The football life with Rob Gier

column-rick olivaresWHEN the 2016 Suzuki Cup semifinals kicks off this coming November, the Philippine Men’s Football National Team will be without one stalwart who has marshaled its defense since 2009. That is Robert James Gier, who hung up his playing boots for good last Wednesday, February 17, with a letter bidding good-bye to the fans, as well as the competitive game that has been a major part of his life for the past 16 years.

The hosting of an entire series of group matches was one of the benefits of the football boom that started in 2010, during that historic Suzuki Cup run that Gier played a prominent part. In an interview with Gier during the Philippines’s triumphant return to the Suzuki Cup in 2012 not as foils but as equals, the Ascot, Berkshire, native said, “It is good to finally see other countries take us seriously and that we can stand up to them.”

With months away from that historic semifinals group stage hosting, a first in this country’s footballing history, the thought of walking away made it all the more difficult for Gier.

“The thought of that certainly did make the decision of retirement all the more difficult,” admitted the Azkals’ longtime centerback and former team captain. “If I thought that my body was up to another year of playing then I would have given it one last shot. However, age and injuries have finally caught up with me so now was the right time to make the call.”

The call of the game came as a youngster. “As a kid, I supported Liverpool as my dad [Robert] was always a Liverpool fan. When I started high school, I started to watch Reading FC play most weeks so I guess they would be my team.”

“The love for the game has always been there for as long as I can remember. In England football is just part of the culture. I remember playing endlessly with friends down the local park and also playing with my dad when he got back from work. Mobile phones and tablets were not around back then so we would just play outside all the time. I think there is nothing better than playing football with your best mates just for fun. The banter, laughs and relationships forged out of this early period laid the foundations for my career.”

As a youngster, Gier first played for his hometown Ascot United, after which he drew some attention from Wimbledon FC that was just relegated from the Premiership (they have been known as the MK Dons since 2004). Gier also suited up for Rushden & Diamonds, Cambridge United, Woking, Aldershot Town and Grays Athletic before returning to the club where he started his career, Ascot, proving that, yes, you can go home again.

And a part of that home was in his mother, Rosario’s homeland of the Philippines. It was while he was playing for Grays Athletic that he received an invite to try out for the Philippine National Team. “My mum would always get on me to make contact with the Philippine Football Federation but I wasn’t sure if the Philippines even had a team. It wasn’t until a chance message on Facebook that it took off. I jumped at the chance in 2009 for the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers in the Maldives and the rest is history.”

And Gier was a part of the Azkals’ incredible run in the past six years. Gier cites the 2012 Suzuki Cup where he was named team captain, the 2014 Suzuki Cup match against Indonesia where he scored the Philippines’s fourth goal in an incredible rout of their 2010 tormentors, and the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup as highlights in his career. “Without a doubt, the Suzuki Cup of 2010 is the one highlight of them all,” he accentuates. “I don’t think any team in the world will recreate that fairy tale and even now, I have to pinch myself to see if it did really happen. That group of players was a special bunch and the feeling after scoring that equalizer against Singapore, wow! It still gives me goose bumps.”

While Gier is now retired, aside from spending more time with wife Emma, and children Lily and Joseph, in some ways, the game will remain a part of his post-competitive football life. He founded Zenith Soccer Tours in 2014 with the aim of providing players and teams whatever their ability, an elite life experience they will never forget (check out Zenith Soccer in Facebook).

After the 2014 Suzuki Cup, I floated the idea of Rob Gier taking over as head coach of the Azkals one day. While flattered at the thought, he admits that it is something that he will seriously consider. “However, I need to learn more about the game, gain some qualifications, but who knows?”

In the past few years, Gier has shown some of those chops that every coach must posses—a tactical nous. Despite being a player, Rob would provide detailed scouting reports on the Philippines’s football foes that the team would use in its preparations. “Football is in my blood and I have been lucky enough to have had a good, long career. During that time, I have played under some good, bad and indifferent coaches; seen how different teams are run; and I’ve experienced all aspects of professional football. Because of this, I feel that coaching will be the right avenue for me to go down. I particularly like working with the younger generation as they start out their footballing adventure. Hopefully, I will be able to impart a bit of the experiences I have had along the way to help make them better footballers and, if possible, better individuals.”