we experience. Jesus is Lord. And the Lord from the cross is there for you. In everything the same as us. That is why we have a Lord who cries with us and walks with us in the most difficult moments of life.

So many of you have lost everything. I don’t know what to say to you. But the Lord does know what to say to you. Some of you have lost part of your families. All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart. Many of you have asked the Lord – why lord? And to each of you, to your heart, Christ responds with his heart from the cross. I have no more words for you. Let us look to Christ. He is the lord. He understands us because he underwent all the trials that we, that you, have experienced. And beside the cross was his Mother.We are like a little child in the moments when we have so much pain and no longer understand anything. All we can do is grab hold of her hand firmly and say “Mommy”  – like a child does when it is afraid. It is perhaps the only words we can say in difficult times – “Mommy”.

From his message to the Filipino youth:

There’s only a very small representation of girls among you. Too little. Women have much to tell us in today’s society. Sometimes we are too “machistas” and we don’t allow enough space to women. But women can see things from a different angle to us, with a different eye. Women are able to pose questions we men are unable to understand. Look out for this fact: she is the only one who has put a question for which there is no answer. She couldn’t put it into words but expressed it with tears. So when the next pope comes to Manila, please let there be more girls.

I thank you Jun for talking about your experience so bravely. As I said, the heart of your question has no reply. Only when we too can cry about the things you said can we come close to answering that question. Why do children suffer so much? Why do children suffer? When the heart is able to ask itself and weep, then we can understand something. There is a worldly compassion which is useless. You expressed something like this. It’s a compassion that makes us put our hands in our pockets and give something to the poor. But if Christ had had that kind of compassion he would have greeted a couple of people, given them something, and walked on. But it was only when he was able to cry that he understood something of our lives. Dear young boys and girls, today’s world doesn’t know how to cry. The emarginated people, those left to one side, are crying. Those who are discarded are crying. But we don’t understand much about these people in need. Certain realities of life we only see through eyes cleansed by our tears. I invite each one here to ask yourself: have I learned how to weep? Have I learned how to weep for the emarginated or for a street child who has a drug problem or for an abused child? Unfortunately there are those who cry because they want something else.

You may ask me: Father, how do we become saints? This is another challenge. It is the challenge of love. What is the most important subject you have to learn at university? What is most important subject you have to learn in life? To learn how to love. This is the challenge that life offers you: to learn bow to love.

Real love is about loving and letting yourself be loved. It’s harder to let yourself be loved than to love. That is why it is so difficult to come to the perfect love of God. We can love Him but we must let ourselves be loved by Him. Real love is being open to the love that comes to you. The love that surprises us. If you only have information you are not surprised. Love surprises because it opens a dialogue of loving and being loved. God is a God of surprise because He loved us first. God awaits us to surprise us. Let us allow ourselves to be surprised by God. Let us not have a computer psychology that makes us think we know it all. All answers on computers – but no surprises. The challenge of love. God reveals himself through surprises.

Real love allows you to spend yourselves, to leave your pockets empty. Think of St Francis who died with empty hands and empty pockets but with a full heart. Remember: no young museums, and wise young people. To be wise use three languages: think well, feel well and do well. And to be wise allow yourselves to be surprised by the love of God. That will guarantee a good life.

How many young people among you are like this? You know how to give and yet you have ever learned how to receive. You still lack one thing. Become a beggar. This is what you still lack. Learn how to beg. This isn’t easy to understand. To learn how to beg. To learn how to receive with humility. To learn to be evangelized by the poor, by those we help, the sick, orphans, they have so much to give us. Have I learned how to beg? Or am I self-sufficient? Do I think I need nothing? Do you know you too are poor? Do you know your own poverty and your need to receive? Do you let yourselves be evangelised by those you serve? This is what helps you mature in your commitment to give to others. Learn how to open your hand from your very own poverty.

Start the year with a tear

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This has been the toughest decision of my life and one which both me and my family have agonised over for a good deal of time.I am making the announcement now so that the manager and the team are not distracted by stories or speculation about my future.

Liverpool Football Club has been such a huge part of all our lives for so long and saying goodbye is going to be difficult, but I feel it’s something that’s in the best interests of all involved, including my family and the club itself.

I’m going to carry on playing and although I can’t confirm at this stage where that will be, I can say it will be somewhere that means I won’t be playing for a competing club and will not therefore be lining up against Liverpool – that is something I could never contemplate.

My decision is completely based on my wish to experience something different in my career and life and I also want to make sure that I have no regrets when my playing career is eventually over.

