Jim Holden Em­brac­ing dual na­tion­al­ity

World Soccer - - Contents - Jim HOLDEN

The bit­ter­ness of Me­sut Ozil as he de­parted in­ter­na­tional foot­ball was summed up by one sen­tence in a strong state­ment of his dis­con­tent. “I am Ger­man when the team wins and an im­mi­grant when it loses,” said the mid­fielder who helped the coun­try to vic­tory in the 2014 World Cup.

Ozil was born and raised in Gelsenkirchen, and has al­ways played with pride and hon­our for Ger­many. His fam­ily is of Turk­ish de­scent and he is fiercely proud of that, too. He is a man, in his own words, of “two hearts”.

Many peo­ple have dual al­le­giance or dual na­tion­al­ity and it is a re­al­ity of mod­ern life that foot­ball must con­front this with rea­son and sen­si­tiv­ity, not bru­tal dis­dain.

The treat­ment of Ozil in Ger­many has been dispir­it­ing to wit­ness fol­low­ing an in­flated con­tro­versy when he was pic­tured with Turk­ish pres­i­dent Re­cep Er­do­gan – not least in need­lessly crit­i­cal com­ments from for­mer in­ter­na­tional team-mates Manuel Neuer and Toni Kroos. They should have known bet­ter than to fan the flames. So should Alex Mi­escher, the gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Swiss Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion, when he re­sponded to the case of Granit Xhaka and Xher­dan Shaqiri be­ing fined for mak­ing ea­gle ges­tures of an Al­ba­nian na­tional sym­bol to cel­e­brate goals against Ser­bia at the World Cup this sum­mer.

“This in­ci­dent shows there is a prob­lem,” said Mi­escher. “We have to ask our­selves, do we want dual na­tion­als?”

Xhaka was born in Basle, while his fam­ily are eth­nic Al­ba­ni­ans from Kosovo. Shaqiri’s fam­ily have sim­i­lar ori­gins and moved to Switzer­land be­fore their son was a year old.

Their ges­tures were fool­ish and pun­ished by FIFA. But they have “two hearts” as well, along with many oth­ers in the cur­rent Switzer­land team, with fam­ily con­nec­tions to Cameroon, Nige­ria, Chile and Spain.

“We are all Swiss and we give ev­ery­thing we have,” said Xhaka in re­sponse to the com­ments of Mi­escher. “We all know ex­actly what we owe to Switzer­land. Dual na­tion­als give their ut­most for the Swiss team.”

Sim­plis­tic and nar­row-minded at­ti­tudes to this is­sue are old fash­ioned, un­re­al­is­tic and wrong. Foot­ballers with “two hearts” and dual na­tion­al­ity will only be­come more com­mon.

Switzer­land, for ex­am­ple, has 283,000 regis­tered foot­ballers, al­most half of whom are of “for­eign” ori­gin. Eng­land man­ager Gareth South­gate spoke re­cently about this as­pect of team se­lec­tion in his job, ad­mit­ting: “The land­scape is very com­pli­cated. The way the world is, fam­i­lies are quite tran­sient, and nearly ev­ery player in the Eng­land un­der-15s and un­der-16s teams are dual na­tion­al­ity. This is­sue is some­thing all coun­tries are aware of.”

South­gate’s ap­proach is not to den­i­grate young play­ers for their back­ground, nor to ques­tion their pride and mo­ti­va­tion in wear­ing a par­tic­u­lar na­tional-team shirt when they have “two hearts”. His diplo­macy and sen­si­tiv­ity is the way to go.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly com­plex,” he adds. “We have al­ways had play­ers that have switched from youth level; we have seen the likes of Ethan Am­padu and David Brooks play for Eng­land and Wales in one sum­mer.

“That land­scape is there for every­body and you know that some de­ci­sions will fall in your favour and some will go the other way.”

Both chose to play for Wales at se­nior level and South­gate now hopes to per­suade West Ham United’s De­clan Rice to pick Eng­land rather than Repub­lic of Ire­land. But some in Ir­ish foot­ball are fu­ri­ous about this – for­get­ting how many English play­ers with “two hearts” have made the op­po­site move in the past. “De­clan is in a re­ally dif­fi­cult po­si­tion now and I’m ex­tremely con­scious of that,” says South­gate. “He has to make a de­ci­sion and I think it’s im­por­tant he is al­lowed space to do that.”

They are wise and del­i­cate words. De­clan Rice can choose as quickly or as slowly as he wishes. If he is torn be­tween two strong al­le­giances, he wouldn’t be the first foot­baller in that po­si­tion – and he won’t be the last.

“De­clan [Rice] is in a re­ally dif­fi­cult po­si­tion now...he has to make a de­ci­sion and I think it’s im­por­tant he is al­lowed space to do that” Eng­land man­ager Gareth South­gate

De­ci­sion...Lon­don-born De­clan Rice has only ap­peared in friendly matches for Repub­lic of Ire­land so far

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