The importance of dual-nationality

by Caylum O'Neill

BlatterRecently, 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.

Thanks, Wikipedia. The last rule changed from two to five years following an influx of Brazilian-born players claiming to be of European descent. To quote Sepp Blatter, who said in 2007:

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.

A bit melodramatic from good ‘aul Sepp, but his point can be taken aboard on a lesser level. European sides are taking advantage of lesser nations, and alienated players from South America, to their own benefit, and if a tighter set of rules was in place, the World Cup would be, in my opinion, a much wider competition, and certainly more people would take an interest in the much-bemoaned qualifiers. Imagine an African Cup Of Nations with Nani, Paul Pogba, Raphael Varane, Victor Moses, Patrice Evra, Blaise Matuidi, Yann M’Vila, Angelo Ogbonna, even Mario Balotelli, and tell me you wouldn’t find it more appealing than it is now.

11 Responses

  1. seanachie says:

    I find it a bit troubling your labelling players descended from immigrants as ‘not very French’ or Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Henrik Larsson as not Swedish. I know you probably mean well but these same complaints about non-white French players being not really French; the argument has some unsavoury precedents. Besides, French football has always been an immigrant sport – Platini, Kopa (Kopaszewski), Luis Fernandez, Barthez, etc were not very ‘French’ names either. Marcel Desailly might have been born in Ghana but his father was French and he grew up in France. Guadelope, Martinique and Guiana are part of France – look at the back of any Euro banknote and you’ll see them on the map in insets, there is no desire on the part of any of their inhabitants to change that situation. Youri Djorkaeff is of Armenian origin but his father also played for France and, in any case, most the Armenian diaspora’s ancestors have been living outside Armenia for centuries. Vikash Dhorasoo is not eligible to play for India – he is of Mauritian descent.

    I’m all for players declaring for the countries of their ancestry – some clearly prefer to do so, as is the case with James McCarthy and Aiden McGeady and several French-born Maghrebins, such as Marouane Chamakh, or Hamit Atintop in Germany. The reality is though most players from immigrant backgrounds – and remember some of them are second and third generation – prefer to play for their country of birth. A French person born to African, North African or Asian parents is no less French than a “français de souche“. The majority who choose to play for the land of their forefathers do so after they realise they are not going to make the French, English, Portuguese sides. I am sure Henrik Larsson harbours a fondness for Cape Verde but his father was largely absent when he was growing up and there was never any question of him playing for a country he never set foot in until he was an adult. Zlatan might have felt like an outsider in Swedish football but he would have been even more so one in Croatia or Bosnia.

    Net-emigration countries are perfectly entitled to sound out their diasporas for players, as Ireland have done for a long time, and the likes of Croatia, Jamaica, Poland, and numerous African countries but players from immigrant backgrounds should be accepted as fully French, Portuguese or whatever. European nations selecting players born and raised in their countries is not ‘taking advantage of lesser nations’ – that’s what New Zealand does with rugby, but it is perfectly normal. The last thing I want to see is Portugal – which has had a black population since the 15th century – or France lining out with only white players on the team. And why would Paul Pogba playing the Africa Cup of Nations be any more appealling than him playing in the Euros?

  2. seanachie says:

    Sorry, mistakenly left out a bit of text: ” I know you probably mean well but these same complaints about non-white French players being not really French has long been made by France’s far-right; the argument has some unsavoury precedents.”

  3. Duncan says:

    I disagree. I think this article negates the individual agency of players and tehri power to self identify. henrik Larsson whilst havin a cape verdeen dad also had a swedish mum and was brought up in sweden. same goes for ibrahimovic. thet choice of sweden for them is natural as they self identify as swedish and not some distant country that their parent are from. MAny of the French nationals cited are brought up in France despite different parentage or origins so feeling French isn’t odd for them.

    IT’s about how players self identify. The boateng brothers are an interesting case. Both were born in germany and of Ghanaian descent. jerome decided to play for germany whilst Kevin-Prince Boateng opted for Ghana. There are many players of african descent who were school in football in france and decided to represent their countries of descent.
    Should the trend of second generation migrants playing for the country they live and grew up in not be celebrated and accepted as the multic cultural world we live live in.