I can’t thank Brendan, the owners and everyone at the club enough for how they’ve handled this and I am leaving on great terms. Also, I would like to thank my teammates and all the staff for their help and continued support.

It is a very special place to be part of. It is my sincere hope and wish that one day I can return to serve Liverpool again, in whatever capacity best helps the club.

One point that is important to make is that from now until the last kick of the last game of the season, I will be as fully committed to the team as I ever have been and giving everything I have to help Liverpool win games.

My final message is for the people who make Liverpool Football Club the greatest in the world – the supporters.

It has been a privilege to represent you, as a player and as captain. I have cherished every second of it and it is my sincere wish to finish this season and my Liverpool career on a high.”

– Steven Gerrard

It is an end of an era, indeed. Steven Gerrard *is* Liverpool.

Hopes and Expectations

I started the early morning of December 10 feeling tragically optimistic that Liverpool would somehow cinch a home win over Basel to proceed to the knockout stages of the Champions League. I ended up feeling sorrier for Steven Gerrard than for myself over a crummy 1-1 draw that saw Liverpool largely uninspired and lacking ideas.

I started the evening of December 10 hoping against all hope that the Azkals would break their scoreless streak in the semifinals of the Suzuki Cup for the third consecutive tournament. I ended up feeling sorrier for Rob Gier and his tired, dejected face when the final whistle blew at the Rajamangala Stadium.

This is when your emotional well-being takes a beating. Days and nights end with extreme opposites of emotion. Elation for those shots on target replaced with deflation and what-could-have-beens. Hopes dashed with the knowledge that a shot made or missed spelled the outcome of a game.

Add to that aging captains and talismans who might not be around much longer.

Feelings are indeed all over the place.

Let me take a step back though. There was much optimism surrounding the 0-0 draw in Manila as a momentum that the Azkals could ride on. Maybe it was just us pep-talking ourselves that we could change our fortunes in an away game. After all, recent history (as in the 2012 Suzuki Cup) tells us that a goalless draw at home never really set the stage for an away win.

Two years ago, in the away game against Singapore, we regressed to the 2010-2011 version of ourselves, resorting to long balls and lacking creativity anywhere. This time around, we played catch-up to Thailand since the start of the match—and paid for it. While we were able to impose a semblance of our game in the second half, Thailand simply outplayed and outclassed us (times like this, I miss the brazenness of Stephan Schröck to tear down the middle and match Charyl Chappuis in the swagger department).

Inasmuch as this loss bites once again (and how we have to wait for another two agonizing years to try and stamp dominance on ASEAN football), the loss to Thailand opens up opportunities for introspection and taking stock of where we are in comparison to the rest of the region (rankings be damned).

When I look back at our tournament, the three key standouts to me were Misagh Bahadoran, Patrick Reichelt, and Amani Aguinaldo.

Misagh Bahadoran received a lot of love from me on Twitter, but while he lacks the killer instinct in the final third and his decision-making skills have been suspect, you can’t fault the guy for trying. In all the years I’ve watched this guy on the pitch, this is probably the tournament where you can say he’s tried his darndest.

Patrick Reichelt, to me, has posed a greater scoring threat than Phil Younghusband, and this super-sub role fits him well.

As for Amani Aguinaldo, the boy has grown into a man in this tournament, and he is definitely the future of our aging backline. When fans of other nations in the tournament go the extra mile to intimidate this player (and when the opposing team all makes a go for him, expecting him to crack), in a sense, this is a good sign that they are taking him seriously.

Let me go back to Liverpool for a bit here. When my Reds crashed out the Champions League, Steven Gerrard essentially pointed out that Liverpool did not crash because of that one home game at Anfield versus Basel. The situation that they put themselves in—a must-win game at home—was the result of several games where they could have ended in better results for themselves. I can’t help but feel the same way for the Azkals—we put ourselves in a situation where we could not win against the likes of Thailand or Vietnam and botched our chances of winning at home by fluffing two or so really good chances to score.

That said, the game versus Thailand gives us much room to learn from the rest of the region. Two years ago, the likes of Teerasil Dangda and Theeraton Bunmathan captivated us. Those big names are absent now, replaced by the likes of Chanathip Songkrasin (dubbed Messi Jay—and we all saw why at the Rajamangala Stadium) and Swiss-Thai Charyl Chappuis (who I am dubbing the Asian Cristiano Ronaldo, by virtue of his finely shaped eyebrows and copious amounts of hair gel to keep that ‘do in place). To be optimistic that we could win against Thailand by virtue of their strikers unavailable for the return leg was painfully short-sighted. It was Thailand’s midfield that controlled and dominated the game.

