Recently, there has been a discussion on the so called “minnows” of international football, and whether or not they should go through a pre-qualifying tournament among themselves to reduce the number of lower-caste sides eligible, if any at all.
I am of the opinion that the very nature of the World Cup is that every team begins with the same chance of winning, and reducing these chances further for the likes of San Marino and the Faroe Islands is against this premise. So I pose the question, if FIFA do change the rules of international football, should it be to reduce the number of minnows contesting, or should it be to stop teams poaching foreign nationals from these sides?
A prime example of a nation whose football side has been harvested by footballing powerhouses is Cape Verde. A small island off the West coast of Africa, Cape Verde has a population of just over half a million, and are ranked fifty seventh in the world. Their squad contains just two players playing for a side which has competed in European football of late, Zé Luis of Braga, and Valdo of Levante. They have only entered the AFCON once, this year, and were knocked out in the quarter-finals.
But Cape Verde could have had a much more impressive legacy, if not for the naturalization of some quality players by bigger nations. A famous example is Henrik Larsson, who was born Henrik Rocha to a Cape Verdean father. Sweden relied heavily on Larsson during internationals, as they now do with Bosnian-Croat Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Had Larsson chosen to represent Cape Verde, rather than Sweden, it would have encouraged a wave of Cape Verdean immigrants to do the same.
The current squad is far from impressive, but there are an astonishing number of Cape Verdean ex patriots representing Portugal alone. Manuel Fernandes (his cousin, Gelson, plays for Switzerland), Rolando, Silvestre Varela, José Goncalves and, most famously, Nani are all born in or descended from Cape Verde. Imagine the difference to both the Portuguese and Cape Verdean national teams if these players were not picked up by the former.
Another national team who suffers, albeit by their own hand, from duel-nationalities is India. The Indian national team don’t recognize players of duel-nationalities, and thus don’t have a single player who plays outside of India. For a country with over a billion nationals, this is ridiculous. The likes of Michael Chopra, Neil Taylor, Rhys Williams, Vikash Dhorassoo and Harmeet Singh are all ineligible for the national side because they possess two passports. In fact, the only Indian national player to make any kind of impact abroad was Baichung Bhutia, India’s all-time goal scorer, and the first player to play European football at professional level.
One of the most famous sides to field foreign players, of course, is France. The all-conquering side of the late nineties/early thousands was predominantly foreign. In fact, of the twenty-two players in the ’98 World Cup winning side, thirteen were of foreign descent. Viera, Zidane, Desailly and Diomedé are all of African birth or descent, Djorkaeff and Boghossian are both Armenian, Trezuget is Argetinian, Thuram and Henry are both Guadaloupean, Karembeu is from New Caledonia and Pires is Portuguese. So, yeah, not the most French team France have ever had.
But it’s not just the successful teams who field foreign players ahead of their own, Ireland do as well. If not for the Grandparents of players deemed not good enough for England, “Jackie’s Army” would have been little more than a militia. Four of our top twenty capped players qualified through the Grandad Rule, not that I’m complaining. As well as that, eight members of our current WCF squad are from outside the Republic, six of which were raised in mainland Britain.
The current FIFA rules on eligibility are as follows:
Any Player who … [assumes] a new nationality and who has not played international football [in a match … in an official competition of any category or any type of football for one Association] shall be eligible to play for the new representative team only if he fulfills one of the following conditions:
(a) He was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
(b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
(c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant Association;
(d) He has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association.
If we don’t stop this farce, if we don’t take care about the invaders from Brazil towards Europe, Asia and Africa then, in the 2014 or the 2018 World Cup, out of the 32 teams you will have 16 full of Brazilian players.