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Club v country takes new twist

Tim Vickery | 08:00 UK time, Monday, 17 August 2009

The big kick-off to a new season is always exhilarating, fuelled by the energy of fans flocking back to their spiritual home after more than three months of absence.

The regularity and depth of this contact between fans, stadium and team means that the club game will always be football's central experience.

But maybe a tilt is taking place in the direction of national teams. It could just be that this is World Cup season. Or perhaps because I'm briefly back in England at a moment when there is a mini buzz of expectation around Fabio Capello and his men.

But it might be something deeper.

"Increasingly," wrote Brian Viner in Thursday's 'Independent', "international football is a refreshing antidote to the game in Europe's top leagues, its teams determined by accidents of birth rather than the flourishing of a chequebook."

His complaint is aimed at an inevitable consequence of the dynamic of the times. Globalisation leads to concentration. Fewer, bigger banks, and fewer, bigger football clubs competing for the major honours and hoovering up the best players from all over the planet.

What makes international football so interesting in this context is that it is where the opposite dynamic is taking place.

If the logic of money means that fewer clubs are in contention to win the domestic title or the Champions League, a by-product of the same process is that more countries can realistically dream of doing well in the World Cup.

Take the then-Zaire team, who played in West Germany in 1974. Some of the technique of their play was not bad. But they looked as if they had never defended against a cross before (hence the 9-0 defeat to Yugoslavia) and they were unclear on some of the rules.

There is a famous incident when, as Brazil shape up to take a free-kick, a member of the Zaire defensive wall breaks out and boots the ball into the distance. What appeared to have rattled the Zaire team is that Brazil were placing men in their wall - a ruse they had never encountered and considered illegal.

Their ignorance was unsurprising. The Zairian players were out of the loop of global football.

The same is emphatically not true of the African teams today. Three years ago in Germany the African World Cup debutants were full of battle hardened professionals who had picked up experience in the major European leagues.

The global market in footballers concentrates the best players in a handful of clubs - and then scatters them around when they pull on the shirt of their national team.

And if international football is becoming less predictable than the club game, it is also clearer on a crucial aspect of the sport's appeal - representation.

The big clubs have outgrown their core communities - hardly surprising since so much of their income now comes from abroad.

In 'My Manchester United Years,' an excellent account of his club career, Sir Bobby Charlton stresses how he and manager Matt Busby were well aware of how they were representing the world's first industrial city, and of the need to demonstrate the work ethic of the club's surroundings and also supply some much needed colour.

It would be almost impossible for today's multinational Manchester United squad to feel the same bond with the city.

But when the players are on international duty, it is clear who they are representing. As the national anthem plays, their thoughts are for those they grew up with, perhaps a neighbour who gave early encouragement, maybe even a girl who snubbed them as a youngster or a teacher who said they would amount to nothing.

This idea of representation is especially strong for the South Americans, where the shirt of the national team is such an important symbol of the country.

brazilshirt595.jpgBack in Brazil and Argentina, the European-based stars are always liable to be branded as mercenaries who are out of contact with the game in the land of their birth - when in fact the players make sacrifices to play for their national team that many Europeans would not be willing to undergo, especially in terms of travelling time.

Having almost the entire squad based on the other side of the Atlantic does create problems for the national teams of Brazil and Argentina, especially with the lack of time that the coach has to work with his players.

Diego Maradona is the latest in a line of Argentina bosses to complain that time restrictions mean that he is not a coach, but a selector.

But some would argue that the negatives are outweighed by the plus points. European experience often makes the players more professional, and constant exposure to top level competition surely has a beneficial effect on their development.

But there is a storm cloud gathering.

Bureaucratic restrictions like the 'six plus five' proposal can often have undesired effects.

They are already pushing the European clubs to plunder South American players at an ever-younger age.

Then, with less grounding in their native culture they are more vulnerable to pressure to play their international football on a flag of convenience basis.

At Manchester United, for example, there has been talk of the Brazilian full-back twins Fabio and Rafael representing Portugal, and their colleague and compatriot Rodrigo Possebon has been courted by Italy.

This is a worrying trend, the empire striking back - because if playing for an international team can indirectly be determined more by the flourish of a chequebook than an accident of birth then the soul of the game is in trouble.

Comment on today's piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) My hopes of Colombia qualifying are all but dashed. Why do you think it's so hard for them to score goals? Is there is any hope for the future?

Jarrad Venegas

A) It is depressing to see them like this - they're not totally out of the race for 2010, but seven goals in 14 World Cup qualifiers tells its own story, and this has been a problem for years.

It's not only the lack of goals - for me it's also a lack of quality in their play, a lack of joy, a lack of expression - a lack of many things they had in great quantities in the late 80s, early 90s.

I think the trauma of USA 94 goes deep - the whole thing exposed so many of the ills of Colombian society to the world, and the passing style of that team was scorned. Personally I think they've gone too far the other way, and need to go back to recapture some of the exhuberant inter-passing of that side in order to go forwards. It's a country with so much football potential.

Q) I am a keen follower of Italian football and one player that has certainly caught my eye in recent seasons is Ezequiel Lavezzi. I have seen him play magically at times for Napoli, and I know he has been linked with both Liverpool and Chelsea in recent years. Do you think he will move to England in this window and what do you think his chances are of securing a place in the Argentina squad?

Druve Shah

A) He's in the squad - came off the bench in midweek in the 3-2 win away to Russia. There's so much competition for squat, nippy strikers in the Argentina line-up, so getting in to the team will not be easy.

He is, though, an excellent player - strong on the ball, excellent change of pace, can work the flanks and combine through the middle. Perhaps there are still some wild child excesses to overcome if potential is going to be transformed into promise on a weekly basis. Liverpool were supposed to have been interested in him at one time - a good season with Napoli, a few more international caps and a move to a big club in England could be his for the taking.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Tim, not sure I agree with parts, you said "when in fact the players make sacrifices to play for their national team that many Europeans would not be willing to undergo" how do you back this up? when they have never been asked, look at the Australian team, Scott MacDonald flew around the world for a game and sat on the bench, and I am 100% sure that the European internationals would do the same.
    You also seem to think that South Americans take more pride in their national teams "This idea of representation is especially strong for the South Americans, where the shirt of the national team is such an important symbol of the country" again can you provide evidence of this? I think you basing this on the gap in wealth because I can see no other reason, as if somehow this makes them more passionate? I can’t grasp your logic.

  • Comment number 2.


    Scott macdonald is australian. Correct me if im wrong but thats makes him non-european? So in that sense, you say you are sure europeans would do tha same how do you bakc this up??


    Another excellent blog.

  • Comment number 3.

    He was an example of none south american, cant really give a european example if they dont have to do it, like wise how can you say they would not do it......

  • Comment number 4.

    This idea of representation is especially strong for the South Americans, where the shirt of the national team is such an important symbol of the country.


    Utter rubbish.

    If representation is 'especially strong' for South Americans then why are they the most likely nationalities to reneg on the land of their birth and shirt up for Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, Turkey or Japan?

    How many genuinely good Italians, Spaniads, Englishmen and Germans would even consider doing such a thing in comaprison? Back in the 1980s/90s thre was a case for your statement, brazilians represented Brazil, Englishmen represented England and Ireland and Australia and New Zealand... But not today.

  • Comment number 5.

    He was an example of none south american, cant really give a european example if they dont have to do it, like wise how can you say they would not do it......


    Carl Robinson (Toronto FC + Wales)
    David Beckham (LA Galaxy + England)

  • Comment number 6.

    I am bitter towards International football for precisely these reasons.. I have seen too many of my clubs players coming back knackered or carrying knocks after international games.. sometimes friendlies..

    I agree with the sacrifice bit though.. you just have to look at players like Gerrard and Bellamy in the last week.. I would make a bet that their 'knocks' would have been ok if they were playing at home in their respective friendly fixtures.. and the England game was only an hour flight away in Amsterdam..

    Also if the games weren't friendlies but qualifiers there would have been no talk about knocks whatsoever.

  • Comment number 7.

    Hackerjack - how's about using the example of Gerrard? The thing is Beckham doesn't have a choice - if he wants to string out his career for longer than he has already he needs to put the airmiles in. There are 2 or 3 better wide midfielders waiting to take his place when it is vacated!

    To be honest if you were playing in the low standard of North American football you'd fancy a challenge when possible!

