Daniell Zeleny (24) is a young man with a level-head and determined spirit. He has not only managed to have a career as a professional footballer but has also obtained a degree in Sports Management. Recognising early on that perhaps the big leagues of Europe were out of reach, Daniell didn’t let this deter him from chasing his football dream but did this while laying a foundation for life after playing.
Asia has provided the central defender with many experiences both good and bad that have helped him develop both as a footballer and a man. We caught up recently to hear his inspirational story for any young person wanting to follow their dream.
First, could you tell me about your football background? Where you got started?
My footballing background isn’t anything special – I come from a European family, and as such, was brought up with a ball at my foot and much like every other kid, wanted to play professional football. I spent my childhood playing for local clubs in the Sutherland Shire, and throughout my teens represented a few clubs in the NSW Premier Youth Leagues.
Certainly wasn’t a child prodigy by any means; never was selected to represent my state or country at any youth level, nor attended any significant coaching schools (not that my age-group had the wealth of selection opportunities on-hand, that the younger players have today, in relation to private-coaching) – just loved football, and would spend as much as time could, at the park with the ball, watching football, etc – basically anything that allowed me to divulge my full interests in learning/loving the game.
Towards my mid-late teens and into my early 20′s, I decided to make a commitment to myself that (not at the expense of successfully completing my education), I would give my utmost to try and make a career in football happen. At that point in time, I decided to focus completely on the goals at hand, and with careful time-management was able to develop a fairly strict routine, that kept me busy, but also kept me constantly working towards what I wanted to achieve.
My days would consist of attending school/university + the necessary study and completion of additional work (homework, assignments etc), gym work, training on my own, training with my team, and fitting in some youth-coaching as well.
To add, I started to become more curious with Asian football (as logic dictates that we can’t all play in the English Premier League), and began to network and ask questions etc of the footballing & cultural climate(s) in Asia, as well as what would be expected of someone looking to head there and play football. With the information given to me, I prepared a CV and video and sent my information out, in the hope that someone would respond.
Manuel Seisdedos is the first person who gave me a chance, not to mention, listened to me and helped me with any and all football-related questions. He is an exemplary footballing agent, and someone I will always be grateful towards for his advice and opinions.
My recent history in a nutshell – Post-graduation, I was fortunately noticed, and traveled to India and signed with one of the biggest teams in the country, Mohun Bagan AC; I was lucky enough to make my debut in front of 100 000+ people in a victorious Kolkata derby (which was special, as it was the first time in over a year that Mohun Bagan had won).
My performances in India caught the attention of some teams in Indonesia, and I was allowed to make the jump in quality to Indonesian football; however unfortunately, like the majority of the foreigners there, experienced some issues related to salary payments, and at the conclusion of the season, opted against staying. Now football has brought to the Philippines and I’m really enjoying everything so far.
How did the move to the Philippines come about?
After electing against returning to Indonesia, I had opportunities in Thailand, Iran and Iceland break down at the final hurdle, for one reason or another. I’d been alerted to David’s appointment in the Philippines by Nathan Hall and a few players back home, who had previously worked with him. I consulted their opinion of him and received nothing but positive feedback. That being said, I contacted David and was fortunate in that he was looking for a central defender; after reviewing my information and videos, he expressed his interest. I spoke with the GM, we came to an agreement and I flew over to sign the contract.
The move was quick and painless – which is generally not the case in South-East Asia. No one involved was trying to play games or undercut. Everything went very smoothly and it was a breath of fresh air.
What’s the standard and style of football like?
Football in the Philippines, much like the rest of South-East Asia, is developing. With that in mind, the general competition make-up, like most leagues in the region, is that there is a small number of ‘benchmark’ clubs (approx 2 – 4), who are trying to set the standard within the country/region, generally characterised by greater funds and resources/sponsors (or a single wealthy owner), followed by a few more teams with lesser resources that are also trying to follow suit in advancing the league by following professional protocol, and then your smaller-teams with no real ambition or resources, that round off the table.
In the Philippines, Kaya FC would fit the bracket of being a benchmark-club; along with Global, Loyola and Stallions.
The style of football, in the Philippines, as in South-East Asia, is hugely determined by the coach. Generally speaking, a foreign coach will provide the invaluable quality of enforcing tactical discipline/structure, and as is the case with David Perkovic at Kaya FC, attempt to pursue playing a more modern, ‘pass-and-move’/’tiki-taka’ style of football.
A local coach generally doesn’t posses the same analytical-eye and is more concerned with ‘fight, score, win’ – basically, applying the same coaching methods that were preached to them 20+ years ago (which can make training a battle!); keep in mind, there are exceptions to both points of concern noted, as there are some terrible foreign coaches and some talented local coaches among the mix. Needless to say, working with a quality foreign coach is worth its weight in gold!
With that in mind, when any of the top 4 teams play against each other, the standard of football is quite good, as these teams are made up of a mix of Filippino Azkals (national team players) and strong foreigners, where everyone tries to play football the way it should be played. However against the smaller teams, you tend to have to prepare yourself for a fight (literally, in some cases), and a game where the ball spends a lot time in the air – again, akin to the development of football in the region.
With reference to the fans, the Filipino fans are the warmest and most sincere of any of the fans I’ve played in front of – as a player or a spectator there are no concerns for your safety. Albeit, crowds aren’t the same size as what you get in Indonesia or India, but the stadium is always full and the ‘ultras’ do their bit to bring a little bit of Europe to the Philippines, singing their songs and playing their instruments for 90+ minutes.
You will see a lot of families attending Filipino football games (again, referencing safety) and surprisingly, the ratio of female fans in attendance is drastically higher than anywhere else I’ve seen/played, which is nice. There are even McDonald’s staff running around the stadium with menus, so you can order McDonalds to your seat, which is something I’ve never seen before, but I think is an impressive value-add!
How involved in the community does the club get? I know basketball is quite popular so it is a tough market for the football side?
Just recently the whole team traveled to GK Hugo Perez village, Trece Martirez, Cavite and in conjunction with the LBC Foundation, helped to build homes, as well as conduct a football clinic for the children of the area. Kaya FC acknowledges its social responsibilities and as a result, word around the club is that this type of community service will become a monthly habit.
Given that the Philippines is such an “Americanised” country, it’s no surprise that football isn’t the number one sport at present – In bars and pubs, almost always there’s basketball on-screen, and whilst they do show football on TV, it’s not the same extent as neighbouring countries, where football is the established number one sport and supported fanatically . But I don’t think the market itself will be difficult for football to crack. The Younghusband brothers (Phil and James) are already household names and appear on almost every kind of billboard or advert imaginable. Other Azkal (national team) players are following suit as well. The sport of football is on its way to becoming a huge part of Filipino culture, because, up until now, I don’t think the Philippines has had a specific sport to call their own. With participation rates amongst youth rapidly growing (through football clinics and schools), and the national teams continued successes, the general vibe is that the future is bright for Filipino football.