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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

New team, new year, same goals

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I got to know Daisuke Sato way way back when he first played for Global FC in the old domestic league in the country when the club was among the biggest in 2014. He was shy, unassuming but very eager to learn and show that he can really play football. He was also good to my son, who was five years old back then and used to wear a number 11 Sato jersey shirt whenever there was an Azkals’ game.

Fast forward into 2021, the last few days of the year to be specific, the son of a Japanese father and an English teacher from Davao was in the news after moving to Ratchanburi Mitr-Phol in the Thai League 1.

While he said he can’t really tell what happened, he corrected the impression that he was on loan to Rachanburi after playing for Suphanburi since July this year.

Sato said he transferred to Ratchanburi after ending his contract with Suphanburi. He added it was a win-win for him and his former club after he played for the country in AFF Suzuki Cup in Singapore.

Sato joined Philippine Azkals teammate Bernd Schipmann in Ratchanburi. Former Azkals Luke Woodland and Javier Patiño played also for the team before. Previously, Sato was with Azkals teammates Pat Deyto and Kiki Reichelt in Suphanburi.

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Sato says playing before Thai football fans is a very rewarding experience. He says the Thais are very nice, passionate, warm and similar to local Pinoy fans in how they embrace their teams and football players.
“Thai people are really nice. Almost like Filipinos, they have nice and kind hearts. They like to have jokes with players, they like to have fun,” he said.

He said it was quite different when he became the first Filipino-born player to play in the Romanian Liga 1 in September 2016. Sato also suited for AC Horsens in the Danish Super League and had another spell in the Romanian premier league with Sepsi OSK. He said he was subjected to harassment and almost all foul words in the local language by racist fans while playing in Europe.

“I was called a monkey, among other things, every time I played there,” he revealed.

The racism and the height disadvantage against opposing players only made him stronger, and when Muanthong United called him to play in Thailand, he left Sepsi OSK after two seasons.

Sato says he never regretted playing for the Azkals in the Suzuki Cup despite the tournament being played under-non FIFA days.

“I have no regrets with the decision I made. I started with the national team, that’s how I grew up. Playing for the Azkals changed my career and until now. I can’t miss the tournament because it is a big tournament and it is very important to me. I can’t say no,” he said.

“We gave everything, despite what we have – the preparations, the pandemic. I’m so proud of the players. Even if we didn’t make it to the semifinals this time. We know what we’ve been through. The team gave everything. We gave our all in the pitch. I was so grateful to represent the country again because of my Dad, I really wanted the team to make it to the semifinals for him,” he said.

So how is Sato nowadays after playing for the Azkals and moving to another team while mourning the loss of his father quietly?

He said he is fine. “I really like it here.”

He added that despite most teams in the league are still reeling from the impact of the pandemic, he is very stoked to join Rachanburi.

“We have better players. I’m very excited to start because it is easier for me to work with this team because we really have good players here. We have good chances of winning games,” he said.

He was also able to spend some time with his wife, Tara, and their daughter, Neila, before playing in Singapore. The two are back in The Netherlands but will return to Thailand in the first week of the new year if the situation allows it.

Sato admits the changes in both his professional and personal life have given him a different perspective in life. “Everything I do is for my family. From morning to night, I think of them. Of course I work hard for football but this is for my family. This is a way for me to take care of them, give them a better life. I am responsible for them. People used to tell me this before but it is really different when you have it,” he explained.

But if there are a few things that won’t change with Daisuke Sato, these will be his desire to play for the national team and his fervent wish to play in another league before calling it a career.

“The Philippines gave everything to me. Whenever I have the opportunity, I want to be there and try to give something back to the country or to the Azkals,” Sato said.

“I want have one more challenge before I end my career. retire, I would like to play in Japan or South Korea. Right now I’m focusing my thoughts working hard and playing for my new team, but I would like to really play there eventually. I don’t want to say that, when I turn 50 or 60 years-old, I should have done that. I really want to do that, even just once, to challenge myself to play in the best leagues because I think I have the desire and ability to do so,” he added.

Sato is hopeful that he can go back to the Philippines to join the Azkals’ camp next year as the team prepares for the third round of the 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers in June.

“I will never say no to the country,” he said.

Sato represents the next evolution of the Philippine Azkals and along with the new players, and even probably, the next stage of Philippine football. Playing for flag and county will never be easy. It is always a matter of choice, of playing under strife and all the million reasons that would make any lesser mortal stay home and play the Monday morning quarterback instead, along with some sports officials I know, when things get rough and they need to sweat it out on the rare occasions they go outside of their air-conditioned rooms or cars.

I’m just glad that there are many Filipino athletes willing to answer the call and Daisuke-san is one of them.

Happy New Year everyone!

Stay safe. Stay happy, peeps.

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