  • Comment number 8.

    All the talk is about the players, but no one is talking about coaches. I think that the coach of a national team should hold that nationality. Take the example of The English national team, I cannot believe that they can't find a good English coach

  • Comment number 9.

    I disagree with there being better wide players than Beckham at the moment. There is one maybe two players with a stronger claim than him. However, at the moment there is no-one else who can deliver the crosses and dead balls that Beckham can - without him England are missing something from their game.
    With the Gerrard England situation he actually turned up to the squad and the England physios/doctors sent him away because he was not fit enough to play on Wednesday.
    In reply to the first comment i think you are wrong. There are many European players who have chosen to retire from international football rather than 'waste their time' sitting on the bench - E.g. Jamie Carragher. There is also now a culture of retiring from international football as you get older to prolong your career and also to avoid being dropped from the team. This is mainly a European trait at this point but it is starting to become more common all over the world. However, i feel that many South American players are more willing to never give up on their international career just in the hope of gaining a few more caps because it means more to them than for other nationalities.
    Tim i also have a question but i'm not sure whether this will be in your speciality or not but - What is your take on Honduras's international football situation? What has caused the relatively large number of quality players to suddenly emerge from this quite small country. Also how far can they go - can they qualify for the world cup and if they can what can people expect from them?

  • Comment number 10.

    Tim, this issue of representation has been raised in the English media recently in the context of Almunia potentially representing England. I personally think it's important to set a precedent - and new regulations - that prevent such occurences.

    I have nothing at all against the free movement of labour, and I think this enriches us all culturally (in the football context and more broadly). The dangerous thing, as you suggest, is leveraging the relative wealth of the European (or Japanese or Middle Eastern) leagues to benefit the respective national sides. If you took this to its logical conclusion, poor countries would never be able to compete with rich ones.

    For me the acid test should be quite simple: if you move [England] as a professional footballer or a trainee at a professional club, you aren't an [English] footballer. You are still a product of the football of the country you came from. If you moved to a [England] as a child and learnt to play football there, then you're an [English] footballer (even if your surname is Sanchez rather than Smith). Otherwise football's great powers are dealing in imperialism.

    hackerjack - Comment 4 suggests you haven't read Tim's article clearly. And I think you're wrong to suggest that South Americans are fundamentally different to Europeans in terms of passion for representing their countries. The point is, footballers are likely to represent another country if A) they play in another country (where they can earn a better living) and/or B) they are unlikely to be selected for their 'real' country. You say "How many genuinely good Italians, Spaniads, Englishmen and Germans would even consider doing such a thing in comaprison?" but think of all the 'Irish grandmother' Englishmen who turned out for Jack Charlton. Think of Chris Birchall representing Trinidad & Tobago. Think of Almunia saying he'd like to represent England. I contend that in most cases this happens because they aren't likely to play for England / Spain. Aren't the Brazilians who represent Japan, Turkey, Croatia, Tunisia, etc. is a similar boat? And then think about how many more players there are from South America and Africa playing in Europe (sometimes in leagues where they won't get noticed by their national managers). There are hardly any Europeans who play in Africa or south America, because you'll earn better money in our League One than all but the elite South American clubs. So there are fewer opportunities for Europeans to represent other countries: they are less likely to need to move.

    ...which brings me back to my main point. It tends to be one-way traffic, from rich to poor (the exceptions being sub-standard players grabbing an opportunity to taste international football). That's why it is wrong.

  • Comment number 11.

    It's hard to call whether international football means more to people in South America than it does in Europe, but it is a generic comment as certain countries have different cultures.

    I think the arguement Tim puts forward is that international football in say Brazil means more because there are more people there who only have football in their lives and rely on it for direction.

  • Comment number 12.

    Re Comment 4 (hackerjack),

    English players have been turning out for other countries for decades now, most notably Ireland, for who we all know a number of English players have turned out for while having absolutely no heritage permitting them to do so.

    Again as we all know this is largely because the players doing so aren't likely to get football for England and so seek other places to play international level football. Could it not be that the likes of Deco or Eduardo, to name but two, didn't fancy their chances either? I'm not stating this as matter of fact, but would genuinely like to know if this has always been the case for Brazilian or other South American nationals defecting to other countries.

    Also it's funny how England do play the 'must play for your own country' card so vehimently, particularly in the recent case of Manuel Almunia. Eyebrows were never raised before when English players went off to represent other nations, nor when we accepted Owen Hargreaves for our own gain, a man born and raised in Canada and who made his name in Germany.

  • Comment number 13.

    Hackerjack, you ask why Brazilians are more likely to renege on their country of birth and play for other nations, it is simple, Brazil produces huge amounts of talent into the football world a proportion of this talent is better than the other countries you mention but not good enough to hold down a regular place in the Brazil side so rather than choose to play a bit part role or to not play international football they decide to play for the "adopted" country. It makes sense, I would do the same.

    Also some people are questioning Tim's logic where is states that "This idea of representation is especially strong for the South Americans, where the shirt of the national team is such an important symbol of the country" This is true, I have met numerous times Jo and Robinho (the benefits of having a Brazilian wife in Manchester) and discussed these kinds of things with them. The idea of playing for the country is to them about providing something for the masses to enjoy they know they are blessed with a huge talent that can provide inspiration and joy for the people of Brazil to watch. If you have ever been to Brazil and watched the national team play on tele in any regular bar the passion is like nothing I have really seen before, they really do stop everything to watch them play. A lot of the players in the national team have grown up like this and some of them in poverty. It is their way of giving something back.

  • Comment number 14.

    Regarding teams who are snapping up younger players from abroad;

    Any player who is fiercly patriotic and good enough will reisist the temptations of playing for another nation. How many players who have taken other nationality realistically stood a chance of making their original countries first team, (with the exception of Marcos Senna who was a late bloomer)? I don't believe it will be a serious in the long term. Teams will always find a loophole around new regulations.

  • Comment number 15.

    #12 TeeSee Owen Hargreaves has English parents who moved to canada. Hargreaves was then scouted by Bayern Munich, thats no different to a young English player being scouted by a German, Italian or Spanish club taken over there and educated in football. It just doesn't happen due to the strength of the English game. Manuel Almunia has just lived here for a couple of years, Completely different. Hargreaves has English blood in him.

  • Comment number 16.


    Carl Robinson flying from Toronto to Wales... hardly a huge trip. Straightforward and direct, just as LA to the UK is fairly simple. Compare that to a journey from a London airport to Montevideo in Uruguay. That journey could go from London to Frankfurt to Sao Paolo to Motevideo. Vastly more complex and arduous than simply getting on a plane at Pearson Airport in Toronto and being back in the UK seven hours later. I should know, having lived in Toronto for three years.

  • Comment number 17.

    Having come out strongly against the hypothetical 'Almunia case', I have to admit I have more ambivalent feelings about the Hargreaves paradigm. I don't know whether he grew up with dual nationality, but in a sense that isn't really the point. The point is that both parents were British and he supposedly grew up following the England team. So there was a connection through descent AND a association with English national identity. It seems wrong to be rigid in such a case.

    ...On the other hand, had his parents emigrated from Canada to England, can anyone seriously imagine him choosing to represent Canada in the qualifying rounds rather than England in the finals, regardless of his any strong affinity for Canada?

  • Comment number 18.

    Usually love your blogs Tim but your sweeping statement that Europeans wouldn't be willing to travel round the world to play for their countries lets you down here. How on earth can you back this up when so few International playing Europeans play outside Europe? The ones that do, like Beckham, rack up thousands of air-miles doing it as South Americans do.

    On the topic of players playing for a country they have no blood connection to (Eduardo, Deco, Senna etc) this to me makes a mockery of International Football and seems like political correctness gone mad that FIFA allow it. Even if these players thought they'd never get the chance with Brazil, why choose to play for another country if they are so patriotic to Brazil? If I were a footballer there is no chance I would want to play for anyone but England.

  • Comment number 19.

    English players have been turning out for other countries for decades now, most notably Ireland, for who we all know a number of English players have turned out for while having absolutely no heritage permitting them to do so.


    Tee See, can you actually back this comment up with an example of the numerous English players "with absolutely no heritage" permitting them to play for Ireland?

  • Comment number 20.

    Having spent time in Argentina and Brazil, it dawned on me how the level of passion for football and intense patriotism is a stark contrast to that of my own nation, the English.