Moreover, about half of Thailand’s line-up were carryovers from the U23s, which makes it a strong case for developing local talent.

When I look back at the year that was, I remember being optimistic with a new coach at the helm, young players brought into the fold, and a more attractive, possession-based, passing game. It just seemed to be the foundations to get the silverware that we longed for. Along the way, that optimism has waned for one reason or another (let’s not go there).

If this was the plot of a story, this feels like the denouement already. As for the conclusion—that is too early to say, following a tournament that left us all believing and ending up in the same place as we were before. Will there be swan songs and fresh starts? Part of me hopes so.

Looking forward to the next chance for us to prove that we are even better than ourselves.

(As it appears on Pinoyfootball)

Miracle in Hanoi (Part 2)

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve had more than one not-too-optimistic comments about how the Azkals have prepped for the Suzuki Cup. Even the 4-1 victory over Laos was not enough to quell all the “They could have done better!” nagging thoughts in my head.

That said, this national team acquits itself quite nicely (as if they owe me anything, really). Nay, I’d say they finally got a sense of vindication after finally winning over Indonesia in 80+ years or so of football history. In Hanoi, once again. This miracle surely keeps on rewriting itself.

Finally, they’re inspiring confidence once again.

We need more of this.

To say that Liverpool has had a rocky start to the season is a bit of an understatement—and the gaggle of debate for plausible explanations will not die down anytime soon. As for me, I’m just glad Adam Lallana finally got on the score sheet in a Liverpool shirt… and that Jordan Henderson is indeed Vice-Captain Fantastic.

Resilience, Romansa, ang Gilas, at ang Azkals

Kakagaling ko lang sa isang business conference kung saan ang tema ay, “Building Resilient Communities”. Doon sa conference na iyon, tinalakay ng mga lider ng business, gobyerno, at ng mga NGOs kung ano nga ba ang mga kinakailangan para maging resilient ang isang pamayanan—yung tipong madaling mag-bounce back matapos ang isang pangyayari gaya ng cyclone sa Myanmar, earthquake sa Indonesia, at ni Yolanda sa Pilipinas.

Sa isang bahagi ng conference na iyon, pinagdebatihan ng mga participant kung ang pagbuo ba ng resilient communities ay para sa economic development higit sa lahat.

Sabi ng isang panig, oo naman. Economic development ang enabler ng mga tao. Mas madali silang makakaahon mula sa pinsala, dahil may pera at resources sila. Sabi rin nila, kung mas economically developed ang isang community to begin with, hindi sintindi ang epekto sa kanila ng isang disaster.

Sagot naman ng isang panig, oo, importante ang economic development, pero hindi yun ang dahilan kung bakit bumubuo tayo ng resilient communities. Sabi nila, ang resilience ng isang pamayanan ay dahil kailangan upang pagtibayin ang social fabric—o what keeps the people together, ika nga. Sabi rin nila, ang resilience ay hindi dahil maraming resources ang isang pamayanan—sila ay resilient dahil may pinanghuhugutang lakas mula sa loob.

Esoteric mang pakinggan, pero pag inisip mo siya sa experience ng mga Pinoy, totoo nga naman. Kahit i-apply mo pa yan sa Gilas at sa Azkals, totoo pa rin.

***

Maraming nagsasabi na dapat tigilan na natin ang lofty ambitions natin sa basketball. Nga naman, higit isang ulo ang lamang ng mga kalaban sa height pa lang. Sa liit nating ito, disadvantaged agad tayo.

Pero ang simplistic lang kasi ng reasoning eh. Nasa kultura at diwa natin ang basketball. Di lang yan dahil kasama siya sa PE classes simula grade school pa lang o dahil ipinapalabas ang NBA, PBA, UAAP, at kahit Eurobasket na rin ngayon sa TV. Yung love affair natin sa basketball, andiyan na, nineteen-forgotten pa. At kung bawat kanto nga ay may makeshift board at halos lahat ng mga Pinoy ay nakapagpamalas ng basketball moves with Air Tsinelas—alam mong hindi sapat yung height argument kung bakit huwag na lang pagpilitan ang basketball.

Masakit panoorin yung apat na laro ng Gilas na yun sa Sevilla. Sabihin n’yo nang kulang sa endgame composure at kung anu-ano pang pwedeng imura, iba pa rin yung ipinamalas na puso eh. Yun yung nagpapaasa sa atin na mananalo tayo—at huli man na upang makapunta sa knockout rounds sa Madrid, hindi mo mamalitiin yung tagumpay laban sa Senegal.

