22 May ~ Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink are three of the finest Dutch footballers of their era. Between them they have four Champions League medals plus silverware from the Spanish, Italian and Portuguese leagues. They were born in Suriname, South America's smallest sovereign state, which also could have been represented by European Championship winners Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit. Instead, a country five times larger than the Netherlands, from which it gained independence in 1975, has a population of under half a million people and a national team that languishes in 133rd in the FIFA World Rankings.
It is a curious situation. Current Oranje players who are eligible for Suriname include former Liverpool winger Ryan Babel and Manchester City's Nigel de Jong. This summer, Dutch-born Swansea City star Michel Vorm could become the first goalkeeper with such heritage to play in a major tournament. "There have been so many good players from Suriname, or with parents from Suriname, and I think it's something you have to be proud of," he said recently. "It's also something Surinamese people are very proud of. If I am in Holland they say how proud they are to see me playing for Swansea and being part of the national team."
According to Dutch football writer Sander Ijtsma of the 11tegen11 blog: "Holland's national team has undoubtedly benefited from using Suriname-born players, who had the potential to make quite an impact. Just think of the generation that reached the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup in France. In that game, Holland fielded three players with Surinamese roots in their starting line-up – Michael Reiziger, Davids, Patrick Kluivert – and four more on the bench, Hasselbaink, Seedorf, Aron Winter and Winston Bogarde.
"This was the era when the Dutch national team seemed most divided in terms of players with Surinamese roots and the others. Famously, Edgar Davids was even sent home during Euro 96 after being quoted saying that Guus Hiddink 'shouldn't stick his head in other players' arses'."
Surinamese laws do not allow someone holding a passport of another country (such as Holland) to play for Suriname. So, as Davids and Seedorf moved to the Ajax youth team for the sake of their fledgling careers, birthplaces were essentially rendered obsolete, regardless of which national side they intended to represent.
The situation is different for players with heritage in countries such as Morocco: "Dutch-born players like Mounir El Hamdaoui, Zakaria Labyad and Ibrahim Afellay have the option to choose which national side to play for," notes Ijtsma. Only Afellay, currently at Barcelona, has since played for Holland.
Rather than encouraging loyalty, the Surinamese policy has almost certainly limited their success in the Concacaf region. Their squad relies on numerous amateurs and the dominant clubs SV Robinhood and SV Transvaal. According to FIFA statistics, just a quarter of the country's 35,250 players are registered with clubs.
The government's attitude is a "delicate issue", says Ijtsma. "Although Suriname would have stood a better chance of sporting success with such players on board, one can understand the decision to exclude those who have grown up in the Netherlands."
The matter is less pressing nowadays. "Only De Jong features prominently and, more importantly, the polarisation of the 1990s is less of an issue," concludes Ijtsma. Suriname continues to produce a wide array of sporting talent, including Georginio Wijnaldum, Kelvin Leerdam and Everton loanee Royston Drenthe, despite them choosing Holland.
Drenthe's brother Giovanni, aged 22, is arguably Suriname's main star, having played a key role in the Concacaf World Cup qualification campaign. Whether Suriname can keep hold of similar talents remains to be seen. Tom Parfitt