ASN Interview

Thomas Dooley Takes Over Philippines National Team

The German-American defender was a key player for the U.S. in the 1990s, and now he is heading up the Philippine national team. Brian Sciaretta spoke to Dooley about his new role.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
February 20, 2014
3:39 PM
YOU KNOW THAT whole German-American thing happening within U.S. Soccer? Well, Jurgen Klinsmann didn’t invent it, and neither did Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, or Terrence Boyd.

Thomas Dooley, born in Bechhofen, West Germany to a German mother and a U.S. Army father, played 81 games for the U.S. national team between 1992 and 1999. A rugged, savvy defender with a Bundesliga title and a UEFA Cup in his trophy case, Dooley played every minute of the 1994 World Cup. He also served as fill-in American captain at the 1998 tournament, when John Harkes was stripped of the honor and dismissed from the squad just prior to the competition.

After a coaching gig in Germany and a stint as an assistant with U.S. Soccer, the 52-year-old Orange County, Calif., resident is now in charge of the Philippines national team. American Soccer Now’s Brian Sciaretta caught up with Dooley and discussed a wide variety of topics, including the 2014 World Cup.

The following interview has been lightly edited.

BRIAN SCIARETTA FOR ASN: How are things going on your first few days on the job?

THOMAS DOOLEY: I like it a lot. It’s beautiful. It’s a nice area here in Manila. It’s booming and is nice and clean. There are beautiful malls every two miles.

ASN: How did you find out about this job? Have you ever been to the Philippines before this process started?

DOOLEY: No, not really. I know a kid who played in our academy, Pateadores, who is from the Philippines. His father asked me to train his kid and I did that on the side a little bit. He told me that I should train the national team because they really need to do something. I said I would love to. I’m looking for a coaching job but it is very tough here. He said, “Let me see what I could do.” It was just a talk. He then got in touch with the women’s national team coach. He contacted them and said, “You guys are looking for a coach at the moment—why don’t you consider Thomas?” They e-mailed him right back saying I should send a resume over. That’s what I did. They asked if I could come in for an interview and I said I could do that. I told them I had games in three weeks and it would be impossible for me to come over. They then said, “What if we came over to L.A.?” They flew over and we met for a 2-3 hour interview. After, I said I really feel there is something here I really think I can help. We talked about the details, and 2-3 days later we agreed.

ASN: How much have you learned about soccer in the Philippines?

DOOLEY: Obviously when I had the interview, I looked at a couple of the games. I wanted to see if there was anything possible and what was I getting into. I figured out that the team was actually not bad. It’s a pretty good team. There are technically skillful players there. When I watched those games, they were really well organized. Some of the players made easy mistakes—sometimes they didn’t stay in the right spot. The whole tactical part, that is something that is doable and something that you can change. I think if everybody gets that point, you can raise the level of play. The team was pretty successful under the previous coach. They were ranked in the 150s and they moved up to 127. There’s a huge tournament coming up in May and they just felt wanted to bring in someone else to help the team even more.

That’s the focus I’m having right now. Get those players in maybe two times a week—maybe 4-8 national team players and develop them a little more because the international players can only come in a few days before the FIFA international dates. It’s very difficult. I would love to have more time with these players but you have to take what you can get.

ASN: It’s interesting that when you decided to play for the United States in 1992, it was still a country that was trying to find its way in the sport. Now, as a coach, you are leading a Philippines team that is also aiming gain a foothold internationally. Do you see the similarities?

DOOLEY: It’s exactly what it is. The similarity I’m finding here is like the United States. It’s a great opportunity. I know I wouldn’t coach Germany or Spain. You have to start somehow. You have to find someone who trusts you and who believes in you and thinks you’re the right guy. I never got that chance in the United States. Jurgen gave me the chance in the beginning as an assistant and Tab Ramos gave me a chance with the U-20s as an assistant. This was greatly appreciated to be involved in soccer a little bit more. Now I have the opportunity to see what I can do on my own and making the final decisions on the team and the players. This is something that is very, very interesting. I will enjoy it.

When I was the head coach at Saarbruken, it was unbelievable. I enjoyed it so much. I didn’t get support from anybody because they made the decision to hire another coach. They just needed me for three months and when I got there the team was in last place. But I knew the club well. For me it was a great experience dealing with the club president, 33 players, and no assistant coaches. It helped me learn a perspective from that area working with issues I’d have to deal with later on.

ASN: Are you hoping that this job perhaps eventually opens doors in the United States—maybe in MLS or within U.S. Soccer?

DOOLEY: I don’t even think about that right now. I’m thinking about this team and how I can get it going the way I would like to see it. I want to be successful and we’re going to be successful if we win the Challenge Cup in May. They haven’t done that before.

