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.
Mike Ticher

Comments (2)
Comment by Mike Tuckerman 2008-06-30 05:43:27

As an Aussie, the issue of naturalised citizens playing for rival national teams always hits close to home (Josip Simunic, anyone?) but kicking off the analogy by using Wagner Lopes and Alex as examples is a little bit harsh.

Wagner Lopes had played club football in Japan for over a decade before he made his international debut, while Alex migrated to Japan as a high school student. Aside from a year-long loan spell at Salzburg, he has spent his entire career in Japan - a scenario that bears resemblance to the career of current Japan talisman Marcus Tulio Tanaka.

Comment by Steve Saint 2008-07-05 16:34:44

John Barnes switched from being Jamaican to English 25 years ago so this is hardly new. Look at Jack Charlton's Ireland teams- especially Tony Cascarino! By the 1998 World Cup it had gone full circle and the English Robbie Earle went out to play for Jamaican alongside Deon Burton.

Rob Earnshaw and the Whitley brothers were from Zambia but ended up playing for Wales and Northern Ireland respectively. Eric Young and Terry Butcher both hail from Singapore....

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