Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Does It Matter Where You Play It?

A recent FIFA ruling might be making waves soon. Waves that coincide with the looming 2010 World Cup, in which players will be allowed to use their dual citizenship to pick and choose which nation they represent.

Right now the FIFA Confederations Cup is taking place in South Africa. This competition takes place a year before the World Cup in the country chosen to hold the larger competition. It has eight countries in the tournament; seven countries have won FIFA worldwide or regional tournaments in the past three years and the eighth is the World Cup host country. The current countries involved are South Africa, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Egypt, Iraq, New Zealand, and the US.

The problem came into my life with the US v Italy match that happened yesterday. I was watching the match as a neutral, since I am very much not a fan of Italy and I openly admit that I do not really root for the US national squad. The last time I did was 2006. We all know how that ended. ( I think they have as much chance to win a real tournament as the Jamaican bobsled team did - CONCACAF Cup, congrats US you beat Canada ) I want them to do well and I wish we had the same tradition as Europe, but we don't. Maybe one day I'll be okay with us nationally, and people will understand that Americans know what they're talking about and understand the game, and I'll hear it called soccer and not cringe - the last one probably won't ever happen, but these are just my issues and they're neither here nor there. Anyway, yesterday wasn't that bad though for the US nationals. I really respected their effort. The US was a man down and a goal up, thanks to a harsh call and PK taken by Landon Donovan ( who really is the Ryan Giggs or the John Terry of the squad - he's the heart and soul of it ). Tim Howard made some brilliant saves throughout the match and they handled themselves very well for being a ten man squad for over half the match. Italy then put in Giuseppe Rossi
( 22 year old deep lying striker ), who scored the first and third of Italy's three goals.

A lot of the people I know were irritated by this. They think Rossi should be playing for the US since he was born and raised in this country. They saw it as betrayal. Rossi has dual citizenship with the US and Italy and specifically chose to go and play for Italy internationally. He was born in New Jersey ( a few people I go to school with know Rossi and say that he's a legitimately nice guy ) but has Italian parents, played for the Italian youth squad at 13, and scored four goals for Italy at the 2008 Olympics. He also said that despite his dreams of Italy that he might play for the US if they included him in the 2006 squad - when he was nineteen.

I don't have a problem with this. I think he was smart and was within the FIFA laws in playing for Italy. Besides being a part of the Italian culture and dreaming of playing for Italy, it was the smart player's choice. He plays overseas ( he used to play for United and is currently with Villarreal ) and will have the most opportunity to play and grow on the Italian national team. He'll be playing with legends, who happen to be the reigning World Cup Champions. If I had the choice, I'd do the same thing. As for giving hope to playing in the US - he was a kid when he said that. I don't hold it against him.

I guess though that with players like Rossi the US team would be forced to play on a higher level and thereby keeping future players from going to other countries if they can. They - and people like myself - aren't thinking about the best long term situation for our country. Maybe I'm part of the problem with my European leagues and caring more about the English national team's qualifying matches than the US's. I think I'll root for the US in this Confederation Cup and see what happens this time. But I'd also like to point out that of the 23 men on the US national squad, only five actually play their club football in the US. Five play in England and three play in Germany. The people who criticize Rossi don't argue that the US squad should play in the MLS; they should be loyal to making the American league emerge as a world leader. These fans want their national players to get experience and grow in European leagues - and play with better squads. This is all that Rossi is doing.

He's not the only one. The New York Times have a story today ( by Jack Bell ) about a German international who has dual citizenship with the US and actually WANTS to leave his German squad and be allowed to play for America. Although this story has less passion for the player's second and adopted country than Giuseppe Rossi - it's still a smart decision made by the player.

Jermaine Jones ( 27 year old midfielder ) was born to an American father and German mother and has played for the German national squad for the past year, with three caps at friendlies. He plays his club matches in the Bundesliga for FC Schalke 04. The German national team has recently started players who could have played, through dual citizenship, for Brazil or Turkey. They instead chose Germany.

So why - you have to ask yourself - would someone leave one of the top three national teams in the world to play for the squad currently ranked fourteenth? The NY Times article tries to explain:

Jones said that his outspoken nature, multiple tattoos and perhaps his mixed heritage had not made him all that popular in Germany.
“I’m a player, when you see me, I have tattoos and in Germany the people maybe don’t like that stuff,” he said. “When I want to say something, then I say it. In Germany, it is all about the team, and now there are more players who say nothing. Maybe this is the problem with me. I thought I maybe would have a chance with the national team of Germany. But for me, now this is over.”

So it seems like
Jones thinks that he could be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. But you know what - he'd get the chance to play and show what he can do. He's twenty-seven, its not like he's the young kid waiting for a chance to start for Germany. As for being a midfielder - he's no Bastian Schweinsteiger. He's even had controversy in Germany after responding to a question about gay footballers in the German legue by saying "hopefully not." I really don't have a high opinion of him - but Jones just wants to play and the US might let him have that chance. And he has the citizenship to do it. I think it is a smart choice for him.

But how does FIFA fit in? Until now Jones would not meet the requirements to switch national squads. The Times does a good job explaining:

At its recent congress in the Bahamas, FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, changed its eligibility rules for senior internationals. Now, playing at the youth international level (under-17 and under-21) does not preclude a player from petitioning FIFA for a one-time change, providing that the player had dual citizenship when he initially participated. FIFA also did away with a rule that limited switching national teams to players 21 and younger. According to an e-mail message Monday from the American federation spokesman Neil Buethe, the lifting of the age restriction is effective Oct. 1.

Jones wasn't eligible before because he was too old to meet the twenty-one year old limit for switching national teams. There are many players in many countries that choose to play for their adopted homelands. This new ruling will help other to make the change.

I have to admit, that even though I'm not fond of the Italian national team, after Rossi scored his first yesterday - I was almost rooting for them. After he made that goal I wanted to see them win. I wanted his being on the pitch to have turned the tide for the Italian side. I don't think of it as supporting Italy but supporting players playing good football and making smart choices about where to play it.

Remember tomorrow is Spain v Iraq in the morning at 10AM
( Viva Espana - this is the only time I can openly support Fernando Torres since I'm a United fan ) and South Africa v New Zealand in the afternoon at 2:30PM.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't have said any of this better myself.

    I tend to fall in line with the US fans who enjoy the Euro leagues more than our domestic one. It's just better football: quality talent with superior fan bases and richer histories.

    That's not to say the American fan isn't a great fan, far from it. They just can't hold their own against a century plus of tradition and fandom.

    Kudos to Rossi for bettering his chances at the game he loves. He would have rotted on the US bench or, at best, wasted his talent with a side who gets bitch-slapped on the global stage and receives no love from their own countrymen.

    As for cheering on the US squad, I refuse to do so until they make a concerted effort to compete at the international level. I openly root for Les Bleus (insert derogatory French jokes here) and will do so for the foreseeable future.

    Solid commentary, all in all.