Julian Green and FIFA Nationality Eligibility Rules

By | March 18, 2015

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.

Courtesy of http://www.mlssoccer.com/sites/league/files/imagecache/620x350/image_nodes/2013/10/Green-Bayern-II.jpg

Courtesy of http://www.mlssoccer.com/sites/league/files/imagecache/620×350/image_nodes/2013/10/Green-Bayern-II.jpg

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:

Courtesy of: http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/generic/02/41/81/55/fifastatuten2014_e_neutral.pdf

Courtesy of: http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/generic/02/41/81/55/fifastatuten2014_e_neutral.pdf

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.


5 thoughts on “Julian Green and FIFA Nationality Eligibility Rules

  1. Shiv Gidumal

    It is interesting to think about Julian Green in comparison to two players previously heralded as the saviors of American soccer.

    First, Green was often compared to Landon Donovan during this past World Cup. While Donovan was not on the team for the 2014 games, he had been a critical player on the national squad since 2002. In his first games, Donovan was only 19, yet he made a dramatic impact on the games that he participated in. He went on to become captain and arguably the most important player in US soccer history.

    Second, Green could be compared to Freddy Adu. Adu became the youngest person to ever sign a professional athletic contract at the age of 14. He was hailed as the “next Pele” and the savior of American soccer. However, he failed to live up to the hype and never made a significant contribution in a World Cup for the national team.

    While Green has probably exceeded Adu on the field already, he may never have as much impact as Donovan. As Harrison wrote, Green fell from grace this season after the World Cup and no longer has a spot on one of the world’s best club teams, which had set him apart from previous American prodigies. Either way, it will be interesting to watch Green’s development and (hopefully) see him turn around the USMNT.

  2. sep32@duke.edu

    While I agree with Justin that the rules allowing players to switch teams might benefit the United States (because of our ability to draw players from other countries to a still-developing program and roster), I think that it is also important to consider how these constant changes and roster fluctuations might impact the overall team dynamic. As someone who played and watches team sports, I really believe that success in athletics depends as much on the extent to which players “click” and understand each other’s style of play and tactical tendencies. Such knowledge and fluidity cannot be established if the US roster is constantly adjusting to the decisions of players with international backgrounds who spontaneously decide to play for the US so that they can maximize their own playing time. Such choices seem self-motivated and may not be conducive to a successful program in the longer term.

  3. Harrison Kalt

    Anthony,I think this is a really well written and interesting article and I too agree with your stance on the eligibility rules and how, like Justin said, they are becoming of increasing importance in modern soccer. However, like Justin, I think that we, as American soccer fans, should be cautious about Julian Green and lower our expectations as to what he will be able to do in the red, white and blue. After being promoted to the first team for German Bundesliga leader and powerhouse Bayern Munich, expectations for Green were at an all-time high. From there, he went on to secure one of the final spots on the US national team that went to Brazil and, with Julian’s help in extra time, bring the game to within one goal. However, since that fairytale-like appearance against Belgium and star goalkeeper Thibault Courtouis, Green has been a huge disappointment. A month after the World Cup, Green joined Hamburg, another Bundesliga squad, on loan from Bayern. After nearly 3 months of uninspired play, Hamburg (known locally as HSV) reportedly tried to offload the teenager to an even worse Bundesliga squad, 1860 Munich. However, when Green rejected the potential move, he was demoted to the club’s reserve squad, where he has a total of 0 goals.

    Hopefully, things will turn around for this young talent who has already been called the savior of American soccer and the next great.

  4. Justin Fu

    Anthony, I agree with your perspective towards the eligibility rules and how they are becoming of increasing importance in a global age where exact nationalities and lineages are unclear at best. Julian Green certainly was America’s sweetheart after his wonder goal last summer, but since then I think we should temper our expectations of him and allow him to develop his skills first. After all, the least we want is another Freddy Adu episode (a player who was hailed as America’s Pele, but failed to make any lasting impression domestically or internationally).

    I also agree that the one time switch of nationalities that players are allowed to make provides players with multiple nationalities to select a country they identify more with than their current residence. With regards to this nationality switch, I would venture to say that this benefits the USA team immensely. As a nation that has not reached soccer dominance, we are able to draw from Americans abroad in other footballing countries to strengthen our own roster. Furthermore, the multicultural composition of America, combined with the high rates of emigration and immigration means that our team likely has footholds in many locales around the world. Of equal or even greater importance, is our nation’s army bases scattered across the world. Arguably, these bases have provided the greatest source of “American” players.

    Lastly, I just wanted to turn the spotlight away from Julian Green, who could use a respite from the Sauron’s eye of our blog. Rather, we should be discussing the hot new prospect, Gedion Zelalem, an 18-year old Arsenal youth player who grew up in the Washingtond DC area when he was 9 until he was 15. However, he was born in Germany and has recently been called up by the German U-18 . Now the ball is in his court (field?) to make a choice to accept or to decline. It should be noted this final quote by Aresene Wenger:

    “If you speak to Gedion, it sounds like you’re speaking to an American,” Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger told SI’s Jeff Bradley last summer. “And, certainly, when we found him, he was living in D.C. and thinking of himself as a young U.S. kid.”

    Knock on wood…

    Source: The US and Germany are in battle for an 18-year-old soccer phenom, Business Insider, Tony Manfred, http://www.businessinsider.com/gedion-zelalem-germany-us-choice-2015-3


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