Sa wakas, lahat nung paghihirap at pag-aasa nauwi din sa isang panalo.

Resilient, diba? Dig deep kung sa dig deep. Literal na blood, sweat, and tears ang ibinuhos. Takeaway natin diyan: kaya nating makipagsabayan on the world stage.

***

Eh sa football naman?

Tinopak ako at bumili ng tickets para manood ng Juventus vs. Singapore Selection ilang linggo lang nakakaraan. Sabi ko, ito na ang pagkakataon ko para makita ang genius ni Andrea Pirlo at ang kagwapuhan ni Claudio Marchisio.

Pero hindi ito tungkol dun sa mga Italyano—kahit na, oo, ang galing nila at pinaglaruan lang nila ang Singapore sa score na 5-0.

Tungkol ito dun sa Singapore Sports Hub, yung bagong stadium ng Singapore. Sobrang bongga lang eh. Ang linis. Ang laki. 55,000 o higit pa ang seats. May retractable roof, para kung may delubyo man, tuloy pa rin ang laro. Andaming kiosks ng pagkain—from hotdogs to curry puffs to noodles. Ang linis ng banyo. Yung locker rooms, maikukumpara sa locker rooms ng mga European clubs.

Naisip ko, ang swerte ng iba nating regional counterparts sa football. State-of-the-art ang facilities. Eh sa Rizal Memorial Stadium? Kahit artificial na yung turf, waterlogged pa rin. Dati, itinigil din sila ng game sa lakas ng ulan. Siyempre yung mga maintenance boys, naglabas ng drum, timba, walis, at dustpan para i-scoop out yung tubig. Bongga, diba?

Kung inisip mo yung facilities na available para sa Azkals, walang incentive eh. Talagang para sa bayan yung laro. Sakripisyo pa yan ng jet lag para sa iba. Pero pag tiningnan mo naman sila tuwing ipapatugtog yung Lupang Hinirang, either kinakanta nila yung mga salita o di kaya’y nakapikit ang mata upang maramdaman ang ibig-sabihin ng national anthem.

Kung ikukumpara sa basketball, hindi naman talaga ganun katagal ang love affair natin with football. Wala pa ngang apat na tayon—kung sa isang relationship yan, medyo tanggap mo na kung ano yung mga pagkukulang at mga quirks, pero may gana pa rin yang mangromansa, kasi di pa nagsasawa.

Parang Azkals din yan. Madaming instances na mahuhulog talaga loob mo sa kanila, tapos babalik sa long balls ang laro o tipong may ayaw na naming magpasa ng bola. Frustrating din dahil kulang sa silverware. Sige, may dalawang Peace Cups tayo, pero ano ba naman ang bigat nun. Eh ito ngang sa huli, dapat ikatlong Peace Cup na natin ito, nasungkit pa ng Myanmar.

Reslient din naman sila. Sa apat na taon, naipakilala nila tayo sa football—kahit hindi man ito jogo bonito o tiki-taka, iba pa rin yung nakikita mong hindi sila bumibitaw sa laro, kahit pagod na pagod na sa kakatakbo at kakasemplang sa loob ng 90 minuto.

Kahit yung tatay ko na dati rati’y hindi makaupo sa isang buong football match sa TV dahil wala naman daw nakaka-score, ngayon, mas malakas pa ang sigaw sa akin kada daplis o saved shot ng Azkals.

Naisip ko nga, matapos tayong talunin ng Myanmar, hindi pa rin natin natatalo si Raddy Avramovic (masakit pa rin yung pagkatalo natin sa Singapore nung 2012 Suzuki Cup) at, oo, runners-up na naman tayo sa ikalawang tournament sa taong ito sa ilalim ni Thomas Dooley.

Pero pag inisip mo naman na dati ay whipping boys tayo sa Asya, ngayon umaasa na tayong manalo ng regional tournaments. Resilience din naman yun. Sana lang nga, manalo na sa Suzuki Cup sa pagtatapos ng taong ito.

***

Balik tayo dun sa business conference. Sabi ni Jose Ramos Horta, ang Nobel Peace Prize laureate at dating pangulo ng Timor-Leste, “Resilience stems from adversity.” Sanay na tayo to be at a disadvantage, pero mayroon ding mga pagkakatoon na we surprise ourselves and exceed our expectations.

Ang maganda dun, nowhere to go but up ang direksyon natin, basketball o football pa man yan.