Eventually, a Club versus Country Debate and a Team that Played Like a Team

This article appears on Pinoyfootball.com. I suppose it’s my attempt to make sense of the hoopla that surrounded this second charity match. Given its schedule, it’s bound to cause one or two hiccups along the way. (Yet, all things taken into consideration, that was a fine performance from the Philippines XI.)

It is quite interesting that there is now a tinge of the “club versus country” debate in Philippine football, one that has been brought about by a charity match scheduled well into the second week of the United Football League (UFL).

Perhaps it is part of the sport’s growing pains, as the local league aims to move toward increased professionalization—this is, after all, what we had wanted, together with a grassroots program in place. Perhaps it is merely a knee-jerk reaction when it had been finally clear that the Philippines’ line up versus Icheon Citizen F.C. did not include many of the familiar names.

For the uninitiated, the “club versus country” debate has been a long-running concern in football. Simply put, this is a situation where a player is put at the middle of a tug-of-war between club duties and national team duties. This is most evident in European football, where a calendar year is dominated by club fixtures and where clubs invest heavily on their players, thereby having the view that they stand to lose the most if any of their players get injured while playing for the national team.

FIFA has regulations to address the matter, and the most important thing to note is that the release of players by their clubs is mandated for all tournaments listed in FIFA’s International Match Calendar, as well as for matches where the release of players from their clubs is mandated by a special decision of the FIFA Executive Committee.

That said, clubs such as Kaya FC and the Loyola Meralco Sparks are well within their rights to not release players for national team duties on the match versus Icheon Citizen FC—a match that does not meet the requirements of mandating release of players from their clubs.

Sure, the “club versus country” debate is nothing new and will continue, especially as both club football and international football attain new platforms to reach wider audiences and use this as leverage for advertising and marketing efforts. While this debate is quite the norm for countries where club loyalty precedes love for county (in the football sense of the phrase), it is interesting to note that it could potentially be divisive as well for a country like the Philippines, where the football-related attentions and interests are largely hinged on the national team’s matches.

Without demeaning the nobility of the cause of the charity match between the Azkals and Icheon Citizen FC, I really do wish that it had been better timed. Not because I wanted to see the likes of Phil Younghusband in action, but largely because if the schedule had been more, well, rational, it may have been able to attract a greater number of audience members, thereby creating more significant impacts for its beneficiaries, the typhoon Sendong victims.


Of course, when the line-up of the national team is missing more than a few familiar names, it may be a reason to get concerned, or not.

It is an interesting look for the Azkals, fielding a starting XI that was made up of Edward Sacapano, Jerry Barbaso, Rob Gier, Nestor Margarse, Roel Gener, Carli de Murga, Angel Guirado Aldeguer, Misagh Bahadoran, Denis Wolf, Chieffy Caligdong, and Ian Araneta. (Note that there are six homegrown players in the starting line-up, which was refreshing by itself.)

One of the benefits of a charity match is that it allows for a bit of experimentation. Azkals coach Hans Michael Weiss, in a pre-match interview, noted that “it’s about development”. This set a good stage to test the depth of the squad, to experiment with potential partnerships, and to allow guys that don’t usually get some or any playing time to step up and prove themselves.

I’ll be honest, I actually was more optimistic with the performance of this unit than that of the line-up with the usual starters that faced CF Internacional de Madrid. For one, this Azkals line-up did not look dejected despite conceding a goal in the first half. While the team lacked the finishing and Ian Araneta literally shot for the moon and the stars, the team compensated with fighting for possession of the ball and hustling back on defense to prevent further damage by the South Koreans.

If anything, the Azkals even upped the ante in the second half, looking very dangerous in their attacks. You could sense an equalizer was forthcoming, and given how this team looked like they worked every second of the match (perhaps to emphasize their worth), they deserved an equalizer. Of course, it came well into the 87th minute with a goal from substitute Marwin Angeles, straight through the hands of Icheon Citizen FC’s goalkeeper (honestly, how in Asia-Pacific could that shot be stopped?).

While the Azkals went on to lose 4-2 in a penalty shootout, owing to two sorry misses by Angel Guirado Aldeguer and Carli de Murga, much can be taken from this match with a great deal of enthusiasm. Nestor Margarse was rightly named Man of the Match, being stellar on defense, especially when blocking the shot that could have been Icheon Citizen FC’s second goal. Misagh Bahadoran provided the flair and creative spark on the right flank, which, to my mind, was quite a revelation. Denis Wolf, making his first appearance for the Philippine national team, impressed with his hustle and his drive to score. However, I think that the most important takeaway for this match is that this Azkals unit displayed much cohesion, despite the limited time to prepare—and it did lead to a respectable result. Now all we need is to practice taking penalties.

For what it’s worth, this non-bearing match has led to two significant outcomes: 1) increased funding in support of the typhoon Sendong victims; and 2) the confidence in the knowledge that the Philippines actually has a deep pool of talent that could be made available for future matches of the national team.