There used to be a time when playing for your country really meant something. If you had been born in a particular place, grown up there, or if you had some sort of blood link through parents, grandparents etc, a strong sense of belonging and identity was what drove you to wear the shirt to carry with pride the hopes and expectations of an entire nation.
Contentious IssueNowadays, however, the lure of playing international football, and the perks that come with it suggest that national pride is not what it once was. In the ever changing global climate, it is to be expected that players move around the world looking for clubs to meet their high wage demands, but should they be allowed to represent the country in which they’re playing at international level without having laid down any real roots at all?
Shouldn’t a player have some sort of link to that country, if not through family or birth then to have at least grown up there, as in the case of Polish born German international, Lucas Podolski? This issue has divided nations and caused much debate.
Denying Opportunities?Brazillians, arguably the most naturally talented players on earth, seem to be popping up all over the world plying their trade in, and for, a variety of countries. The fiercely competitive nature of football in Brazil has led many to seek their international football elsewhere, which although completely understandable, is perhaps denying opportunities to others who are maybe more deserving.
FIFA president, Sepp Blatter seems to share this view. At the draw for the 2010 World Cup, he made the following statement:
“If we don’t take care about the invaders from Brazil,” he is quoted on the CNN website as saying, “then at the next World Cups, we will have 16 teams full of Brazilian players. It’s a danger, a real, real danger.”
Brazillians Around The WorldBrazillians have indeed turned out for many different countries. Rio de Janeiro born, Marco Aurelio even changed his name to Mehmet after gaining Turkish nationality in 2006. He has since played for them 26 times. “He [Aurelio] is one of us now,” proclaimed Turkish striker, Hakan Sukur on the Eurasia Net website after Aurelio’s debut, a 1 0 win over Luxembourg in 2006. “Tonight he was the best player on the pitch.”
Not everyone in Turkey feels the same way, however. Football analyst, Kazim Kanat, also speaking on the Eurasia website said: “How would you look at a player who feels nothing for the colours he’s wearing? I’ll tell you what I think: when they play the national anthem at such a match, I won’t even stand up.”
Other countries that have fielded Brazillian born players include: Japan, Togo, Croatia, Portugal, Spain, Qatar, Belgium, Costa Rica, Tunisia, El Salvador, Germany and Poland, The origins of this trend can be traced right back to the 1934 World Cup, when Filo (who, to be fair, had an Italian mother) lifted football’s greatest prize as part of the Italian national team.
Controversy in the Mexican National TeamIn 2006, the then head coach of the Mexican national team, Ricardo La Volpe, an Argentine, caused controversy by picking Argentine born and raised, Guillermo Franco and another foreign born player, Brazillian, Antonio Naelson, better known as “Sinha” ahead of Cuauhtemoc Blanco, considered by many to be one of the greatest Mexican players of all time.
When Sven Goran Eriksson called up four foreign born players, including the two mentioned above, to his Mexico squad three years later, goalkeeper, Guillermo Ochoa spoke out:
“It’s a very delicate situation, there are a lot of Mexicans waiting for a chance in the national team and this makes it more and more difficult for them,” he is quoted as saying on the Daily Mail website. “It’s obvious that the Mexican players should have better opportunities, so I think the matter of the naturalised players needs more analysis. I don’t think I’d like to see 11 naturalised players in the national team.”
ConclusionThere is no denying the benefits of playing international football. The obvious financial gain, as well as getting the chance to play in major tournaments, which can subsequently lead to more exposure, are strong incentives. There is no doubt that a naturally gifted Brazillian born player will also greatly improve the standard of an average team and influence the playing style of those around him.
Many believe, however, that living in a country for just five years (in line with FIFA’s new “five year rule”) does not make a player worthy of inclusion in a team with which he has no previous connections, family or otherwise.