The seasoned coach is not wavering on his belief.
It takes a village to build a winning team. Let alone make history with that team. But that’s exactly what the Philippine women’s national football team did last year. Now, the Filipinas are on the precipice of yet another milestone run in the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
That undeniable point needs to be hammered and screwed and tightened and locked over and over again. THE PHILIPPINES WILL PLAY IN THE FIFA WOMEN’S WORLD CUP. That cannot be overstated. Play that on repeat on your Spotify.
Certainly, the Filipinas had plenty of help to get where they are now. But one person who helped turn things around is someone who wasn’t even supposed to be here: Coach Alen Stajcic.
In an interview with Optus Sport, Stajcic said he got the job to coach the Filipinas “under freakish circumstances.” Sydney was still in lockdown in late 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic when he got a call from fellow Australian Jim Fraser, who was already with the national team program since 2014, asking if he was interested in coaching the Filipina booters.
"It was a 10-week camp in Irvine, California preparing the team for the [AFC Women’s] Asian Cup. A three-month contract to go over there and do the best and hopefully give the team a chance to qualify for its first-ever World Cup,” recalled Stajcic.
“I've said it publicly already, this is probably the best achievement so far of my coaching career,” said the 49-year-old drillmaster.
Now, they are weeks away from competing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. While the Filipinas will be major underdogs in their maiden stint in the beautiful sport’s grandest stage, they surely won’t settle for moral victories. Not just happy to be here but happy to compete here.
But again, Stajcic could’ve easily been elsewhere.
After steering the Filipinas to the historic qualification, Stajcic revealed that he received offers—presumably more lucrative ones—from other national teams and foreign clubs. But he chose to continue with the Philippines. Why? The Philippines, really? A third-world country beset with seemingly endless problems?
Well, to begin with, the job is not yet done. More history is on the horizon. Peeking. Knocking. Ready to be grabbed, embraced, and frolicked under the sheets. Maybe even light a cigar after.
Then there’s also this: Stajcic said it’s special.
“The best part about working for this team and for the Philippines is having the honor of working for another country. To be given that trust by another country is something really special and even deeper than representing your own country. Hearing their anthem, hearing fans from their country supporting you to support them, it really is something special and rewarding. It almost feels like you're doing something special with them and for them,” beamed Stajcic.
He, however, is fully aware that the accomplishments the team has done in a short period weren’t his doing alone. Nothing is singular in football. Or arbitrary, for that matter. He, his deputies, and the players all bought in to build a culture, raise the bar for themselves, and command responsibility in representing the Philippines. Because that's what a winning team does.
The Filipinas aren’t getting the recognition they deserve in the Philippines. Which is a sad thing. But the team knows—and those who believe know: The day ones, the lifers, the purists, even the bandwagoners—that whatever happens in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the real tale doesn’t end there.
“This really was a story about the amazing, unbelievable, and miraculous to a certain extent of what we've done together as a group. To change the sport in a country, to change people's lives is really something special and something we're all proud of,” said Stajcic.