Who knows? I love it over here. The people are nice and the teams are good. If I can bring success here, who knows what it will lead to? Again, I was so close in so many times in conversations in getting a job in MLS or getting a job maybe with U.S. Soccer in the youth programs. I’m not focused on that at all now. You can’t. You need to be focused on what you’re doing. If somebody comes later on and asks if you’ll be interested—that’s a different story. But you can’t think about something like that. It’s not going to happen right now.

ASN: There haven’t been many Americans who have coached abroad. Bob Bradley coached Egypt and is now in Norway with Stabaek. Greg Berhalter coached Hammarby and Steve Sampson coached Costa Rica. I know you were born and raised in Germany, do you feel that you are representing American coaches abroad while you are in the Philippines?

DOOLEY: Not at all. I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on being a coach. What needs to be done and how do I get players to understand what their roles are. My focus is on the experience I had as a player when the coach changed our team in Kaiserslautern. The team was in last place and won the [Bundesliga] championship in 14 months.

And the thing I did with the U-18 team with the Pateadores—to have a team that hadn’t won a game to win the U.S. championship at the academy league. From 48 games we were losing only three. That’s my focus. How can I do that with the team I am coaching now? I’m not thinking anything trying to represent America as a coach. I’ll let the other people think whatever they think.

ASN: The United States national team is going to be playing Germany again at the World Cup. Are you looking forward to the matchup?

DOOLEY: Of course. I’ll be watching the World Cup and of course I’ll be supporting the United States. I represented the country and every minute I played for the national team, I worked my butt off. There are people in the federation I have a great relationship with. I know Jurgen very well and I wish him the best. I hope they beat Germany because I want them to go to the next round and go as far as possible.

ASN: What do you think about the U.S. team facing Germany in 2014 as opposed to your team that faced Germany in 1998 at the World Cup? Do you feel this team is more equipped to face Germany?

DOOLEY: It’s similar. Playing against Germany is playing against one of the best teams in the world. It’s always interesting and it’s always difficult. The chances are always there. The chances were there in 1998 and the chances to beat Germany are there now. It’s not that you don’t have the opportunity or the possibility to beat that team. It’s like with everything. Soccer is all about who had the best day. We hit the cross bar [several] times against Iran and we lost. We lost against Germany 2-0 and maybe it could have been 1-1.

We beat Germany in D.C. There wasn’t everybody there for them but still the way we played was incredible. Anything is possible in soccer. If you go in afraid like some of the players we had in France, you have no chance. But if everybody is confident and puts 100% into it and they’re organized, of course you have the chance to beat Germany. The players are good enough to beat anybody.

ASN: How is this current U.S. national team compared with 1998? What’s your take on the U.S. team these days?

DOOLEY: I think Jurgen has great skills to build a team and get the team going and that they work together as a team. Again, it is team, team, team, team. That’s what we didn’t have in 1998. We went as far away from having a team as any other games we played in my time. In all the 81 games I played, it was the worst team. We didn’t play with each other, we didn’t communicate with each other, we didn’t support each other. It was just a mess.

I think Jurgen has a team right now where everyone works with each other and they like each other and they want to be with each other. That’s the first thing you need to be successful. We didn’t have that in 1998. That had nothing to do with just the coach. Everybody.

It’s a team sport and you win together and you lose together. I’m not saying one guy is better than the other. Me, everybody—that wasn’t the way it should be. That’s when you don’t have the team. Believe me, that thing in 1998 helped me as coach too.

That was my first conversation that happened when I called the team in here. Before we train for the first time, I want to meet everybody. We had lunch and I was talking with them and saying we need to get to know each other. I told them I can tell them a little bit about me. I said I played for 20 years and I went through everything that is on your mind. I know exactly how everyone feels in every situation—if you’re playing, if you’re sitting on the bench and you don’t come in, if have a bad game, if you have a good game, if you’re successful, if you’re having the worst time of your life. That’s the experiences that I have. In my opinion, that is something that is important—when you have experiences like in 1998.

ASN: Is it difficult for a player like yourself to come into a national team with a different background having been raised in Germany?

DOOLEY: Not at all if your attitude is right. You’re coming from a background where you play professionally and you live how it should be and be focused for that. You go to a country where you don’t win the World Cup but you have a bunch of players who are playing in college and you have a bunch of players who are playing overseas, you’re coming together only a few days before the game. What you have in your mind is: “I want to give the best I can. I want to help wherever I can.” That’s all that I am asking for now.

Am I the best coach? Heck no. Do I make mistakes? Of course I make mistakes. But I have one thing I can guarantee. Am I doing the best I can? Yes. I will do the best I can do get this team going. I did the best I could when I was a player and came to the United States. I couldn’t even speak the language but soccer-wise I could speak to one or two and show them what should be better and try to lead the team, not with words but lead the team with examples on the field.

It’s the attitude you have. If someone comes in and thinks he is a big star or a big shot, that’s the first one that I would send home. If you have only ones who think they are the best, like in 1998, you should send them all home. That’s what Jurgen doesn’t face with his team. That’s a big difference.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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