Ernie Nierras: a pragmatic football visionary

Ernie Nierras sees a lot of positives for Stallion Laguna in its AFC Cup match against Bali United. AFC
By Kokoy Severino

BINAN--In a world in which truth and reality can become increasingly muddied by a mere tap of one’s finger, it’s good to have guys like coach Ernie Nierras around.

Sitting in front of a roomful of journalists after Stallion Laguna’s hard-fought opening loss to Indonesian club Bali United in the AFC Cup on Wednesday, Nierras made no bones about what this match meant to the country, and where he wants not only his club to go, but the whole nation in our footballhood journey.

He has a clear vision of every step that needs to be taken along the way.

Stallion Laguna developed through the last decade or so into one of the Philippine club system’s elite organizations.

While other clubs have regularly replaced head coaches over the seasons, there has been only one name associated with the helm of this city’s representative on the national stage, providing stable and dedicated leadership with a long-term visionary comprehensive developmental approach that encompasses the entire nation.

Indeed, Nierras is not gratified by just winning championships, but his mission is to win with players produced through the Philippine development system.

“When we won back-to-back championships (UFL Cup and UFL titles in the 2012-2013 season), I said this is not how we want to do it. We want to really focus on developing local players,” he said

Ernie Nierras turns former drinking buddies into Philippine football powerhouse

Over the past two decades, Stallion Laguna evolved from a gathering of friends who drank beer after 7-a-side matches to what is now a consistent top-three contender in the country’s pro ball system.

The team established itself closer to the National Capital Region where the top flight is staged but settled in a nearby provincial city.

For the latter half of those two decades, Ernie Nierras has molded the club’s identity with a never-say-die attitude and a beautiful open attacking playing style, channeling the spirit of a majestic, graceful, powerful Tamasak.

Even in the face of a mounting goal deficit late in the Bali United game, Nierras implored his guys to stick to what they do best, to keep attacking, keep creating opportunities, and stick to the identity he has instilled in the Stallion Laguna organization.

“I told the guys, we can do two things – sit back and hopefully they won’t score again, or we play the way we always know how to play, to attack,” he further said.

Ernie Nierras envisions unity among regional football associations

It is that same fortitude and sense of perseverance that has kept Ernie Nierras determined to forge on towards fulfilling his football vision for the country, a vision inspired and informed by numerous stints coaching various Philippine national teams, from youth to senior, men and women.

That vision includes all of the provincial football associations setting aside whatever animosity exists between them and uniting under one common goal to develop the country's enormous domestic football talent potential.

For many, this may be a far-fetched dream.

Not far-fetched at all for Nierras, who has demonstrated his capacity to bring together various stakeholders in harnessing the power of community to build an enduring institution.

The local government here, for example, has thrown its full support behind Stallion Laguna.

The Biñan Football Stadium, the club’s home field located within the city government compound, is the only venue outside the nation’s capital consistently hosting club matches, this year including for the first time in history the AFC Cup, the second-tier of pan-Asian competition.

This city is now even looking at redesigning the lighting apparatus to generate enough lumens to host future continental cup matches at night when more spectators can fill the stands, an encouraging sign that Nierras, Stallion Laguna, and the entire city are expecting such competitions to be a regular occurrence.

'Final exam' for Ernie Nierras' Stallion Laguna

Ernie Nierras knows very well the historical significance of this first AFC Cup match at Biñan Football Stadium, admitting this is only the first step, in projecting a better future operation both on and off the pitch.

“It’s like taking the final exams. We have to know if we studied and prepared enough,” he further said.

The final score did not matter; what mattered most was continuing the fight until the very end.

Under Nierras’ long-term vision, that fight is not over with the final whistle on the pitch.

He relishes the challenge of coaching as the underdog, to formulate the right strategic and tactical decisions in overcoming the odds.

But what moves him, even more, is the blessing of coaching his own kids–his daughters Samantha and Sabrina on the youth and senior national teams, and now his son Matthew, club vice-captain, in a big international tournament, marking an even deeper level of commitment to his vision.

To a pragmatic coach espousing a long-term vision he is determined to achieve for family, club, and country, the AFC Cup holds much deeper meaning.

“This is more significant than just a game. We’re talking about the development of Philippine football,” he further said.

As the sun began to set over this city and the second half of Wednesday’s international clash, we knew Stallion Laguna FC would rise again as sure as the dawn, and the Philippine football renaissance would forge forever forward against whatever odds are out there.

Guys like Nierras know the way.

Follow the site on X: @DugoutPH