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Stephan Schrock hopes move from Germany to Manila will help Azkals

Philippines midfielder Stephan Schrock
Stephan Schrock play for Germany national youth teams before making his Azkals' debut in 2011.

More than a few eyebrows were raised earlier this month when it was announced that Philippines' international Stephan Schrock was moving from European football to the Philippines, joining league champions Ceres La Salle FC, on loan from Germany's SpVgg Greuther Fürth.

After all, the 29-year-old Schrock is still at the peak of his footballing career. Heading to Manila -- where playing standards arguably lag behind some Southeast Asian counterparts -- might seem a step backwards for the former Eintracht Frankfurt and TSG Hoffenheim midfielder.

So why did Stephan Markus Cabizares Schrock make the move, at club level, to the Philippines?

"It was always been a dream for me," Germany-born Schrock told ESPN FC. "I had some ideas, like at the end of my career that I would love to play in the UFL or in the Philippines. That moment came a little bit earlier so I'm happy that it happened.

"I had some offers from Germany as well as Thailand and the Middle East, but I was talking to my wife and she said 'If you're leaving the country (Germany), why don't you go to the Philippines?' So here I am."

UFL fans are naturally ecstatic about his arrival. Prior to his arrival, they would only see 'Schrocky' in action during Azkals' games. Now they get to see him almost every week for Ceres in the league and the cup.

Some observers, however, question the wisdom of his loan move. Coming over from Germany's 2.Bundesliga to play for the Azkals, Schrock always showed quality that is a notch above everybody else on the field.

Schrock was promoted to Azkals' captain last year in the 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

Would that same quality be diminished now that he is playing in the UFL? He doesn't think so.

"Look, I'm not comparing myself to Cristiano Ronaldo or to Lionel Messi, but do you see anyone of the level of Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi playing in La Liga?

"There's no one.

"I don't think that their level dropped or went down because they played against weaker teams or players in La Liga."

Schrock disagrees that his move to the Philippines is a downgrade for him.

"I don't think that's a step down for me," he said. "I always respect every opponent we have. All the other teams, they can play football as well, so why should it be a step down?

"The Philippines and Philippine-based players play a different style of football. Not a weaker one, not a better one than in Germany, but it's different. So for me it's a good experience here and I will surely learn a lot of things here as well."

One thing is for sure, Schrock's move will benefit the Azkals, at least in the short term.

Philippines will take on Uzbekistan and North Korea in March.

With the Philippines slated to play AFC World Cup qualifiers against group leaders Uzbekistan and North Korea in March, a properly acclimatised Stephan Schrock, bereft of jet lag, will be a boost for coach Thomas Dooley.

"I know it can only help the team," he said.

For Ceres La Salle, who are also participating in the AFC Cup, the addition of Schrock to a lineup already brimming with talent certainly improves their chances of progressing from the group stages.

Just last month, the prospect of Schrock playing in the UFL was no more than a pipe dream. But now, he is here in Manila.

How will his move affect Philippine football and his career? We should know within the next six months, based on the Azkals' international results and Ceres La Salle's progress in the AFC Cup.

Manila-based Ryan Fenix is football columnist for Sports5 Philippines and analyst for InterAksyon.com. He is also a FIFA Ballon d'Or juror.

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