It took Filipino-Swiss defender Michael Kempter almost two years to finally get his clearance to play for the Philippines, and he finally got the green light to do so, his supposed debut against Guam last March did not push through as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic stopped the joint Fifa World Cup and the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
Kempter, who plays for Swiss Super League powerhouse FC Zurich, admits that the long wait has served as added motivation as he looks to help the Azkals reach the third round of the qualifying tournament.
“You can expect that I want to be a leader,” the 25-year-old Kempter told the Inquirer. “I want to play more in possession, not just defending. But also if we have to fight, we will fight together. I think with my quality, we can play more football from the back to attack and not just put the ball forward.”
Kempter has long been a target of Azkals management, but it wasn’t until two years ago when the former Swiss U-21 player decided to represent his mother’s country. He is one of several players tipped by coach Scott Cooper to strengthen the team that has big ambitions over the next two years.
Other players who are on Cooper’s wishlist are Jesper Nyholm from Sweden, Bernd Schipmann, Gerrit Holtman, Raphael Obermair and Oliver Bias from Germany and Jefferson Tabinas from Japan.
With James Younghusband following his younger brother Phil into retirement last week, the Azkals have certainly moved on from the era of players who became the faces of Philippine football starting with the Miracle in Hanoi in 2010. From that team, only Neil Etheridge remains with the squad.It’s been a test of patience for Kempter and the Azkals as they worked on his documents to finally secure his eligibility. Kempter needed to secure a transfer of sporting nationality as he played for Switzerland at youth level.
“It was really tough,” said Kempter, who was also recovering from two ACL surgeries when he got the invitation from coach Scott Cooper.
“I was on a very good point in my career when I got injured. I didn’t play for two years, but I have fought back to regain my place in the club, get a chance in some friendly games. And now, I’m playing competitive matches. I think I already have the second and third chances in my career.”
Kempter’s perseverance is paying off as he has started in all three matches for Zurich in the Swiss League since the competition resumed last June 20. He is just one of the few Filipino athletes already competing even in the midst of the pandemic. INQ