At the time of writing this, I am in-between waiting for Lionel Messi to score a couple of ‘worldies’ past Hugo Lloris at Wembley, and shaking in anticipation of a goal fest between Liverpool and Man City. Will Pep Guardiola give in to his occasional overthinking and self-doubt leading to self-destruction? Will he choose a tactic that is destined to fail (we know he has done this at least 3 times vs Real Madrid, vs Barcelona 1st leg, vs Liverpool all in the Champions League). What looms after these exciting footballing events haunts every football fan. It fills you with dread knowing it is around the corner and under your bed. It stalks and pounces on you after a good weekend, a footballing hangover. So heart breaking you’ll be forced to confront the emptiness when it stares at you in the face. You take the remote put it on Sky sports/open your BT Sports app/flick on the radio, and it doesn’t scream boo. No, it screams…international break!
Yes, the dreaded International break comes upon us every so often and everyone seems to wince at the idea. Whether it’s called UEFA Nations, qualifiers, or training in Andorra. For what it’s worth I am not part of masses and I enjoy seeing players play in different environments to their respective clubs. Sometimes you get to see what some fringe/younger players are capable of when they are not on the bench for their club sides and they gel with their international team mates. The other aspect of international friendlies/qualifiers is finding out who plays for who, who has switched allegiance, who celebrates a goal for a country they are not playing for (exhibit A and B: Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri), and who doesn’t fancy being French anymore. Who is still in limbo..
It may initially feel like it’s a trend which has gained traction in the last 10 years, however some of the ‘international transfer activity’ has been going on since the 1950s. The reasons for switching allegiances or shopping around for international ‘clubs’ to play for are wide ranging. Occasionally very personal/emotive reasons behind them.
A first place to start is how FIFA govern (brace yourself) this aspect of football.
So, what are the current eligibility rules for representing a nation? There is a list of statutes that set out what is and what is not allowed. I won’t block print those here; instead I will summarise them as snappy as possible. Articles 5–8 of the FIFA statutes are what mainly address this part of football:
1. The overriding and main Principle of National Team eligibility — “Any person holding a permanent nationality that is not dependent on residence in a certain country is eligible to play for the representative teams of the association of that country.” (Article 5.1)
2. In Article 5.2, it basically goes on to say that if a player has participated in an official competitive match (this includes any category or type of football) for one association (for example the English FA), are then not allowed to play an international match for another team (for example the French Football Federation or FFF).
3. If a player qualifies for more than one association (for example being eligible to play for the United States Soccer Federation and the Mexican Football Federation), they may play an international match for the chosen association only if they have the relevant nationality and one of the following:
I. “He/she was born on the territory of the relevant association”
II. “Their biological father or mother was born on the territory of the relevant association”
III. “Their biological grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant association”
IV. “He or She has lived continuously on the territory of the relevant association for at least two years” (If you want to acquire a new nationality, you would have had to live on the territory for at least 5 years — after the age of 18).
That’s enough of numbering and bullet points! Essentially if you are capped (that is played a full or part of a match) internationally in a competitive football match (competition qualifiers included) at senior level, you cannot change nationalities after this has occurred. To be clear this excludes senior friendly matches. An exception to this rule is if your nationality is changed without your permission. For example, if a country splits into two and is no longer one country.
Another thing to remember is that some nationalities cover more than one national team; for example, a French nationality entitles you play for France or potentially Guadeloupe (bearing in mind you still have to fulfil one of 1,2,3 or 4 above).
There are many famous players who have successfully put in an ‘international transfer request’. There are some who are currently undecided (waiting for the best option) and there are some who have been denied their switch. Let’s take a brief look at a few examples.
The most recent successful transfer I came across was Geoffrey Kondogbia who currently plays his club football for Valencia CF (Valencia Club de Futbol). Nicknamed ‘The Octopus’ and one of my favourite midfielders, he was cleared to switch allegiances from France and play for CAR — Central African Republic in September 2018. All his matches he played for France were played in non-competitive matches (5 in total). He also won the U20 World Cup with France. There is no official reason for why he decided to switch as yet, however he did speak on not being selected for the World Cup winning squad, and showing some frustration after completing a great season with Valencia. He alluded to other ‘factors’ which prevented him from being selected for the squad.
Another recent one is Ravel Morrison deciding to play for Jamaica (qualifying through his mother).He was invited to the Jamaican training camp in March 2018.