    Yes, football Engand’s biggest sport, but all it takes is a comparison between watching a Brazilian/ Argentine top flight match and a premier league game to see the startling difference. Anyone who has too been to a South American game while understand what I am getting at here.

    This mentality that South American footballers are immersed in throughout their upbringing leads me to agree with the argument that they are more likely to make the effort to play for their national team compared to European players.

    Note, I am not talking about players switching allegiances e.g. Senna, Eduardo etc... I am talking about current International's turning out for their country, then retiring and focusing on their club careers.

    Take Jamie Carragher as just one well known example. He “retired” from International football whilst still in the peak of his playing career. Correct me if I am wrong, but I can’t think of a recognized South American example that has done the same thing.

    Interesting blog Tim, as usual.

  • Comment number 21.

    Carioca_Oli: Agree with you about the passion of the fans in South America - reckon the English fans are passionate too though, just look at Liverpool or Newcastle as two good examples. Also, didn't Riquelme retire from international football about three years ago eventhough he had just been made captain?

  • Comment number 22.

    An excellent article really controversial.Many Argentines have played for European countries almost always because they could not for Argentina.Italy won the 34 World cup almost entirely due to the Argentine players who were plying their trade in Serie A whilst the top clubs at home would not release their players to the seleccion(not only the premier league is arrogant)The same was true of greats such as Di Stefano and Sivori who werent considered by AFA in 58.Would Brasil have won this World cup if Argentina had those 2 and Rial,Domingues etc
    Top south American players will always give the best to the seleccion if the authorities do their job properly which is not always the case especially in Buenos Aires

  • Comment number 23.


    It's telling that you point to the fans of two English clubs, rather than the national side, when you say we have comparable levels of passion in Europe. It seems to me that the very powerful (all-year-round) club allegiances are one of the reasons that support for England is less unconditional and reliable. You often hear Liverpool or United fans asserting that they don't care about England, and I think a lot of the supporters of major clubs cheer a lot louder for 'their' players than those of rivals.

    Having said that, I'm aware that South American teams have fanatical support too, and certain club-realted factions when they watch the national side - e.g. booing Maradona when Riquelme was dropped. Perhaps the other difference is economic. Because the best players leave South America early, the national side is the pinnacle of the game. And I tend to think that where there is greater poverty, there is more likely to be a strong sense of 'the people' / less of the individualism that becomes possible when you have enough money to not rely on others. In England there is still a sense of 'winning this for the country' but there isn't (at club or international level) that old-fashioned sense of 'giving them something to be happy about'.

  • Comment number 24.

    post number 20:

    Pele retired at 29

  • Comment number 25.

    The problem with Brazilians and international football is the practice of awarding caps to increase value, so they can be sold abroad for more money.

    This reliance of selling players is believed to be the reason why there
    are so many Brazilian internationals with just a handful of caps. Socrates once said: ‘I think the national team is being used much more as a negotiating table than for professional reasons.’

    Former Brazil manager Wanderley Luxemburgo was alleged to have received commission in the sale of footballers for giving undeserving players a couple of international appearances in meaningless friendlies to boost their value. Given the huge number of players he called up while in charge it’s not surprising that he was investigated.

  • Comment number 26.

    Carragher was a crock and extended his playing career by ditching internationals, just like Shearer, Scholes, and probably a number of other players have done.

    If you're not good enough to play for your own country then deal with it, jumping ship and taking out residency in another country so you can get on their team is just about the most pathetic thing you can do! I'd never dream of pulling on the shirt of another country and I'm not exactly Mr. Patriotic!

    Where do you draw the line as well? Can Englishmen born abroad play for England? We've enough cricketers born on the African continent born to (at least 1) English parent but people moan about that. You should only be able to represent the country of your birth or the country of either of your parents. Going back to grandparents shouldn't be allowed.

    At the end of the day it just shows how shallow and pathetic some sportsmen can be by opting to represent a country simply because they can. There's ambition, and there's betrayal. Find me a footballer that knows the difference between the two.

  • Comment number 27.


    According to what I read, he played his last game for Brazil at the age of 30, three months before his 31st birthday. And are you sure he actively retired, rather than simply not being selected after that?

  • Comment number 28.


    The reason I mentioned Prem clubs was because Carioca_Oli had compared the atmosphere at top flight games in the Argentinian/Brazilian leagues with similar games in England.

    It's not just economics either - the national team is definitely the pinnacle of the game here in Ireland also and the level of fanatical support reflects that. Despite a population of just 4 million, we were one of the first six countries in the world to have our allocation of tickets sold out for next years World Cup, along with Brazil, Argentina, England, Holland and some other country. And we are far from certain of even qualifying!

  • Comment number 29.

    I actually think fans in England are more passionate about club than country. It is fine to say their is great interest when England are sailing through their WC qualifying group, but a few defeats will dampen fans' ardour. Most club fans are used to defeat. Many have gone decades without a hint of a trophy but still they turn out, buy the merchandise etc. As for some counties being more "passionate" than others, listen to Neil Young's "Flags of Freedom."

  • Comment number 30.


    While I maintain that economics has a massive role, I think you're right that it's not the only factor. Other important things include:

    - Nature of patriotism in the country. (As an English person I hope it doesn't sound patronising to try to define Irish feelings about their country; please excuse me if you think I'm way off.) I'd say that the Irish people I know are a lot more proud of where they come from than we are, on average, in England. I guess that is more likely to be the case in a country that has had a national struggle for independence than in one that has more often been a colonial power (with colonial guilt).
    - There seems to be a tendency over the last 10-20 years, especially among smaller northern European countries, to embrace watching the national side as a sort of carnivalesque. Vibrant, colourful and good-natured support (cf. the vibrant and violent crowds we saw in England and elsewhere in the 70s and 80s) is a phenomenon in Ireland, Scotland, Holland and some of the Scandinavian countries. I'm not sure I can explain the causes of this, but it seems to me they are partly sociological, and not entirely to do with attitudes to football or attitudes to 'the nation'.
    - Finally, there is a factor that seems so obvious we rarely mention it. How popular is football in the country? For example, I don't think English people are the most patriotic in Europe, we have ambivalent feelings about our national team, and there are countries with similar or greater populations. But I think more people in England love football than in Germany or France, even though they're evidently better at it than us...

  • Comment number 31.

    Dont see a problem.

    FIFA have to pass ONE law: if you were not born there, or your parents were noth born there, you cant play for that country.

    Or are FIFA too interested in money to do that....?

  • Comment number 32.

    Re. 14.

    Dan, what about Eduardo, he's not a late bloomer, and is probably good enough for a squad place at least, in the Brazilian team, but chose to play for Croatia.

  • Comment number 33.

    I think it's sad and unfortunate that many English people prefer club to country whereas I myself am slowly but surely shifting from club to country because I prefer people to stick together as that kind of motion brings much brighter and better rewards.

    I also like to watch France and Brazil play too, they fascinate me quite often and I just wish England had the same effect on me and others.

    The EPL will not be thee popular league forever but England will always have a place in the heart of the people!

    I've been keeping an eye on the FA's football centre and things are look up so I hope for a fruitful future.

  • Comment number 34.

    Zaire at the World Cup, ah good times. LOL.

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 36.

    Is it against house rules to state that my previous, deleted post made a reference to alleged corruption in FIFA? I set against this contention (from which the BBC must of distance itself) the opinion that FIFA has no obvious interest in maintaing the status quo - since it doesn't profit in any discernible way from 'migration' among national football sides, and indeed the majority of its constituency of football associations might have reasons to support greater regulation.

  • Comment number 37.

    Cliff Richard was born in India.

  • Comment number 38.

    Just a response to the African question. With strong nations such as Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Hungary and England missing due to their spaces being taken up by completely weak nations in the 1974 World Cup, this put pressure on FIFA, but they stuck to their guns and kept the system, but had to expand the World Cup. Iran and Tunisia were the debutantes in 1978 and both gave an outstanding performances. Tunisia, superbly marshaled by Diab in midfield annihilated Mexico 3-1, drew with West Germany and narrowly lost to Poland 1-0. They were eliminated but showed that Africa was clearly a force and more exposure would complete the transformation. Iran fared poorly to bely their Asian standard,. But did come away with a 1-1 draw which eventually eliminated Scotland.

