Catching up with former Azkal Ray Jonsson
by rick olivares
It has been three years since Ray Jonsson played his last match for the Philippines. That was a 1-1 draw with India during an international friendly. After the nagging injuries forced him to hang up his boots, at least on an international level, the Fil-Icelander concentrated on his club team Grindavik then returned to the Philippines to close out his career with Global in 2015.
“I almost never got injured during my younger years,” reflected Jonsson from his home in Iceland. “But after I turned 34, the injuries came quite often. I’d pull a muscle and there would be all sorts of injuries that kept me from playing. I realized that I could no longer play for my club and the national team at the same time. I needed to rest my body and focus on one thing. I decided to play for Global in 2015 and to finish my career with them.”
Jonsson since returned to Iceland and back to his old side, Grindavik where he accepted another dual role – this time as playing coach following the footsteps of his old Azkals teammate Chris Greatwich. “We play in the fourth division and I still play for them,” related Jonsson. “I played in seven matches last season and scored four goals. But lately, I have preferred to stand and coach on the side.”
Coaching, Jonsson admits, didn’t come easy. “It felt weird to begin with but I got used to it. The difficult part is having to control 25-plus guys – former teammates as well -- from training to matches. I never realized as a player how difficult it was for the coach and how difficult I could be. After a several weeks, I think I got the hang of it.”
Not playing also meant spending more time to tend to his growing family. The Jonssons now have three children (two girls and a baby boy who only came into this world last October 23). “Family,” quipped Ray, “Is important.”
Despite his growing family, Jonsson takes his club duties seriously.
To aid him in his coaching, Jonsson drew from his experience playing for four clubs in Iceland and his time in the Philippines. “I used things I learned from my training and matches in the past for our training sessions with Grindavik,” admitted the man who was born in Cebu but moved to Iceland at a young age.”
From Iceland, Jonsson was prescient regarding the Philippines’ chances of advancing in the Suzuki Cup’s Group of Death. “How we fare in the first game will decide what happens. If we win we could go all the way. If not, it will be difficult.”
True enough, the Philippines figured in a disappointing scoreless draw with Singapore despite the latter playing with 10 men for close to an hour (after a player was shown a red card for a harsh challenge). “I am disappointed that we didn’t go through. But I think it is not a step back. We are just in the same place as 2010 where we had a lot of young players coming in. But maybe we should have also involved some of the older players. But that’s just my opinion.”
Despite the collective disappointment of not advancing for the first time in six years, Jonsson knows the team will be back. “There’s no turning back. The Azkals will get better form this.”
And who knows, maybe one day, that old right back from Cebu by way of Iceland could be coaching the national side.