Friday, 17 February 2012

Changing Countries

Ever since scoring the world cup winner in my back garden as a young boy, it has been my dream to walk out at the Millennium Stadium and represent Wales, my country of birth and the place I was brought up. I remember going to the old Arms Park to watch my boyhood heroes- Giggs, Speed and my favourite player of all time, Dean Saunders.

The news recently that anyone from Northern Ireland, or with a parent or grandparent born in Northern Ireland is entitled to British and Irish citizenship, and therefore can play for the ROI or the NI side was a strange one for me. Players picking nationality dependant on their religion is fine by me but a strange decision by FIFA to allow it.

Its not the first time that people have been able to switch allegiances. Back in the early days of competitive International football you could play for as many countries as you liked. The great Alfredo di Stefano played for 3 countries. Born in Buenos Aries he had scored 7 goals in as many games before moving to Colombia to play his club football and earned 4 caps for the Colombian national side. Stefano then famously moved on to Madrid and had a glittering career for both Real and for Spain.

Since then FIFA have tightened up their eligibility rules and since 2004 players can swap nationalities as long as the player in question has not played a competitive game for his country. Up until 2004 however a cap for an under 21 side tied you to that country.

Stuart McCall famously had a lucky escape when on the bench for England Under 21’s, he’d realised that England wasn’t the country for him and when asked to warm up, he took too long and missed the chance to get on. He then went on to have an established international career with Scotland. Tim Cahill was one player who wasn’t as lucky. At the age of 14 he answered the call of Western Samoa Under 20’s. Playing in a competitive match he was tied to Samoa for 10 years before finally making his Australia debut in 2004.

David Johnson, formally of Ipswich and Forest had offers galore. Johnson born in Kingston, Jamaica had British parents and therefore a British passport, entitling him to play for any of the 4 home nations. Johnson was called up to Wales (which he withdrew through injury) played for England B, played for Jamaica in a non competitive match and was then called up by Craig Brown to represent Scotland (which again he withdrew from)

Players have found themselves jumping ship. Players from smaller countries with no chance of international success adopting the country of their parents in hope of playing in major championships. Talking of adopting- how about the famous case of Tony Cascarino. English born Cascarino earned 66 caps for Ireland on the back of his mother being born in the Emerald Isle, it wasn’t until the end of his career that he found out that he was adopted and therefore not of Irish blood!

With the Euro’s fast approaching, it will be interesting to see if there is an International merry go round. We mustn’t forget that everyone’s dream is playing in a World Cup, walking out on the biggest stage, only now it seems people don’t care who they are representing.

Liam Kenna

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