    In 1982, Africa clearly came of age. Algeria with two wins were eliminated by the contrived 1-0 win for Germany over Austria. Algeria defeated Germany and also Chile in the group. Cameroon drew all three v Italy, Poland and Peru and were eliminated on goal difference. Ironically it was later reported that the Italians bribed Cameroon for a draw – Italy scored and Cameroon equalized from kick off. The amount of patronizing by the UK press is frightening. Hence my theory on lack of knowledge of the world game and different attitudes. Morocco reached the second round in 1986, but Cameroon’s win over Argentina was a “shock” despite several positive results in the preceding decades. Zaire's blip in the 9-0 defeat was clearly about money and nothing to do with the performance on the field. They simply weren't interested as they were promised bonuses which failed to appear.

    Moving on to 1994, the fact that Nigeria were one of the favourites in 1994 belies this. The changing face of football is also to thank. With Bosman opening the doors it’s transformed the national set ups of all the countries. In say 1990 for example, the Sweden national team would have 3 or 4 overseas stars while the rest would be playing within Sweden. In the 2004 Euro championship hardly any of the Swedes were home based and also they weren’t in second string teams, but playing for the big names such as Arsenal, Juventus, Barcelona. This has led to a leveling of standards, and Africa has improved.

    However, the grass roots funding is non-existant in Africa. As for the others. Viewers always are surprised that they haven’t done better now that the players they have are superstars in Europe. But it all boils down to the lack of money with the respective African FA’s. Let’s look at Togo as a prime example. The number of teams playing in Togo might be high, but you can’t imagine them paying their local FA fees towards the National FA like we do. (my amateur football team), for example, pay around £50 per year to Durham FA to affiliate. This money is used for insurance and other things such as football development. A large amount would probably go towards the wages of Sven and now, Capello So the professional clubs pay a far larger amount which swells the FA’s coffers. Anyway, Togo wouldn't’t get anything like this, so they can only afford mercenary coaches. They can’t heavily finance training facilities, hotels, etc. So there’s the reason why Africa will struggle. They’ve done it in he past though. The stronger nations such as Nigeria and Cameroon have both won Olympic Gold in 96 and 00, but the World Cup is a different matter. Pele’s always harped on about Africa winning the World Cup, but he’s the same person who said Greece and USA will win the 94 World Cup, while in Brazil said Brazil will win the World Cup, etc. etc.

  • Comment number 39.

    Re 32;

    I have been trying to think of examples to counter my argument since posting this morning. I agree that Eduardo would probably be worth a place in the Brazil squad, but I think he is the exception to the rule. In general there are not to many plyers who have taken an adoptive nationality that would be a shoe-in for their nation of birth. I don't say that I agree with it, but I don't think it will destabalize international football in the long run.

  • Comment number 40.


    Tee See, can you actually back this comment up with an example of the numerous English players "with absolutely no heritage" permitting them to play for Ireland?


    I think that'll probably suffice.

  • Comment number 41.

    Tim, this issue of representation has been raised in the English media recently in the context of Almunia potentially representing England. I personally think it's important to set a precedent - and new regulations - that prevent such occurences.


    The Almunia situation is pretty much a problem of the unique way in which the UK is represented in football internationally.

    He would NOT qualify for an English passport through residency, he would qualify for a UK one, making him technically eligable for England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

    If he is allowed by a UK passport to play for any of the home nations then that brings into question why anyone with a UK passport (or eligability for one) could not choose to play for any of the home nations as well. It has actually come up as an issue before regarding Channel Islanders, techinically Le Saux and Le Tissier could have played for any home nation (and I believe Scotland did in fact contact both at one point).

    Even if fifa did rule that Almunia could only play for England through residency due to him living in their area, that still leaves questions regarding residency claims of UK players outside their own nation. For example, Leon Britton and Alan Tate have lived in Wales since at least 2002 and plenty of English players have played long stints in Scotland, at the moment I believe that there is no way for them to play for their new homes even if they decided that they wanted to, which is FIFA decided that we are seperate nations would also have to change.

  • Comment number 42.

    Hackerjack, you ask why Brazilians are more likely to renege on their country of birth and play for other nations, it is simple, Brazil produces huge amounts of talent into the football world a proportion of this talent is better than the other countries you mention but not good enough to hold down a regular place in the Brazil side so rather than choose to play a bit part role or to not play international football they decide to play for the "adopted" country. It makes sense, I would do the same.


    You might do the same, but it would clearly go against Tim's argument that they are more patriotic.

    Also I do think that some players (Deco, Senna etc.) were definately good enough to challenge for a Brazil squad place.

  • Comment number 43.

    I see most of teh arguments againt my idea seem to be talking asbout the passion of the fans, this is NOT WHAT TIMS ARTICLE IS ABOUT

  • Comment number 44.

    RE 39

    When you think about Brazil, the issue isn't so clear cut: they're a superpower and hardly facing a catastrophic resource drain. But if you think of African countries that have lost stars, it becomes an ethical dilemma well beyond the abstract value 'credibility of the sport'. If the cream of talented Africans is coming to Europe, and coming at an ever younger age, then there will be more and more top players who could have been leading Mali, Senegal, Nigeria to glory but end up representing France or Poland instead.

    Is that right? I think it's great (for us) that we have excellent African footballers playing in our country, but it has to be unjust if we not only deprive their home public of the chance of watching them play live, but also get to expropriate them for our national sides on the basis of the wages they can earn in our leagues.

  • Comment number 45.

    Hi guys first time i've commented but the whole Manuel Almunia thing is getting to me.

    The reason he won't be selected by england is the simple fact he never becomes eligable for a english passport, he becomes eligable for a british one. This means that he could play for any of the home nations.

    Because of this the F.A's of the home nations have an agreement that players from overseas who recieve british passports will not be selected. This was one of the reasons that Novo couldn't be picked for scotland.

  • Comment number 46.

    hackerjack (41)

    I agree that what you point out is a uniquely UK aspect, where the Almunia case differs from those of Brazilians representing everyone else. My argument is that - aside from this local complication - there is a broader principle at stake and on an international scale this freedom to represent an adopted country futher warps the game in favour of wealthier countries.

  • Comment number 47.

    For me the place of birth should be the only factor. You just have to look at the France 98 World Cup winning squad. How many were actually French and how many were pillaged from Africa. Vieira filmed a series of clips during the last championship in Germany for the BBC showing how he went back to his beloved Senegal, where he was worshipped. If I was Senegalese I would not be worshipping someone who deserted their country for their own personal success.

  • Comment number 48.

    Green Onions (40)

    That definitely doesn't suffice! The Cascarino situation is clearly an exception to the rule - TeeSee referred to numerous Irish players with absolutely no links to Irish heritage.

    Eventhough Cascarino's Mum never took up her option on Irish citizenship, you could hardly claim that she (or Tony) had absolutely no links to Irish heritage given that she was raised by parents who were born and bred in Co. Mayo.

  • Comment number 49.

    Im sure Riquelme retired due to a fall-out with Maradona, and not to extend his career.

    And Pele can't be used as an example - he vowed after being kicked off the pitch in England in 1966 never to play in another World Cup, but returned for Mexico 1970 to prove a point, and in doing so masterminded arguably the greatest team of all time.

    He retired because of the significance of this victory,to go out on a high, and not to eke out another few seasons with Santos.

  • Comment number 50.

    thechuckuk (47)

    I think "place of birth" is too crude. What if you move to a country as a child and grow up without any connection with the one you were born in? It seems to me fairer to define things in terms of whether the move to another country was made for footballing reasons. If you move as a professional footballer or to a club's youth academy, I think you 'belong' to your country of birth.

    The France '98 analogy is interesting. I think you'll find that more of that squad were born in France than you imagine. As for Vieira, his family left Senegal when he was 8 and according to Wikipedia he didn't see the country again until he was 27. I don't think you will brand an 8 year-old a 'deserter' and Vieira surely had a right to consider himself French after spending his formative years there. Thuram comes from Guadeloupe, which is an overseas region of France (and has deputies sitting in Paris). Desailly arrived in France at the age of four. Karambeu was from New Caledonia, another French-ruled dependency, which only became a FIFA member in 2004. Henry and Zidane were born in France.

    I can't see much pillaging in that - and I can see what looks like a fair reflection of French metropolitan society.

  • Comment number 51.

