Jim Holden Embracing dual nationality
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