BY FEARGAL BRENNAN
To say that Portugal shocked the footballing world this summer, would be quite an overstatement. Their success in France was led by the presence of one of the finest footballers of his generation in Cristiano Ronaldo, aided by an experienced and streetwise supporting cast and clear tactical strategy.
To put it in its most relevant terms, their achievement, whilst somewhat against the odds, still is nowhere near as surprising as that of Greece’s win at EURO 2004.
Portugal have been perennial tournament bridesmaids in recent years, despite the talismanic qualities of Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Rui Costa.
As the post-mortem begins as to how A Selecao managed to shake off their underachievers tag, and win in France, one of the most vital components is clearly a successful adoption of naturalization.
Naturalization and international qualification via parentage is certainly not a new concept within European football. The Republic of Ireland were famous for using the ‘granny rule’ in the 80s and 90s, while nations such as France and Germany have enjoyed success with teams built on the foundations of immigration.
In the French 1998 and 2000 trophy winning squads, they had Patrick Vieira, Marcel Desailly and Lilian Thuram born in Senegal, Ghana and Guadeloupe respectively.
With the German World Cup winners of 2014, they had Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, both born in Poland.
Vieira, who moved to France when he was 8, qualified for the national team via his grandfather, a soldier in the French Army, when Senegal was still part of the Empire.
Desailly’s story is more unusual, his mother divorced his father and married the Head of the French consulate in Ghana. He then adopted Desailly (named at birth as Odenke Abbey) and his siblings, before moving the family to France, with Desailly aged 4.
Thuram was born in the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe, and he relocated to France aged 9, and qualified as a French citizen.
With both Klose and Podolski, they both opted for German citizenship as opposed to representing their native Poland as adults.
These examples highlight the very important relationship that immigration, and in the example of France, former empires can have in creating a route into international football.
However the Portugal EURO 2016 squad breaks new ground, by including nine players born outside of Portugal. Whilst France’s 98/00 squad was influenced heavily by key players from non-French nations, Portugal stands apart as a significant example of a team built using alternate resources.
Portugal have successfully managed to encourage the sons of Portuguese immigrants and even more importantly encourage immigrants to Portugal to become naturalized, such is their allegiance to Portugal.
Eight of those players all played a role in the Portuguese victory, only reserve goalkeeper Anthony Lopes, born in France with a Portuguese father did not appear in the tournament. This statistic highlights perfectly how vital the role of these players were in driving Portugal to their first ever major international trophy.
Three of the players in this group, Raphael Guerreiro, Cedric Soares and Adrien Silva, were born in France, Germany and France again respectively. They all have at least one Portuguese parent, so their loyalty to Portugal can be seen via relatively clear means.
However in the example of Real Madrid defender Pepe, who was excellent in France, he was born in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, and moved to Portugal in 2001, aged 18. Six years later he opted for Portuguese citizenship, and to represent the national team.
With William Carvalho, born in Angola, Nani, born in Cape Verde and Danilo Pereira and Eder, both born in Guinea-Bissau, the factor of colonialism raised its head again.
All three countries were Portuguese colonies, until as recently as 1974-75, and only declared full independence following revolution in Portugal and internal civil disputes.
As nations, Portuguese or Portuguese-Creole are invariably the most spoken languages, and ties to Portugal are still apparent.
All four players left their native countries for Portugal as young children, and were snapped up quickly by local Portuguese clubs. Carvalho and Danilo, were quickly absorbed in the Portugal youth setup, representing the country at every youth level up to senior, with Nani also playing at U21 level.
Despite only playing at senior level, Eder’s name will remain immortal after his wonderful match winning goal against France in this summer’s final.
The key point of interest here appears to be that rather than fulfilling the negative mantra of players simply becoming internationals to make economic gain or simply for the sake of it, each of these players appears to have a genuine affiliation with Portugal and the life they have created there.
Former Manchester United player Nani is probably the best example of this, he endured a particularly difficult childhood, abandoned by his parents in Portugal and he was raised by his aunt. His first club, Real Massama essentially helped him to put his life together with food, money and documentation as a teenager.
Players such as Danilo, Carvalho, Guerreiro, Soares, and Nani and Eder to an extent, will go on to become the spine of the Portuguese national team in the coming years, a task they will revel in for a country that has given them so much.
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