    #45 I think the main reason that Almunia won't be playing for England is because Cappello won't select him and he's not good enough.

    I could be wrong, but wasn't Jack Charlton one of the first international managers to actively search for players who were eligible to play for Ireland (or whichever nation)? I'm not making a point, I was just wondering.

  • Comment number 52.

    Alfredo di Stéfano played for Spain, Colombia and Argentina, even though he was born in Buenos Aires.

    This was during the 1950s. It's hardly a new thing.

  • Comment number 53.

    #50 You are correct here. They were hardly pillaged (quite a strong word to use) from Africa and the overseas 'territoies' or 'departementes' of Guadeloupe and Nouvelle-Caledonie etc are as much a part of the nation of France as a home department such as Pas de Calais or Dordogne, just thousands of miles away.

    Check your facts first thechuckuk #47 before you encounter somebody else who can just about remember an essay they wrote twelve years ago.

  • Comment number 54.

    Nice blog as usual although for a change i dont totally agree with your points

  • Comment number 55.

    FIFA have to pass ONE law: if you were not born there, or your parents were noth born there, you cant play for that country.


    So where does the law stand on players like Toto Tamuz and Mario Balotelli? There are far too many grey areas involved merely to pass a law like that without considering the fact the world is a social enigma with problems that are not always intrinsically linked to football.

    Fifa recently passed a directive stating that players must have played/lived for 5 years minimum in the country that they wish to represent, to avoid oil-rich nations like Qatar doling out passports to Brazilians and Argentinans like candy (who after which incidentally discovered one was illegible and was shipped back off to Brazil.) Singapore have also relied on foreign talent through the rather dubious 'foreign talent scheme.' All it has done has created a system where it has become harder to separate the genuine 'naturalised Singaporeans' that wish to settle in the country outside of football (such as John Wilkinson) and those purely in it for the international football status in their career (such as Egmar Goncalves.)

    @47: Many of your spurious claims have already been quashed but the only major name from that 1998 squad you could level any criticism at is David Trezeguet, who still speaks with an Argentine Spanish accent. Only Desailly and Vieira and came from Africa and both did so as young children - hardly scouted by the French FA. Besides, France loses a lot of talent the other way as well, (Bougherra, Ghilas, Chamakah, Kanoute, the list can go on and on) players who were born and raised in France but chose to play for the country of their parents.

  • Comment number 56.

    Just want to throw in my two cents on this issue.

    As a Scot, it annoys me greatly that the likes of Aiden McGeady and James McCarthy can desert their home country.

    Both born and raised in Glasgow, both decided to play for Ireland because of some obscure heritage (one grandparent born there or something). I'm not sure players should be allowed to do this.

    As for the France issue, aren't both Zidane and Benzema actually from Algeria?

  • Comment number 57.

    After a bit of research I retract the Zidane and Benzema comment. Algerian descent but born and raised in France, hence French.

  • Comment number 58.

    howdyneeber (first comment posted), how many friendly games has Ryan Giggs played over the years? How many times has he been injured?

    Why has Jamie Carragher retired from international football? And Paul Scholes?

    This simply wouldn't happen in South America. Tim Vickery knows this because he has lived there for years.

    Unless you have lived there (you clearly haven't) then you would know this.

    The article would become too long and too long-winded if Tim Vickery had to support every opinion with examples and arguments and what not...

    I have lived in Paraguay for 6 years so I know how proud and patriotic South Americans are about their countries and their football teams. This is largely a result of being universally labelled as "third world" and the fact that football gives a rare chance for their country to be seen on a global level.

    I am aware however that howdyneeber will probably never read this, so let me say howdyado? to you Tim Vickery, and with a quick question....

    Having become an adopted Paraguayan and fervant Paraguay supporter, how do you rate Paraguay's chances at the next World Cup?

  • Comment number 59.

    This whole 'obscure heritage' business with English/Scottish born Irish players is rubbish. In what way are grandparents 'obscure'? I was born in London with four Irish grandparents and have always supported Ireland (as well as England) and would be proud if I could ever play for Ireland. Why should people who feel a strong attachment to the land of their ancestors be ridiculed for it? And who can blame McGeady when due to his Irish heritage and playing for Celtic, he has spent his entire footballing career being slagged off as a Fenian and being told to go home because the Famine is over by Rangers fans - I would probably choose Ireland over Scotland too in that situation.

  • Comment number 60.

    Irish Londoner

    That's fair enough and I personally think it's right that heritage allows players to represent the country of their parents / grandparents.

    At the same time, I don't think we can claim that the likes of Andy Townsend, Mark Lawrenson and Tony Cascarino had a strong connection with their Irish heritage. I don't advocate changing the rules, but it's honest to face the fact that there are players who have embraced the country of some of their ancestors primarily because this represented their only chance of playing at the international level.

  • Comment number 61.

    The fact that each one of your grandparents was born in Ireland makes all the difference. One of my grandparents was born in Rhodesia, 3 in Scotland. In no way do I feel equally African as Scottish.

    Also, the fact that both clubs from Glasgow are unable to seperate religion from football is another problem altogether, McGeady is not the first and will not be the last person to suffer, but you suggest this would be enough reason for you to abandon the country you were born and have spent all of your life just because one grandparent was born overseas probably around 80 years ago. Well, that is where your opinion and mine greatly differ.

  • Comment number 62.

    Can I just fill in some info at the Brazilians who represent Japan. To date there has only been 3 who have represented the Japan national team. (Technically 4 but more on that later.)

    Ruy Ramos
    Alessandro dos Santos
    Wagner Lopes

    In the case of Ramos he had settled ten years in the country before being allowed into the national team. And is now still living here with his Japanese wive and speaks fluent Japanese. Wagner Lopes, again was here ten years before being allowed into the national team and again is still living here with his Japanese wive and speaks fluent Japanese.

    The only player who I think was readily fast-tracked was that of Alex Santos who arrived in Japan aged 16 on an academic scholarship and then decided to play professionally in Japan after coming through the youth ranks. But again, it took 8 years between him arriving here and playing for the national team. He too is now back in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese.

    The fourth, is the current mainstay at the back 4; Tulio Tanaka, and as you would imagine is a Brazilian with a Japanese-Brazilian father. Again, he came here when he was 15 and despite his blood-line still had to wait the required number of years to receive his passport to get into the NT, despite his obvious talents in defence.

    There are tons of what I would call second-rate Brazilians who come to the J-league (with the odd exception with the likes of Hulk.) The vast majority could easily do a job for the NT - but due to severe bureaucratic restrictions, I wouldn't say that we will see the day when the team is made up of South Americans. There was talk a while ago in the Japanese press (which has since died down) about allowing Kawasaki Frontale's Juninho into the national side - but alas this was quashed when he couldn't pass the language exams...


    Japan certainly isn't an 'easy' option for Brazilians, and those that do play here for the national side do so with lots of commitment and time that go far beyond football. Could it genuinely be that some football players can truly adopt to a 'foreign' country? We pour scorn on this, but the actual focal point rests with the flexibility of the country's government. Its no surprise to see players like Egmar running out of Changi airport when he's got fed up after the Singapore government dished out his legal papers without batting an eyelid and yet players like Ramos have a lifetime commitment to their adopted country due to heavy bureaucratic impositions on gaining nationality.

    Don't see why they would go through all that, purely so they could play in the world cup. There is something deeper and more emotional than sheer footballing ergonomics.

  • Comment number 63.

    You're making out that Aiden McGeady has just some obscure tiny bit of him that is Irish. As far as I know he has at least 2 grandparents born in Ireland on his dad's side and knowing the nature of Glasgow where he was born one would imagine he has Irish ancestors on the other. And the way Glasgow football works is hardly another matter altogether, it is an integral part of why he chose to play for Ireland - growing up in a city where sectarianism is still apparent, going through Catholic education in a place where it is still inextricably linked with an Irish background and identity surely would make anybody have some sort of Irish identity.

    And yes of course some did play for Ireland simply to get an international career, but not entirely and people should not treat those who choose to play for Ireland or any other country due to their ancestry as some kind of traitors.

  • Comment number 64.

    Irish_Londoner (63)

    If by "you" you me mean and my comment number 60, you ought to be a bit more careful about what you read into other people's opinions.

    First of all, I didn't make any comment suggesting Aiden McGeady's links with Ireland were minor. What I said was: "That's fair enough and I personally think it's right that heritage allows players to represent the country of their parents / grandparents."

    Secondly, where on earth did you leap from me pointing out that not all footballers make this kind of decision for reasons of their identity to the idea that they are regarded as traitors. I certainly don't subscribe to that notion. All I was trying to say was that some people make these sorts of decisions for reasons of a strong association with the country of their ancestors and some do it for pragmatic reasons. I'm sure many have a mixture of both, but the Anglo-Irish players I mentioned seem to me to be much closer to the second camp. I seem to remember Townsend doing the punditry on an England game and using the word "we". Once again, this isn't something that sickens me. I imagine I'd do the same if it gave me the opportunity to play an international football match. But it's false to argue that every footballer who has embraced his Irish (or African for that matter) ancestry has done so because of a pre-existing identification.

  • Comment number 65.

    I have no problem with players playing for a country other than their birth one if they have parents or grandparents from that nation because at least they have blood from that nation in them and therefore can feel some national pride.

    Its players adopting countries that they have no ancestry in whatsoever to me devalues international football. I can't get my head round why these players would want to play for a country other than their own anyway.

  • Comment number 66.

    regarding players who are more likely to renege on their birth country and play for other nations such as deco.

    would deco play more international games for brazil? some countries produce a large number of players and a percentage of these players are better in another national side but maybe not for their birth country.

    there are also players such as guiseppe rossi, born in nj america to a italian parents, he choosed to play for italy even though he had play for usa in junior levels. usa vs. italy, its like night and day.

  • Comment number 67.

    ...that first sentence should have read 'If by "you" you mean me'

  • Comment number 68.

    I'm glad you wrote a piece on this topic. I disagree that all South Americans woulg give every thing to play for their countries. My own opinion is that 99.9% of Brazillian would give this world to wear the yellow jersey but this is not true of other countries e.g Barcelona told the AFA that Messi will not be partaking in the friendlies like Scotland and Russia. This I find absolutely mystifying because how would Messi not want to get as much caps as he can for his country at 22yr? how will he have a good understanding with his teammates? The whole Brazillian squad that was busy playing in the confederations cup were all present in afriendly against Estonia and this tells you a lot about there desire and hunger to grab every posssible international caps that come there way..

  • Comment number 69.

    good blog as usual Tim but if you read 442 mag often(?) you will have seen an interview with the said Zairean international who stated "Before the Yugoslavia match (which Zaire lost 9-0) we learnt that we were not going to be paid, so (initially) we refused to play," recalls Mwepu. "After the match, he (former Zaire leader President Mobutu) sent his presidential guards to threaten us. They closed the hotel to all journalists and said that if we lost by more than three goals to Brazil, none of us would be able to return home."
    In the light of this information, coupled with the fact that Brazil led 3-0 at the time of the free-kick, Mwepu's actions are completely understandable."
    so you see it wasn't because of their naivety of the rules but a desire to return home after the world cup

  • Comment number 70.

    I can never really understand why players nationality's is such an issue in football while virtually every single other sport has just got on with it.

  • Comment number 71.

    Just some thoughts off the top of my head
    Globalization is basically about creating a meritocracy for the whole world. It's not about equality for all but about a skewed version of equality which allows people to enter the labour market no matter what creed or colour to compete against each other which is designed to show an objective and fair measure of social and economic status because those people at the top are the 'pinnacle' of human 'progress'. The meritocracy is just another hierarchy system and fails to acknowledge that the whole community allows the market to flourish by playing by the rules which destroys the idea that we are all individuals and meritocratic! Club football today is basically a representation of this ideology and this is why international football is threatened in the few rich European leagues because there are less and less home grown players playing top grade football. The home grown players are asked to compete within a global market in their own back yard and for a variety of human reasons have failed.
    Club players today only represent themselves and not their communities because the mindset is that communities are not linked to physical space any more. This means you have foreign born players playing for countries not of their birth and club footballers having no communal link.
    They say the first cut is the deepest and maybe human evolution is designed to implement a physical link between place of birth and the people you grow up with which is why maybe foreign football players are more willing to go that extra mile to represent their nations- what's the point in having all this money if you don't have social kudos by your community? The ideas in academia over the last 30 years is that physical space plays second fiddle to culture as a way to bond humans together. Maybe their belief is slightly one-sided and political because we all know that when we meet an old school friend we haven't seen for 15 years we still have a close and very deep bond with them.

    One last point- my friend said to me once wouldn't it be great if we have a global club league. I then said what next a league where we play the martians? I believe the champions league has destroyed European football!

    The problems facing club and international football today is a problem of the flaws in modern western ideology.

  • Comment number 72.

    If you notice something, Most South American teams play friendlies in Europe so players don't have to travel. Club over country completly depends on the player and team he plays for, about how good the club is and how good the country is, logically if you play for Barcelona but have a poorer national team, you make a decision where your priorties lie, Like England now the Country's doing so well the question of national loyalty seems afar.

  • Comment number 73.

    Local Identity has always been the foundation for team sports and for that reason I’ve felt for sometime now that European club football, championed by the Premiership, is playing a dangerous game in breaking down the bonds between clubs and their local communities.

    There use to be a time when English clubs had a strong sense of community born out of the fact that most clubs were owned and run by locals and that teams were full of home grown players, but just look at the Premiership now, what local pride can really be taken from its success?

    The prem has been built off the back of foreign money, players and managers. Clubs are owed by people who have not brought the club out of passion for football or a love for the city where its based, but as a money spinner or a billionaire status symbol. As a result our clubs have become faceless PLC’s (we our no longer fans we our consumers) and they pray on our sense of local pride to get us to part with our hard earned cash for overpriced merchandise and season tickets. Teams are now full of pre-Madonna players who in most cases are only motivated because their being payed vast sums of money. Few players have any sense of loyalty or commitment, sure, their street wise enough to kiss the badge and pretend otherwise, but their true colors soon come shining through and despite the fact their already on a 100 grand a week, they don’t bat an eyelid at holding a club to ransom for an extra 10 grand, if not, their off to join your nearest rival.

    Then we have Mr Scudamore, cooking up new ways to further disassociate fans from their local clubs by dreaming up ideas like the 39th game. In defense he and others point out how the premiership has helped build newer safer stadiums and how the success of top prem teams has helped improve the reputation of English football, but I ask, does that outweigh the negatives? - Clubs running up unmanageable debts, traditional clubs in danger, their very existence under threat.

    Also, look at the wider implications that have come from the globalization and commercialization that European club football has enforced on the game. The problems in South American and Africa who’s domestic games are consistently being undermined by rich European clubs that care little for developing the game in other parts of the globe, other than creating new fan bases or feeder clubs to exploit.

    Finally, the very philosophy of the modern game (‘going where the money is’) could eventually come back to bite European football as well. Just like the world economy, European football does seem to be set on a boom and bust cycle. Serie A enjoyed its boom through the 80s and 90s before the inevitable crash that has now left the Italian game with large financial problems and there are real signs that the prem could be heading the same way. However, what if its not another European country that picks up the slack? - What if it a wealthy Asian, Middle Eastern or North American country instead? - If the roles are reversed how would European fans and the European media feel if their countries are suddenly the ones being exploited, their clubs were suddenly in a continuous state of flux and the only time they got to see their best players live, were during international qualifiers and tournaments, because their national teams play most of their friendlies on the other side of the globe.

  • Comment number 74.

    Hmmm, getting driven to the airport by a chauffeur, whisked through the VIP departure gate and easing back in first-class is knackering? Ah diddums. Try an Easyjet to Rome or Paris in August!

  • Comment number 75.

    Accident of birth should also decide who can coach a national team, don't you think? If international football is about nations competing with each other, then surely the entire team from star strikers to managment and support staff should all be from the same nation. Although this is usually the case in South American football, right? Could not imagine Sven or Capello managing Brazil or Argentina...

  • Comment number 76.

    Let's face it, like Club Football, International Football runs the risk of being corrupted by wealth. There is far more wealth in Europe than in S. America. This is about Rich vs Poor in both club and country. The only reason for a young Brazilian to even consider leaving Brazil is money. And most definitely the only reason for a young Breazilian player to play international football for a European side, is money. If they get exposure by playing for say....Croatia, the young player may get a contact with a big european club. When you grow up poor and your family back home is still in poverty, then playing for the country where you born is not as important as making money.

