Azkals coach urges Etheridge's Fulham exit
MANILA, Philippines -- Azkals goalkeeping coach Pascal Zuberbühler is urging Neil Etheridge to leave English Premier League (EPL) side Fulham FC.
The 23-year old's contract is up at the end of the 2012-2013 season and the ex-Swiss international player thinks it is time for Etheridge to seek new pastures.
The Philippines' first choice stopper has been at Craven Cottage since 2006, but has yet to make his mark on the West London club's first team.
The British-Pinoy, currently second behind Australian veteran Mark Schwarzer, has not played an EPL game and only made his professional league debut earlier this season during a loan spell at League Two outfit Bristol Rovers FC.
Zuberbühler, who Etheridge describes as “a father figure,” used to play and coach at Fulham. The 42-year old is concerned about the development of his protege, who he has watched for seven years.
"When I was the goalkeeping coach for three years at Fulham I trained a lot with Neil, but he had a few years when he was a little bit behind," explained Zuberbuhler, who collected 51 caps for Switzerland and competed in both the European Championships and World Cup.
"For me, a keeper aged 20-21 should already be playing some games, even if it's for a third division club in England, or a Championship club. This is important. He's now 23 and he should really be playing games," he said.
Last year's month-long spell at Bristol City was the first time Etheridge has enjoyed a run of successive appearances.
Etheridge has already notched 39 caps for the Azkals, but only made 13 club appearances since 2008 -- one for Fulham in the Europa League and 12 for Bristol Rovers.
Despite a shortage of playing time, Zuberbühler still believes Etheridge has what it takes.
"I speak a lot with Neil. He is a very good goalkeeper. He has a sharpness -- everything to be a good goalkeeper, but he needs games. That's the next important step for him," the Swiss said.
"This is now a mental process because you don't need to train him a lot anymore -- he already knows about football and goalkeeping. Now it's just about fine-tuning him.
"If he concedes a bad goal, what is his reaction and how does he present himself for the next game? Is he mentally ready?
"For me it's clear. If he were to leave Fulham I think it would be the best thing. Neil needs to play games and not sit on the bench of a Premier League club," said Zuberbühler, who has represented seven European sides across his 19 year professional career.
"I'm looking forward for Neil to try and find a good club where he's the number one and where he plays game after game, after game after game.
"He has never played a whole season at a football club. He has never played games for half a year. He only goes on loan for six or seven games before Fulham recall him.
"If he wants to keep going in the right direction then he needs to play games."
Zuberbühler was brought in by the Philippine Football Federation as a goalkeeping coach for their upcoming 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, due to run from March 22-26 at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
The Philippine Azkals are pooled in Group E alongside Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia and Turkmenistan.
The Pinoys were supposed to open their campaign against Brunei, but the Sultanate recently withdrew from the four-nation tournament citing "unavoidable circumstances".
Etheridge will miss the Azkals' first fixture due to an AFC ban handed down for shouting profanities during the Philippines' third-place decider against Palestine in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup.