Into the Great Wide Open: Upsurge and Philippine Football

In light of the recent entrance of the Philippine Azkals into the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup and the discussions on how Coach Michael Weiss has taken the team in new directions. Dare we talk about the World Cup? In any case the Challenge Cup represents a benchmark of improved skill but more importantly it necessitates a dissection into how football teams, particularly National Teams, grow to become champions not only of competitions but of relevance. This is not an assessment of Weiss’ tactics, it is an insight into putting the priorities of a national team into perspective. The modernity of international football makes this increasingly problematic yet we can say that in other countries the successes have come at a revolution not only in skill but in the assimilation into the struggles dimensions of domestic life, this is something we have put forward to some extent and must continue to do so.

Getting there?

What makes a great national team? Skills play a part obviously, yet what got me thinking was how culture plays a part in all of this. Many tout the nations of England, Spain, Brazil as usual favorites in many competitions yet in taking a look at their achievements, Brazil is of course superior having the won the most World Cups (5) while England and Spain each have one despite their domestic leagues to be one of the most popular and arguably have the most passionate following. What is different then? Brazil’s superiority does not account for the intensity that is probably on the same level as the other nations mentioned. Supposedly, an immense following creates a bundle of talent and a sub-culture built around it. Though the answer may still be cultural, it is not determined by devotees, rather the integration of playing style in the current and subsequent waves of expression that characterizes a nation. A national identity is a national framework for the game that has dictated success, and it is hence a national struggle as well.

Of course Spain having won the recently concluded World Cup, largely confirmed their belief in the tiki taka (touch –touch system); a system of endless passes, possession and the chances that flow from it, a style that flows from all parts of the pitch that quite frankly no one else can do. Before the WC they had won the Euro 2008, and this has been the first few years in which Manager Del Bosque has implemented this method for the national team. Del Bosque of course knows about all about Spanish football having worked in solely in the domestic scene. An approach only the Spanish can create and maneuver has broken their perennial under achiever stereotype.

Similarly, the “Beautiful Game” of Brazil being the most successful national team combines the probably the best free for all/anything goes method which banks on the creativity that they cherish in the game. The Brazilian football league is about the only non-European football league able to compete at their level. With the intense ethnocentrism that surrounds Euro leagues, albeit with Brazilians playing in them, the domestic league still boasts amazing talent being the only other league to win the Club World Cup (competition between the best clubs of each continent).

Brazil has also been Characterized largely by movements of independence as centre left politicians such as Lula and Dilma Roussef have taken office, while this denotes a strong sense of national pride, especially in football it also implies the framework on which their society and culture has been consolidated. Brazil has come into clash with the US in terms of how to participate in the world economy, similarly for many countries in Latin America, the height of this was when Lula da Silva who came from a guerilla background was elected president.

Pele himself often praises those who choose to retain in the domestic league to perform, develop and contribute to the talent of the Brazilian footballing identity. The Brazilian Foreign policy while not the most revolutionary, does possess its good points on being independent, while equally does their domestic league and the culture that promotes it.

Additionally, in Paul Gleeson’s article, I Wanna Be Anarchy , he traces how changes in football are invariably linked with the social movements that arise in response to the adversity and oppression the system (in our context the global one). He cites the Provo movement in the Netherlands which was laced with anti-bourgeois sentiment to the conception of their ‘total football’ popularized by Cruyff in the 1960s.

Roel van Duyn of the Provos Movement

This radicalism shapes a nation, cultivates them and rids their approaches of the orthodox dictates of both capital and football, which are undeniably interconnected.

Culture and following alone do not denote success; culture is simply the means in some ways by which we assert our nationalism, a feat that becomes both more problematic and necessary in the age of global capital. Jose Maria Sison in his article on Cultural Revolution writes that this act, of nationalism as a cultural precondition to collective struggle is a political occurrence. The transformation of thought, expression and articulation in resistance to the prevailing colonial culture is evocative of political manifestations of concrete action and overall approach to social interaction. Meaning that political struggle is a cultural must, including autonomous foreign and domestic policy which in this case also needs to cover football as a progressively nationalist experience and practice.

“We are the creators of their abundance”-Bulosan

Carlos Bulosan

In the Philippines, there is a history of cultural confusion that must be put to bed. It is of colonialism and the fight against it. In our case the cultural discovery of football needs to occur not only in domestic integration but taking that integration into a more distinctive level, one that can only happen when the dominant interest of globalization and western influence is replaced by nationalism, independence and genuine democracy. In short, developing football becomes a daunting task without local support and a local reimagining through the course of the masses awakening to progressive political life. Social critic, István Mészáros describes the importance of political life as a distortion of oneself from the colonial culture and experience:

“Thus the emancipation of the oppressed is inconceivable without breaking and melting down the chains of this reified historical consciousness and without its positive counterpart: the reconstitution of the power of consciousness as a liberating force.”

Carlos Bulosan , a Filipino progressive writer of the 1930s lived in the USA for a long period of time describing the experience of nationalism as rebuilding life, it is up until now a struggle for self-determination, something that is impossible without the combating the vacuum of capital that commodifies culture. Football in many instances will not be exempted from this “vacuum” phenomenon as it is an international sport, yet locally it has the potential to be conceived as an instrument or symbol of national consciousness at the minimum.
On the modernity and adaptation of football into the age of globalization Christopher Mann notes that

“Of course, the game has been regularly played on an international level since the 1930s, but global impacts and ‘radical undercutting of traditional customs’ were not processes associated with the sport’s development for much of that time. Internationalisation was sparse, perhaps even non-existent, in its contemporary sense. Yet with the on-field drama set against the backdrop of the world’s most technologically advanced societies, one could almost physically witness football adapting itself to the age of instant communication and digital monopoly. Football’s journey from pastoral hobby to quasi-cultural symbol of the globalised age seemed to be complete.”

In the Philippines, our Labor Export Policies have exemplified our participation in this as a benchmark of our economy, culture and its influence on the ordinary Filipino household and its aspirations. If football is to follow this trend it will de degraded into the foreseeable failure that many semi-colonial/3rd world nations undertake. Meaning if there is a constant aspiration to detach ourselves from the logical course of Philippine society, football fails in its ability to be internationalized not its ability to be dominated but by virtue of its capacity to be reshaped in accordance with social identity, an identity that has constantly been under attack and fought for.

The connotation that the name “Azkals” brings is somewhat positive, taking grassroots depictions of something that is very ordinarily Filipino, the presence of stray dogs as a metaphor for both our national team (relative to others) and the influx (as opposed to the exodus of workers) of Fil-foreigners reconnecting with their roots. Many of them could’ve taken their careers to more successful national teams but the lure of Philippine football in its infancy and unpredictable character was something else. As social consciousness itself remains to be unpredictably catalyzed by political developments; labor export, rising prices of commodities and dissent are all evident with a level of general uncertainty with the Aquino regime.

It is still unsure how Philippine football will take shape, Azkals Manager, Dan Palami was quoted as saying it is still in its infancy, as he waits for it to peak. Concretely it is hard to recommend specific measures to illustrate our evolving methods, though it must be clear that its development must be based on the not merely assimilating in the present culture but the inevitable leaps that progressive culture will take in response to social crises. Social upheaval is constantly brewing into bigger and better things, football must not be left behind.


Gleeson, Paul (2011) I Wanna be Anarchy

Sison, Jose Maria (1967) Struggle for National Democracy: The Need for a Cultural Revolution

Viola, Michael (2006) Filipino American Hip-Hop and Class Consciousness:

Renewing the Spirit of Carlos Bulosan,


Mann, Christopher, (2011) Football and Modernity


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