  • Comment number 77.

    "Country first Mammon later" or "Cash first than the rest" are slogans that are becoming increasingly audible in the field of sports and games in different parts of the Planet.

    Reports say cricket, tennis, football, cycling and athletics look likely to be the earliest libations at the altar of the all powerful Mammon.

    As usual very thought provoking article by Tim. Thanks.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 78.

    Another by-product of the "fewer, bigger football clubs hoovering up the best players" that Tim talks of is that:

    - We now have the bizarre situation where some players are regulars for their country, but not their clubs.

    Even for Brazil and Argentina (eg, last season - Elano, Carrizo, Gago, Tevez)

    I see Maradona has advised Gago to change club as it looks like he won't be a first choice at Madrid now (a situation that destroyed Saviola's internatinal career, after his excellent performances at last World Cup).

    Also, Maradona stated when he first tookover that Carrizo was his first choice keeper, but he's had to leave him out of recent matches, as Carrizo was reserve at Lazio and out of match practice.

    After the 3-2 win in Russia last week, Maradona updated his infamous "Macherano and ten more" comment and now says that the team for the World Cup will be, "Mascherano, Messi, Jonas Gutierrez and eight more"

    How bizarre - one of only 3 definite first choices for the Argentina nation team is a player who plies his trade in the English CCC!

    - I don't think we would have seen a situation like that a decacde or so ago.

  • Comment number 79.

    Fifa must take action against mercenarism in international football competitions.I miss the old days when each country had his trademark,his blend,his way of playing.
    Need a world class goalkeeper? Well... nationalise Almunia,give him a british passport.Do you know Deco "the magician from Portugal" and Eduardo "the saviour from Croatia"?Two brasilians players on a mission.
    A law against international transfers under 23,not allowing players who are not still 23 years old to be captured by European clubs,what do you think?

  • Comment number 80.

    Great column, Tim! The ending line perfectly captures a very troublesome aspect of the game that has flourished recently. It's vitally important that National squads still be determined by, barring an exception or two (note the word exception!), by a player's country of birth, lest football lose a fundamental aspect of the way it's played. I don't think the risk is too big for the immediate, near or even medium-term future, but it still exists.

  • Comment number 81.

    To back up Tim, I cite the case of Gerard. He had a groin issue that prevented him from playing against Holland, but just a few days later he donned his club uniform against Tottenham. I don't keep stats on players who have these injuries of convenience, but they appear to affect European and African players more than South American. It could also be that when South American players are unable to play for their country, the news is pushed to less read columns.

  • Comment number 82.

    I was under the impression that the Zaire incident was down to different rules in the African league the Zaire players plied their trade in. Apparently the story goes something like in this: in their league after the referee has blown the whistle the players in the wall were allowed to move towards the ball. As soon as the whistle was blown in the Brazil game that one player just ran and blasted the ball away, thinking it was a legal move. Clearly this was not the case - cue hilarity around the world and TV/youtube notoriety in the future.

    Is what you said definitely true, Tim, or am I encouraging urban myths?

  • Comment number 83.

    #81 You cite the 'case' of Gerrard when there is no case to answer. He was withdrawn from the squad as a precaution by England and in no way was this any kind of 'club vs. country' row. If the game had been an important qualifier then they would more than likely have wanted him to stay, but it wasn't worth the risk for just a friendly.

    One more thing, what is a "club uniform"?

  • Comment number 84.

    Sungerduncerton, post 6: Although you may feel a connection to 'your' club players, they are in fact much more closely connected to their national team. Any resentment you feel is fascicle. The notion that international friendlies are 'pointless' is also ridiculous. International teams do not train together week in week out, so playing friendly games is absolutely vital. I hear this selfish, ignorant nonsense a lot nowadays; people angry that players that happen to currently play for the club that they like to watch are injured when playing for the country that they represent.

  • Comment number 85.

    This local-mentality is a pure expression of a anti-progress mentality.

    What you people moaning about the broken bonds between clubs and local communities do not understand or do not want to accept is that football is a profession like any other. And in a free-market economy, clubs, like any other company, are free to search in the job market for the best candidates to take up their positions. And clubs, like companies, will compete with each other for the best ones. And the best ones will go for the clubs/companies offering the best salary packages. And football has gone global, so the best are most likely to come from somewhere other than the little village where the training ground is located. Get over it!

  • Comment number 86.

    Scary that imperialism is slowly rearing its ugly head again in football. On the flipside it can be suggested that, in spite of (or perhaps partly because of) the "flag of convenience" effect (sidestepping the currently-illegal "six plus five" rule), football is indeed becoming a very genuine meritocracy - it doesn't matter where you're from, if you're good enough, you're hired, even if we have to fiddle it so it works for the bureaucrats.

    Playing for a country other than the one of your birth is a complex question and Tim is right to raise it. If childhood naturalisation is permitted, where in heck do you draw the line?

    If you're not born in a country - and indeed had never lived there in your childhood - but have strong genetic, linguistic and cultural links to it, are you eligible to play for them? Clearly yes, because Owen Hargreaves is an established England squad player.

    Should Hargreaves play for England? Well, probably. He's culturally, linguistically and genetically as British as you can get without having been born and raised here. Under the rules, Hargreaves could've played for Wales (his mum's Welsh, and he was at one point in their youth setup), or even Canada by virtue of his place of birth...

    The rules also state that naturalisation can allow a player who is hitherto uncommitted after five years residency in that country. Manuel Almunia qualifies for England under this rule. Should Almunia be allowed to play for England?

    Many people balk at this because he is clearly to most people's eyes a Spaniard first and foremost; but he's married to a Briton, has lived and worked in the UK for five years and qualifies to become a British citizen, which I think he's going to try. I recall his English isn't actually too bad either (for a footballer). Tough call to be honest.

    If I was any good at football I'd face a Home Nations twist on this: born in Wales, to English parents, with my first language and culture being definitely English. Technically I could play for Wales, though I have little affinity for my home, this land of ysbryd a chantorion, but I lack a real connection to England either, beyond the trio of genetics, language and culture.

    Off-topic, I can foresee FIFA stepping up the campaign to merge the four Home Nations in the next few years, especially given that there will be a "unified" GB team in the next Olympic Games. Unless, of course, Scotland, Wales and/or Northern Ireland were to win political independence, thus undermining the otherwise valid argument... Seriously, do Catalonia and the Basque country, with their fiercely independent cultural identities, have their own national teams?

    But what next for the mercenaries who just want to increase their pay packet? Who will the next great Brazilian striker play for? Italy? Spain? Or even Qatar?

    Tim's problem of initial and adopted nationalities actually transcends football and is a major issue in a growing number of world sports. Kevin Pietersen and Lesley Vainikolo, take note.

  • Comment number 87.

    As an Argentine I understand when some players play for other country's. However in a country where national pride is so strong, that trend is less about money and more about playing time or the chance to play in a World Cup. Take Camoranesi or Pernia. They are great players but there positions were covered. The same goes with Brazil. If a player thinks they have a chance to play for the national team they RARELY switch countries. Higuain is the perfect example, he is of French nationality by birth, but having grown up here he has chosen Argentina even if Maradona keeps ignoring him (god knows why). When Camoranesi won the World Cup with Italy it made most Argentines proud. Trezeguet grew up here and when he won it in 98 he wore an Argentine flag during the celebrations. I think at least in countries like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay where football has such a long tradition and is so important to the population, we will always see the best players playing for their country of birth.
    As for the training part, personally I think a good solution would be for out national teams to have training grounds in Europe so players could meet once in a while and let the coaches try things out. Bielsa uses a group of players of similar conditions to his selections to try things out so when the real players come he already has ideas that have been tested.

  • Comment number 88.

    Pele and Riquelme were both past their best when they chose to retire.

    Carragher and Scholes retired because they couldnt be bothered turning up for their country. They were both at their "peak".

  • Comment number 89.

    "This idea of representation is especially strong for the South Americans, where the shirt of the national team is such an important symbol of the country."

    I kind of understand where you are coming from Tim. For a Brazilian player, the lure and power of the yellow canary shirt is way stronger than what the white shirt means for an English player. It's not easy to explain in words, but it's a fact.

    As for the last point about players playing for another country other than their own, I think I am the odd one here: as long player, country and FIFA all agree, I don't see why all the fuss. They are just a minority anyway.

