Moving around clubs is an accepted part of a players’ career, albeit a few exceptions. On the other hand, playing for more than one country is fairly uncommon, despite this many players have done just that.
The rules and regulations surrounding country representation are tight. The majority of players that turn out for more than one country tend to do so at youth level, where the rules are less strict. Once a player turns out at senior level they become somewhat â€˜lockedâ€™ into that country.
It can seem illogical to want to represent a different country to that of a player’s birth but the reasons range. Sometimes it’s simply wanting to experience international football but for many, it’s the privilege that comes with being called up for their country.
When a player is not called up for their country of birth, their parents’ or grandparents’ ancestry can be investigated, providing them with another opportunity.
There is also the issue of being born in one country but growing up in another, with players qualifying through residency, which opens up options.
Then there is a complex situation, which is being born in a country that no longer exists. SFR Yugoslavia springs to mind. Yugoslavia existed from 1945-1992 before being dissolved. Split into six countries consisting of Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Macedonia. Players who turned out for the former Yugoslavia team then represented one of the newly formed countries. In today’s rules, this is one of the only ways a player at senior level can turn out for two different countries.
Given the circumstances and privilege of representing a country, it can seem as if the rules have always been tight. FIFA though initially allowed players to represent any country, providing they held citizenship. A player could fall out of favour with one country and still go on to represent another. This could be through a family connection or just residing in a country long enough to become eligible.
Real Madrid legend, Alfredo Di StÃ©fano was one such player. Born in Argentina in 1926, his parents had mixed nationalities. His father was a first-generation Italian-Argentinean, while his mother was of French and Irish descent. Initially, he was called up for his native Argentina, playing just six games but also scoring six goals.
During this period, Argentina had problems. Feuds with Brazil and player strikes, whilst also withdrawing from the 1950 World Cup and then the South American Championships.
During this time, Di StÃ©fano was playing for the Colombian club Millonarios. With his national team up in arms and a break in the Colombian league. Friendly matches were instead organised. Colombia formed an all-star team, using players from the main league with Di StÃ©fanio playing in four unofficial matches. FIFA then found out he did not hold a Colombian Passport, and so was banned from playing for Argentina.
By 1953 he was plying his trade in Europe with Real Madrid. His residence in Spain over the next few years meant he acquired citizenship. In 1956 with some reluctance, FIFA eventually allowed him to turn out for Spain. He narrowly missed out on qualifying for the 1958 World Cup but helped them qualify in 1962. Unfortunately, injury ruled him out of that World Cup, although he was included in the Spanish squad.
Another player who had mixed fortune with national football was Luis Monti. As an Italian -Argentinean, his representation is more straightforward, directly following his nationality. He turned out for Argentina initially before switching to Italy.
The unique thing about Monti is that he is the only player to have played two World Cup finals with two different countries. In 1930 he was unlucky with Argentina losing to the hosts Uruguay, but success followed in 1934 when Italy beat Czechoslovakia to clinch the World Cup.
What is likely to have played a part in these players turning out for different countries, amongst many others at the time, may lie within traveling and money. Today it is easy to travel between different continents. Back then, especially for Monti, air travel would have been expensive, uncomfortable, and took longer. Football had also turned professional in many European countries, luring in players from other continents.
Changing your country was common for many years, but in 2004, FIFA made a significant rule change. This rule stipulated that there must be a clear connection to the country that a player wishes to represent, thus making it harder for a player to switch allegiances.
The player must have either a parent or grandparent born in that particular country or have been born there to receive a call-up. They can use residency, and although this was initially a two-year period it has since increased five years to be considered.
The reasoning for this clear connection and the extension for residency was due to the growing trend for lesser footballing countries neutralising players from those with an excellent football pedigree such as Brazil.
Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was concerned that countries could field teams full of Brazilian players. Leading to more countries taking part in the World Cup with teams full of players that were, as he put it â€˜invaders’!
The rules state that senior-level players can only switch countries providing they have never played a competitive fixture, and have the approval of FIFA. If the match was competitive and the player was under 21, then at least three years need to pass by before FIFA will consider approval.
Recently more competitive fixtures have replaced friendlies, bringing about complications. FIFA now takes into consideration the number of competitive fixtures played. Providing the player is under 21 and has played 3 or fewer competitive fixtures, they can now make the switch. However, if the player is over 21, the original rules still stand.
Although we seldom see the switch at senior level in today’s game, we still see the odd stand-out moments.
HÃ©lder Costa initially chose to represent Portugal through residency. Scoring the opening goal in his only appearance, which resulted in a 3-1 victory against Scotland in a friendly. His home country of Angola came calling and he made the switch. His debut came against Egypt and once again, he scored the opening goal. This makes him only the third player in history to score on a debut for two different nations.
Wilfred Zaha caused controversy a few years back. After initially representing England, he turned out for his native Ivory Coast. He had grown up in England, having moved at the age of four. Initially, Zaha seemed to have a promising England future, but this never materialised. Four years passed by without a call-up, and seeing as he had only turned out for England in friendlies, he was able to play for his native country.
When news of his intentions to play for the Ivory Coast emerged, England boss Gareth Southgate indicated that he would try to â€˜dissuadeâ€™ Zaha. To add to this, former England boss Roy Hodgson regrets not fielding him in a competitive fixture that would have seen him tied to England.
To complicate things further, the UK has its own particular set of rulings within FIFA guidance. Known as the home nations agreement. It has changed many times, and at one point was quite stringent. A player could only represent the nation they were born in or one their parents hailed from.
In terms of foreign-born nationals FIFA states, they are eligible for any of the four nations. But in 1994 the four nations made a â€˜gentlemen’s’ agreement. Stating that a player born overseas and in receipt of a British passport should have a connection to a particular nation, through parent or grandparent. Only if there is no parental connection could they be eligible for any of the nations.
For a long time, this ruling was not binding leaving the door open to interpretation. Since 2006 FIFA has sanctioned a set of rules that are in line with the â€˜gentleman’s agreementâ€™. Further to this, a newer set of rules do allow players to be called up by a nation they have no family ties to, providing they have been educated there for at least five years or more.
The situation within the UK means there is a high amount of switching taking place at youth level. Whilst the majority of the England team tend to hail from their own nation, an increasing amount of English nationals go onto represent one of the other three nations. This is down to the tough competition to gain a place within the England camp. Instead, and where eligible they will oftern opt for one of the other nations, where competition isnâ€™t as tough.
One interesting switch occurred with David Brooks. Born in England to a Welsh mother. He was initially called up to the Welsh under-20s team for the Toulon Tournament but pulled out due to being called up by England, coincidentally for the same tournament. England went on to win, with Brooks scoring in the final. He was also named the best player in the tournament. A few months later, he was again called up by Wales and subsequently made his senior debut.
How and why he made the switch is only known to him. Although, he has since stated that he always intended to play for Wales!
Representing different countries is increasingly hard to do. Many argue that it should only be one country that a player is loyal too. Although if a player has ties to different countries, it’s perfectly normal to feel a connection to those and choices have to be made.
It is unlikely that we will see players switching at senior levels any time soon. The recent changes to the rules regarding competitive fixtures do however leave a chance, although slim, that once again we could see a player go on to represent two (or three) countries in major tournaments.
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