    I accept that teh problems with South Americans especially Argentines and Brazilians taking second nationalities is more problematic and symptomatic of abuse of the system. See Deco playing for Portugal or Eduardo Playing for Croatia.

    However, in cases you cite It is not systematic abuse but individual agency and self-identification that led these plays to pick playing for Sweden, or France over their parental origins

  4. seanachie says:

    The second nationality thing is only an issue when players are parachuted in with an express intent to place them in the national teams, as ishappening with Qatar. The likes of Eduardo, Deco, Pepe or Marcos Senna didn’t leave Brazil intending to play for another country. They played in their adopted countries for several years and took citizenship, as is the right of any immigrant in a position to regularise their residency. Deco and Pepe might well have played for Brazil had they been approached but both are very vocal about the love they feel for Portugal and they are in no way mercenaries.

  5. Liam says:

    Of the French players that won the World Cup in 98, only Viera and Desailly were not born in France, or French Governed territories, and only Thuram and Karambeau were born outside the French mainland.

    Both Desailly and Viera had been in France since their early childhood, it’s completely disingenuous to state that the the French team was composed of foreigners. I suggest more research before you publish articles such as this next time.

    The real rule that should be abolished is the Grandparent rule. My nan is Northern Irish, but i’ve been there once. Quite why i should be eligible to represent them is a mystery to me.

  6. Liam says:

    Sorry that first paragraph should have read “of the players born in French territories only Thuram and Karambeau were born outside the French mainland.”

  7. Neil says:

    The article seems to be making a good argument but it starts getting confusing halfway through when the author talks about the difference players like Larsson or the Portuguese born players who were eligible for Cape Verde could have made to their side but then talks about France’s World Cup winning side being foreign despite a number of those players he mentioned being French born.

  8. Shubhayan Sengupta says:

    Vikash Dhorasoo is technically Indo-Mauritian. But whatever, you made some good points.

  9. Jamie says:

    “He’s black so he can’t be French”

  10. NFB says:

    You realise Cape Verde football would be destroyed if such rules were abolished? A huge proportion of their more successful team recently comes from a diaspora element.

    If you don’t mind me saying so, there’s a real arrogant tone to this whole piece. Self-identification is an important thing in football, it’s why many of “Jackie’s Army” choose to play for Ireland despite being born in England. You cannot ignore realities like that in pursuit of some purer version of sporting nationality, life isn’t that simple. You shouldn’t presume to lecture the players you name on their personal choices.

  11. Andy says:

    National identity is the basis of international football and the key to national identity is self-identification.

    Where international football is tarnished is when players make choices not on the sole basis of their identity but taking into account other factors, such as potential success or their chances of getting a game.

    The players ruining international football are not the likes of Henrik Larsson (born and raised in Sweden by a Swedish mother), Nani (raised in Portugal) and Marcel Desailly (raised in France) but rather players like Jamie Mackie, Danny Fox, Kris Commons or any of the countless Scottish internationals who discovered in their mid-twenties that they had a Scottish grandparent. I’m sure there are many other players around the world (notably Brazilians) to be added to that list who, like their aforementioned English counterparts, deemed they would not be good enough to play for their own country and thus elected to play for that of their grandparent or residence.

    I do not wish to take anything away, however, from those who do with all good intention represent the land of their grandparents or a territory they grew up in. I also understand that many people (and, therefore, footballers) do genuinely hold and feel dual nationality.

    One solution, which might prove agreeable and prevent the misuse of eligibility rules, could be an early declaration of allegiance.

    If a player was forced to declare which national team they wished to be considered for when signing their first professional contract then no one could be accused of taking advantage of the rules further down the line. At the age of 16 or 17 most people will have a fairly clear idea of their national identity, and, to be honest, most will know which national team they truly wish to represent from a much younger age.

    I realise it might be a difficult decision for those who genuinely and equally identify with two (or more!) nationalities, but if such a rule could “clean up” international football then so be it. Life is full of hard choices and, in the grand scheme of things, a few youngsters with a touch decision over a national football team is pretty trivial.

    In summation: national identity isn’t about where you’re born or the colour of your skin or your career prospects, it’s about what you feel. Without a respect for that then international football will die; and I fear it is already gravely ill.

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