  • Comment number 90.

    "Carragher and Scholes retired because they couldnt be bothered turning up for their country. They were both at their "peak"."

    That's utter rubbish, both had their reasons to retire, Carragher spent years only being considered to play out of position for his country and felt (quite rightly) betrayed when, despite being at least the third best central defender in the country, he was being passed over for his natural position and stuck out on the right, he said at the time he felt that he would prefer to see a young 'proper' right back get the chance instead.

    Scholes simpy said 'I don't need this' when the press were singling him out for the country's failings - I think Lampard was close to making a similar move at one point (and who could blame him), although that is just hearsay - Yes, players should want to play for their country but they should not have to put up with the bile that the rags spit at them whenever the team struggles.

  • Comment number 91.

    There is such ignorance among some of the English fans that you have to have English blood to play for England. Are you saying that special exceptions don't count? What about Luol Deng, a member of team GBs basketball team who plays in the NBA. He is from Sudan and emigrated to England as a Refugee. Does this mean he must only play for Sudan? Because naturally he pretty much hates Sudan. And for another me??? I am 17, born in Saudi Arabia, to an Arabic and Pakistani parents. And i lived there until i was 1!! Then moved to birmingham back to saudi for another year and since the age of 3 have lived in london and now surrey, my dad also works for the NHS, however for some people (31 for example) believe this does not qualify me to play for England, which i take for my nationality, even though i do not have british blood???

  • Comment number 92.

    To add to this i speak very little arabic and no urdu! So should i be forced to play for nations that i feel very detached?

  • Comment number 93.

    @ Pidgegull :

    Playing for you're country in any position should be an honour. When there are better centre backs than yourself in the national team then you should be even more inclined to play in any role the manager asks you to. Carragher felt as if he wasn't good enough to play for the national team in the role being asked of him by the national manager. Obviously, he had either little confidence in his ability or he had little motivation to play for his country. The England manager thought he was good enough for the right back slot !.It's ridiculous that he retired because he was played in positions unsuited to him, pathetic infact. It should be an honour. Only in England will a player throw a tantrum because he can't play in his preferred position.

    As for Scholes, he wasn't the first nor will he ever be the last to experience media scrutiny. It happens to the very best of players, so he isn't some gift of god that he can be immune to it. Nowadays in the glamour of the EPL, its part of the parcel to handle media attention effectively. If he couldn't handle it then it's his mental shortcomings when playing for the national team. Again,

  • Comment number 94.

    Chelsea_Bad_Man - I don't think you should worry that anyone is going to 'force' you to play for any country against your will; certainly not if you are not exceptionally gifted footballer... and even if you were, you're pretty safe in Surrey...

    On a more serious tone... I have no respect for Carragher. It should be an honour just to be part of a national team squad, whether you play 90 mins in your preferred position, 5 mins out of position or sit on the bench. If you are called up, it's because the manager thinks you are needed in the squad. Take David Beckham for example, he doesn't feel too big or important to sit on the bench, nor does he think it would be better for youger players take his place if they are not as good as he is.

  • Comment number 95.


    As far as Scholes goes I don't think his decision was out of petulance, he served his country well and like Shearer before him (another early retiree) we should respect his decision.

    As for Carra, he acquits himself pretty well in my opinion:

    "I’ve had the stomach to fight for my place for the last eight years. All I can do is play as well as I can for Liverpool.

    “I’ve never really played centre-half for England and to be honest, I’ve never really played that well for England because I’ve played a lot of the time at full-back. But at centre-half, I don’t think I’ve really played as much as maybe I deserved.

    “But that’s opinions, that’s the managers choice and if he’s chosen people ahead of me then I don’t think anyone can really complain if I would rather concentrate and save myself for Liverpool games.”

    Despite Rio Ferdinand and Jonathan Woodgate not playing, Carragher was employed at right-back for last month’s friendly against Brazil and was dropped altogether from the starting line-up for the Euro 2008 qualifier in Estonia.

    Carragher added: “I’m 29, I’ve been doing it for eight years and obviously I haven’t proved it enough so it’s not going to change now is it? It’s not like I’ve just got in the squad and I’ve jumped out.

    “I played in the Champions League final. There’s not much more you can do at club football, but win it which we did a couple of years ago.

    “He (England head coach Steve McClaren) played Ledley King, who is a top player. But he’s been injured all season so how would you feel in my situation, what would you do? When John Terry was out (Jonathan) Woodgate played.

    “There’s that many people he’s played ahead of me. It’s a game of opinions. But when you’re at my age they are all younger than me, they are all going to improve and maybe I won’t at my age.

    “If I’m not getting a game at 29 there’s no chance of me getting a game at 32.

    “Every centre-back the manager has picked is younger than me.”

  • Comment number 96.

    I've always been surprised at the negative reaction Jamie Carragher received due to his international retirement. Scholes and Shearer did not receive anywhere near the amount of abuse for their decisions and they were key players for England. Why would they escape criticism when they were genually needed?

    As for the main issue - surely it should concern every football fan that players from South American countries are being persuaded to play for European teams, particulary the youngsters. I don't have a problem with players choosing to play for another country than their country of birth, as long as it is for cultural reasons - not simply because they can't get in the team for their country of birth.

    I feel that the latter is the case for Almunia, rather than his love of England. It would also show the poor state of English football if they had to recruit players in this fashion.

  • Comment number 97.


    Tradition is not all about resisting change, although I’d agree that is a negative side effect, its also about giving people a sense of identity which is a key part to the structure of society.

    To be honest, its your kind of statement - “This local-mentality is a pure expression of a anti-progress mentality.” - that worries me the most. Its the kind of garbage that big business consistently spouts to justify bulldozing a village that’s stood for hundreds of years so they can build a runway, or cut down a section of rain forest the size of Wales to make luxury furniture. Of course, we do need to progress and evolve, but it has to be done in a controlled and thought out way, because we’ve all seen the results of the free to do as you please mentality your advocating. Twice now capitalism has been given a free hand and twice now it has brought the worlds economies to their knee’s, but hey, that’s progress right?

    Also, I fully understand the reality of the globalization of football, but I feel your the one burying your head in the sand, naively ignoring the dangers inherent in the way football is currently being run. Its a high risk strategy, not dissimilar to what has just coursed the current economic meltdown: clubs living well beyond their means, based on the belief that the advertisement, merchandising, TV revenue and continued success on the pitch will allow them to manage their massive debts. Recently though, as reaction to the global recession, we’ve seen advertisement hit and there’s a real possibility that the other revenue sources may well get hit in the near future; as a result, anyone of these factors could send a club (even the likes of Man U or Liverpool) spiraling towards bankruptcy and we’ve already had warning of this, just look at what has happened in the Italian game.

    The most surprising thing though, is the way you dismiss and seem to have no understanding of the importance of the bond the club has with its local community. Well let me tell you, long after the money men have gone, long after the glory hunters have changed allegiance, it will be the local community that these clubs have been built up around, that will support and insure the clubs survival (their the very life blood) that’s why they can’t just be ignored in the face of progress and its something that even the bureaucrats running the game are beginning to recognize; hence the move now from Fifa and Uefa towards greater restrictions on player movement to encourage more home grown talent, a dual edged protectionist move to help maintain the club community bond and protect international football from the growing dominance of the club game.

  • Comment number 98.

    Just recently Portugal flew to Brazil for a friendly. A friendly in which Cristiano Ropnaldo played. I'd say that is a ridiculous amount of commitment for a game that didn't matter. I know that South American players fly long distances but they choose to make the journey across to Europe. This trevlling is simply a consequence they chose to live with when making their decisions...........

  • Comment number 99.

    Might be wrong here but are Lucs Podolski and Miroslav Klose not another, slightly different, example of players changing their nationality to suit themselves?

    They were both born in Poland but choose to play for Germany - I presume because they think they'll go further in tournaments etc.

    If Poland had those two they would be in a far better position to make it into the later rounds of the World Cup or Euros. I think it's a shame they don't feel a strong national bond and are happy to sell out for success.

  • Comment number 100.

    @ post 99

    Klose and Podolski might well have been born in Poland, but Klose was born to a father who is of german heritage and a polish mother and moved to germany at a young age- he grew up in Germany!!!

    The same thing applies to podolski. He was born in Poland but he lived in Germany all his life, so both are German people of polish heritage.


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