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Ian Araneta: Time to Set the Record Straight

Losing balance or getting feet entangled just at the point of shooting; having a clear run at goal but hesitating at the moment when a shot is best taken; misplacing routine headers: all signs of a striker suffering from a chronic lack of self-confidence.

When Michael Weiss substituted Ian Araneta just past the half hour in the Philippines’ second Peace Cup match against Macau at the Rizal Memorial last night, it was almost an act of mercy; and a fate so undeserved by one of Philippine football’s most loyal servants.

For a malaise of the sort with which Araneta is seemingly afflicted, there is no quick fix. Indeed, the only cure is simply to keep playing – on the assumption that there is still an international striker somewhere inside that muscled frame and the hope that everything will eventually come good.

Not only is he a totally a different proposition in an Air Force jersey; but also that, if everyone is being honest, Philippine football will not be where it is today had Araneta not selflessly gave of himself to be one of the building blocks.
Weiss, an experienced coach, knows this; and so – particularly in the absence of regular striker Phil Younghusband – has been prepared to give Araneta playing time in the Peace Cup.

However, in a short tournament such as this, Araneta also poses Weiss a colossal dilemma. Keep him on the pitch with the hope that he plays himself back to form; and what to do when the goals simply refuse to come?

Araneta’s value to the team may not immediately be apparent to the untrained eye; and indeed, there are those who have been quick to write him off.

First of all, he works tirelessly harrying opposing defenders into making mistakes, something that many strikers cannot be bothered to do. He also makes darting runs to get into excellent goalscoring positions, where others merely stand expecting the ball to be played to their feet.

The problem is and always will be that strikers are ultimately measured by way of the goals that they score; and it is in this regard that Araneta has of late been found wanting.

That said, Dennis Wolf – who had not exactly been the scourge of international defenders either since scoring against Malaysia in a friendly – scored a hattrick against Macau to show how quickly a striker’s fortunes can change.

Wolf is, of course, a shade more mobile than Araneta and enjoys a finer touch of the ball. Still, he was just as mis-firing the same sort of opportunities that fell at Araneta’s feet in the earlier match against Guam.

It all boils down, therefore, to grabbing opportunities when they come, something that becomes unreasonably difficult when a striker cannot even contrive to stay on his feet to actually take a shot when an opening comes.

It is all in the head, then, and a matter of self-belief for the currently luckless Araneta, who is barely recognisable from the striker whose goals and other contributions were vital to the fairytale 2010 Suzuki Cup run.

Was it not he, after all, who almost single-handedly demolished Timor Leste in the same tournament’s qualifying round?

Was it not he whose vision found Younghusband with a delightful ball from which the latter scored the decisive second goal against Vietnam in Hanoi?

Unfortunately – or, at least, from Araneta’s point of view – a change of coaches and the arrival of more and better quality players pushed him down the pecking order.

As a direct consequence, Araneta – once a starter – found himself in the peculiar position of having to prove himself on every occasion when his services were required – usually as a substitute for tiring players.

Ask any in-form striker and he will tell you that the goals come almost effortlessly and flow from the sheer joy of playing; in contrast to those who are suffering droughts due in no small part to trying too hard to score.

This was evident in the World Cup run and Challenge Cup matches, when Araneta would often incur the wrath of teammates by taking ill-advised shots when there were others better placed.

Had he scored from these, then he would have been judged differently. That he did not has been the fuel for these dark horned shadows that continue to haunt his game, the shadows being none other but self-doubt.

In contrast, Araneta’s Air Force teammate Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong has not only learned to seize the moment but to actually bask in it to become one of Philippine football’s certifiable icons.

Curiously, the solution for Araneta may be to actually try less, to go with the flow of each game and to step on the pitch thinking not only that he does not have to score but also that he has nothing to prove to anyone.

Not only is he a totally a different proposition in an Air Force jersey; but also that, if everyone is being honest, Philippine football will not be where it is today had Araneta not selflessly gave of himself to be one of its building blocks.

Weiss substituting him even before the first half against Macau had concluded was ultimately sad; albeit the final result showed that the decision was correct. There are youngsters knocking on the door but Araneta’s experience remains invaluable; and there is time yet to set the record straight.

After all, as the late Brian Clough loved to say, it only takes a second to score a goal.

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