Periscoping the hard choices that African footballers have to make
On the ball
BY CHIOMA UZOIGWE EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Where does the allegiance of a footballer lie? Sometimes you watch inter-national competitions to discover that a lot of the players plying their trade for one European country or the other were originally of African descent. Now and again also, there is jostling between origin nations and ‘adopted’ nations for one star or the other. The allegiance ‘war’ also arises between club vs country where players will rather play for their clubs than observe the FIFA international break and play for their countries. This has rather been an issue for African footballers and it is one that has to be more comprehensively addressed.
The practice of professional footballers changing their nationality (in most cases from their nation of birth or adopted nation) to play international football has been going on for many decades. There are other cases where players represented the country of their origin even though they held the passport of another country and had played for that country’s youth teams. The obvious path to allegiance to an adopted country starts when a player is born in a country where his/her parents are outside the shores of Africa seeking greener pastures in education or employment or an adult player outrightly obtaining the citizenship of a nation and play for them.
In my opinion, the socio-economic value (factors such as finance; convenience; pride; honour, environment, visibility, etc.) of this kind of allegiance, will play out in the mind of any player faced with this type of choice. It is common knowledge that every fit player will always like to display what he or she can do on the field of play. Countless African players have therefore represented their adopted nations at youth level and gone on further to play for their own origin nations at the senior team level. There are numerous examples but here we will refer to the likes of Alex Iwobi, Victor Moses and Wilfred Zaha, who represented England at the youth level and now play for their respective countries of Nigeria and Ivory Coast. These players may or may not have had the opportunity to play at the senior team level for England but switching allegiance to play for their nations of origin has come to be seen as a thing of pride and honour. It is also good for the players’ career development as playing for the national team props up a player’s ratings and enables him to be visible on the international stage at landmark contests such as the World Cup. The player is also likely to be signed by bigger and better clubs after such outings and obviously therefore come to earn more.
On the contrary however, some players choose not to play for their nations of origin and wait for a national call-up of their adopted nations which may or may not come. Such players prefer to stick to their familiar environments and are seemingly not courting any form of controversy. A clear example here would be the case of Tammy Abraham (the Chelsea player on loan to Swansea) who says he never considered playing for his origin nation, Nigeria at the international level despite repeated overtures from the Nigerian Football Federation, NFF and has no regret snubbing Nigeria. He just got his England call-up.
The issue of players’ allegiance also rears its head in relations between clubs and countries. Indeed, it was quite routine, if not prevalent until FIFA harmonized it’s calendar. Despite this however, during the FIFA international breaks, some players – despite national call-ups – are yet reluctant to play for their countries for various reasons and therefore prefer to remain in their clubs. Clubs in turn, are sometimes reluctant to release players for fear of their getting injured. In this wise, clubs believe that they are the ones who pay the bills and therefore should call the shots.
In summary then, it is important to note that players’ yet pride themselves on the number of international caps that they have for their countries even as the international stage provides high-level visibility for players’ career advancement. Accordingly then, the choices made (allegiance to club, country or adopted country) will very likely be chiefly underlined by socio-economic factors. There are bills to pay and targets to achieve!
‘On the ball’ is a monthly ‘football issues’ column in The Difference Newspaper that is contributed by the consunmate football enthusiast, Chioma Uzoigwe