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My best definition of identity is, 'The fact of being who or what a person or thing.' It would follow logic that lack of a distinct identity would easily lead to confusion about what a person or thing is.

The small nation of Uruguay, whose population numbers 3 million, has an interesting saying - "other countries have their history, Uruguay has its football."

It is said that any aspiring Uruguayan young player is given a crash course in their country's footballing identity, in what it means to pull on the shirt. The idea is that, wherever the club game takes them, in football terms they are Uruguayans for life.

Despite boasting a population size smaller than that of Kenya's capital city Nairobi, this is a country that has gone on to lift two World Cups and 15 Copa America's among other international accolades. The country ranks third in South America behind superpowers Brazil and Argentina, and has been able to produce world class talent like Luis Suarez of English giants Liverpool and Edinson Cavani, among other football luminaries.

There is no doubt that the Uruguayans are clear about what constitutes their identity.

Uruguay's La Celeste (national team) Footballing shirt


A recent interview by Spanish forward Luis Alberto (now plying his trade for Liverpool FC) reveals an interesting thought.

The philosophy of the manager here of working with the ball a lot is similar to that of Barcelona,” he [Alberto] explained.


“It requires a good number of years to develop that philosophy

Identity is visible.

The Brazilian, Italian, German, Spanish, Argentinian shirts are all instantly recognizable. This applies to many of the bigger footballing institutions too. Above all, there is an intrinsic element, an undefinable mentality.

Players turning out for world beaters all display a healthy respect for tradition; knowledge of predecessors and what made such people tic. It is no accident that their nation's shirts and logos, have moved from merely being pieces of fabric and embroidery to having a weight that needs careful carrying and handling.

Just like wearing of uniforms limits our public conduct, so does respect for the visible symbols that form identity. Would a Police officer be within the bounds of accepted behavior were he to smoke or take alcohol while in uniform?

The same would apply to wearing 'the shirt' a nation's symbol of identity. There is therefore a direct correlation between identity and success.


Everything must begin with a philosophy. The Argentinian number 10 is a revered shirt as it denotes a playmaker; a creator who starts the team's offensive play. The country's name for the term is engante, similar to the Italian terms regista (deep-lying playmaker) or trequartista (playmaker in the central attacking midfield position).

Brazil's number 10 shirt worn by the meia-atacante (attacking midfield playmaker)

Such a player, akin to an American point guard or quarterback, initiate the team's creativity and translates the coaching philosophy while on the field of play. Needless to say, such numbers are not dished out willy nilly but reserved for the very best, examples being Diego Maradona and Pele, two of the very best footballers of all time.

Three of history's greatest number 10s - [L-R]: Diego Maradona (Argentina), Pele (Brazil), Michel Platini (France)

Without understanding such an approach it becomes difficult to implement the desired style of play. The philosophy in turn informs other aspects of visible branding such as the logo and team colors.

None succeed without safeguarding such defining aspects. In everyday business, do companies leave their seals out in the open? Such are safely secured in safes with restricted access to the company's employees. In simple terms, the company's identity is a jealously guarded entity.


What defines this nation's sporting identity? What is the official team color? What jersey numbers are only for marquee players? What motivates players to vie for a chance to represent the national team? Is it merely to make a name for self, earn allowances, or is it for the chance to be an ambassador for their nation?

It might not serve as the best of examples but the deliberate handball by Luis Suarez in the FIFA World Cup 2010 quarterfinal clash against Ghana is a sign of what his nation's shirt means to the player. Suarez would rather have faced the ire of his opponents and endured punishment (in this case a sending off), than allowing the ball to cross the line for a goal.

Without dissecting the morality or lack thereof surrounding that act, identity is the opening step leading to desire to win. The privilege of wearing the shirt is what elevates performance from merely participating to a real desire to conquer.

What is the body without spirit or soul? Identity forms that missing bit to excellence. Much the same way as the spirit and soul animate everything they come into contact with.

Identity is the starting point, success the end. All journeys are defined by the first step.

Images used with permission. | References: |

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