Alfredo Di Stefano who was a Real Madrid legend of the 1950s and a legend in football in general, played for not two international teams but 3. Originally Argentinian, he played 6 times for Argentina but then switched to play for Columbia because of a player’s strike over money. He had four caps for Columbia but these were not officially recognised by FIFA. He completed his third and final transfer to Spain after initially not being allowed to. He had 31 caps with Spain.
Ferenc Puskas who is also a Real Madrid legend and team mate of Di Stefano acquired 85 caps for his home country Hungary (1945–1956) before deciding to play for Spain 4 times (1961–1962).
There are players who are currently in the middle of deciding who to represent. In Britian there is a tug of war between England and the Republic of Ireland. Declan Rice 19-year-old talent who has played for Ireland from under 16 level, recently snubbed a call up to the senior squad after being contacted by the England manager Gareth Southgate. Declan Rice was born in London but qualifies to play for Ireland through his grandparents on his father’s side. He has played for Ireland in 3 senior friendly games but after being ‘tapped up’ by Southgate, he has refused to turn out for his first competitive game for Ireland, I imagine to consider his options.
Another example of a player considering his options is Leon Bailey of Bayer Leverkusen. Born in Jamaica Bailey has played one friendly for Jamaica’s under 23 squad but has turn down many invitations to play for the Jamaica Senior side. His reasoning for his current refusal to play for the ‘Reggae Boys’ is because he believes the standards of the Jamaican Football Association needs to be improved. He is quoted as saying he has had “personal problems” with the association since before his teens. Meanwhile he has been considering his options with Germany and Belgium. At one point it was believed that he could play for England as his grandparents were British citizens, however this did not count as they were not born in England. He believes he can contribute to Jamaica and Jamaican football without putting on their shirt. That will be interesting to see. A great article on the situation can be found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/sports/soccer/leon-bailey-jamaica-leverkusen.html
There are then those who made their choice, regretted it (oops) , attempted to change and were denied. A recent example is FC Barcelona Striker Munir El Haddadi or simply known as Munir, who is of Moroccan descent. Munir was born in San Lorenzo de El Escorial which is in the province of Madrid and began his youth football at Atletico Madrid before transferring to FC Barcelona in 2011 where he has been ever since (apart from loan spells at Valencia and Alaves respectively). In September 2014; Munir was called to the Spanish senior national team to replace the injured infamous international transferee Diego Costa (originally Brazilian), for which he accepted. On the 8th September 2014 Munir was given a 13 minute cameo for Spain and declared afterwards that he had never considered playing for Morocco in a post-match interview after the game (http://global.espn.com/football/league-name/story/2026637/headline). On April 2018 Munir appealed to FIFA through the Court of Arbitration for Sport to be allowed to switch allegiance. The appeal was denied. Given that this was World Cup year and Munir had not been selected for the Spain squad, you can fill in the blanks.
When it comes down to it, this is about Identity and footballing (inclusive of the £££$$$) decisions. Identity is: “The characteristics determining who or what a person or thing is.” It also is “A close similarity or affinity”. Some footballers are able to separate their personal national pride with the country they end up playing for. As mentioned prior; some of the Swiss players were either born or descend from Kosovo/Albania. During the World Cup these players clearly displayed their Kosovan/Albanian pride when they played against Serbia in the group stages. They celebrated their goals as Kosovans/Albanians and not Swiss Nationals. Is this fair on the Swiss fans or their team mates? A lot of fans did not appreciate the introduction of politics onto the pitch at the expense of their own celebrations. Neither did FIFA.
The topic is very complicated and footballers draw a lot criticism whatever decision they take. Some fans see it as a binary decision/straight forward process. This is not the case; whether we like it or not, football more than any sport is in some cases a reflection of society. The reflection here is; migration/Immigration and how people of different backgrounds are mixing more frequently. The binary thought process goes like this: Declan Rice was born and raised in London so he should represent England. So why had he opted to play for Ireland in his formative years in the first place? Was it for the love of donning the green jersey or was it because he wasn’t good enough for the England set up at youth level and he chose the next best option? In the Declan Rice example, it has to be noted that his mother is English and of English background, and it very plausible that he would like to represent the country of his mother and his birth. Also playing for England may have significantly better financial benefits than playing for the Republic of Ireland. For some of modern footballers no amount of national pride can erode the financial side of a decision such as this. For some footballers it is as simple as which football association will give them the greater chance of minutes on the pitch — convenience. What is clear is that in certain quarters the process of picking a country to represent is drawing parallels with the club transfer process.