Saturday 28 June ~
Once Turkey and Spain had qualified for the semi-finals of Euro 2008, there was a 50/50 chance that another country would extend its influence on the tournament right to the end. As it turned out, Spain's Marcos Senna will represent the contingent of Brazilian-born players in the final, while Turkey's Aurelio joined his former compatriots now representing Portugal and Poland on the sidelines. It's been a tournament of many intriguing national allegiances: Polish-born Germans, German-born Turks, Turkish-origin Austrians and Swiss, Dutch with Berber backgrounds, Swedes and Swiss with roots in former Yugoslavia, French from everywhere. Most of the players' stories reflect general patterns of migration, former colonial ties and the increasingly fluid borders between all parts of Europe - in other words, football mirrors real life.
But there is something slightly troubling about the Brazilians. Not the particular ones playing in Euro 2008, necessarily, but they are only a small part of the wandering contingents popping up in unlikely squads around the world. The modern wave began perhaps with Japan's selection of Wagner Lopes and Alex at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. But the country that has taken Brazilian-shopping to new heights in recent years is Qatar. In line with its policy of recruiting South African swimmers, Kenyan runners and anyone else who might win them Olympic gold, the Gulf state has naturalised footballers from Brazil, Uruguay, Sudan, Senegal and Ghana, among others. Last week a 1-0 away win against Iraq was enough to put the polyglot Qataris into the next phase of Asian World Cup qualifying, despite having played an ineligible player (a former Brazilian, Emerson) in an earlier game.
So what? Qatar are unlikely to reach the finals, so does it matter if many of their players have no links to the country except that they were paid handsomely to play there? I think it does. For one thing, getting to the final group stage would have meant a whole lot more to Iraq, in football and possibly even political terms. They have enough hurdles (including playing 'home' games in Dubai) without having to tackle a team of mercenaries. And for another, the appeal of national teams is different from that of clubs and should remain so. Most of the football calendar is dominated by teams whose quality is limited only by the amount of cash available. If Fifa wants to keep international football special, it should get a grip on creeping Brazilianisation right now. Otherwise they'll all want one.