Once Friday’s draw has taken place in Bahia, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil will seem much more like a reality than a distant future prospect. Knowing opponents for certain will focus the minds of the 32 coaches of the participant nations, and their administrative support networks.
This time, more than ever, the preparation will go beyond scouting the group competition and examining the form of one’s own players. As players’ dreams of making the trip to Brazil crystallise, we can expect what will be almost a national team ‘transfer window’ as players with the possibility of switching nations are offered the chance to do so. A few will be faced with deciding how far they will go to be part of next summer’s festivities.
To many, this is anathema, a contradiction of everything that makes international football what it is. To others, it is simply a symptom of a changing world, in which we are international citizens.
Pretty much everybody is thinking about it. Even the circumspect, conservative Portugal coach Paulo Bento admitted last week that he would be open to calling up Porto’s Brazilian midfielder Fernando.
In an interview with Record, reported here on zerozero.pt, Bento admitted that Fernando would be a great asset. “I will never ask for a player to be naturalised or for the FPF (Federacao Portuguesa de Futebol) to accelerate a (particular) case,” he clarified, yet added that “from the moment he is naturalised, then he’s another option. Fernando is different to them (Portugal’s other midfielders).”
That’s the bottom line. If a coach who, unlike his club counterpart, doesn’t have the power to trade players can improve his options by other means, why wouldn’t he? It is a situation not dissimilar to that of Brazilian-born Diego Costa, an unorthodox player who will certainly add another string to Spain’s bow. More will surely follow in the coming months.
There is some irony in the timing and venue for both the above players, as they look to realise the pinnacle of playing a World Cup finals tournament in their country of birth, albeit for another nation. That so many of the players faced with this question of switching sporting nationality are from Brazil is entirely logical.
The Brazilian diaspora over world football is part of the game’s cultural landscape, and it stands to reason that there will be many left out of the selecao’s plans, given a population of nearly 200 million. Portugal have been here before, taking on Deco and Pepe, while Croatia will bring Eduardo with them to next summer’s tournament.
Nationality transference promises to become more, rather than less common as the years go by. Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj may be a particularly extreme version of a player with diverse origins, being able to declare for Belgium, Albania, Turkey, Serbia, Kosovo (when they become FIFA-affiliated) and maybe even England, one day.
Yet similar situations—certainly in terms of the mooted England qualification—appear likely to be replicated in future. Just last week, FIFA rejected a proposal from Barcelona to lower the current minimum ages of 16 and 18 (Europe and the world, respectively) for signing players from abroad. As El Confidencial reports, they were supported by Real Madrid.
As the world’s biggest clubs seek to integrate young talent quicker, we can expect to see more foreign-born players represent the countries in which they undertake their football education. If he had been born ten years later (and if one assumes the Home Nations Agreement will eventually be done away with) perhaps Cesc Fabregas, a player who is a real mix of English and Spanish qualities, would have been a candidate for England.
We’re not talking about opportunists here, but players who have a genuine connection with the countries in which they make their careers and their lives. It has always been the case, ever since Argentina’s Alfredo Di Stefano went on to represent Colombia and Spain.
The world is changing, and every practical coach is right to make the most of it.