This past summer, many of us watched nervously as Belgium finally found a way in the 92nd minute to score on the impenetrable force that was US goalkeeper Tim Howard. Many of us groaned in angst as Belgium doubled their lead shortly after. However, the US would not go down without a fight, and 19-year old Julian Green scored a dazzling volley goal to inspire hope for the millions of anxious onlookers. Unfortunately the US would go on to lose the game 2-1, marking the end of their once hopeful 2014 World Cup run. But looking back at the World Cup, I can’t help but to be amazed at the impact that a 19 year old individual could have on a country of 320 million with the calculated kick of one leg.
At 19 years old, Julian Green is primed to have a long and hopefully successful career with the United States Men’s Soccer Team. However, this would have not been possible had Green elected to continue playing with the German Men’s National Team, a team in which he played for up until the U19 level.
Green, who currently resides in Tampa, Florida, had been raised in Germany to an American father and German mother while his father was stationed overseas for the military. As a result, Green had dual nationality, making him eligible for either country. Despite heavy courtship from the US, Green played the majority of his youth career with a Bayern Munich developmental program, and was considered a lock to join the German National Team.
FIFA eligibility rules had once been entirely non-existent, allowing players the opportunity to switch national teams at their whim. Most famously, Alfred Di Stefano bounced from Argentina in 1947, to Columbia in 1949, to finally Spain in 1957-1961. However, eligibility rules tightened up beginning in 2004, and FIFA expressed that there needed to exist a clear connection between player and country, stating that “the player must have either lived in the country for 2 years, or have a parent or grandparent who was born there” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/africa/3523266.stm).
Currently, the FIFA rule on Nationality eligibility is as follows:
If a player has never played in an international match, he or she is allowed to play for any country in which they are deemed eligible to play for. If a player has already played in an international match, but would like to switch national teams, FIFA allows the player a one-time switch, granted that he or she is under 21 and is eligible for said nationality. Such was the case for Julian Green, as he shocked the soccer world, ultimately chose to dedicate his FIFA international career to the US on the eve on the 2014 World Cup.
Vying for dual nationality players is something that creates an interesting dynamic in the international landscape. For a player like Green, would he rather have been a bench player on an already deep Germany squad, or would he rather be the potential face of US soccer? For a player like Giuseppe Rossi, a player who famously grew up in New Jersey but chose to represent Italy in the 2010 World Cup, would he rather be a star in US soccer or be a fringe player for an Italian squad? These players face difficult and looming decisions when it comes to choosing what country to represent, but I believe that the current legislation that FIFA successfully grants players autonomy while also providing a strict framework that prohibits players bouncing around from nationality to nationality at their whim. In a world as international as ours, I find that these decisions will only become more commonplace as we move toward the future.