Switching Nationalities

By | March 25, 2015

Amidst the controversy that surrounds FIFAs decision to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in the winter, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about some of FIFAs policies. In particular FIFA’s nationality policies became of particular interest to me.

Article 7 of the FIFA Statutes (the Regulations Governing the Application of Statutes) is quite relevant in this case. It notes that a player who plays for a continuous period over five years after reaching the age of 18 in the territory of relevant national association can play for that national association in international football providing that they haven’t played for an official competition match for another national state.

Diego Costa, perhaps the most hated player at the 2014 World Cup decided to play for Spain rather than Brazil through FIFA’s Article 7.

This clause provides an opportunity for players who have created new homes for themselves in countries other than the one that they were born in. While this can be a blessing for some players who feel that they have made new homes for themselves, or have grown up in a country other than the one they were born in. Some may view it as an unfair way to shift players away from the countries they should be playing for, as many of the best players in the world come to play in Europe and could be eligible to play for countries with big soccer leagues in England, Spain, or Germany under these rules.

In terms of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar there is also a growing concern that Qatar may try to leverage this clause to gain players for its World Cup team as a player who begins playing professionally in Qatar in 2017 could feasibly qualify for their World Cup team, the concern being that Qatar could lure in players who may not otherwise be good enough to play in a World Cup, giving Qatar the chance to acquire better players, and giving some players the opportunity to play in the World Cup.

Several of the most famous nation-switching soccer players are listed in this article by Bleacher Report.

5 thoughts on “Switching Nationalities

  1. Aissa Huysmans

    This is a well written post that stirs up a lot of questions about the decisions players make in their international footballing careers in terms of which country they choose to represent nationally. I think that you all brought up excellent points which I too had been thinking about. I wanted to explore a bit more the notion of what is at stake for players when considering playing for different countries. One of the main considerations for sure is that in certain teams you could have a better chance of getting playing time as well as gaining international recognition. But say you were too choose to play for a lesser known team, then you are also risking getting kicked out early on in the tournament (or not even qualifying), both of which would not help players gain more exposure for potential pick-ups by football clubs (post international tournaments). I think it definitely is a tricky issue because the game has become a job for the players (and a business), and if having citizenship with certain countries allows them a platform with which to gain recognition, could you blame someone for choosing to play for a country that offers them that opportunity?
    In relation to this issue of identifying with one country, in a world that is becoming more and more globalized, with increasing numbers of “Third Culture Kids”, it really has become difficult to gauge too where home is, or what you would even call your nationality. Is it where you were born? Where your parents were born? Where you spent the majority of your childhood? There is a forever growing percentage of people with an amalgamation of cultural influences, so who is to say which national identity is most important to them personally and thus deemed an “appropriate” choice? Football, just like the rest of the world, needs to deal with the complications that arise because of this.

  2. Camil

    This is a great post that addresses many great questions. First is the question of whether or not a player who’s parents have immigrated to a different country than the player’s country of birth should be allowed to play for this country where they have established a new life. This is applicable for many players, especially the ones with multiple ethnical connections. For example, Zlatan Ibrahimovic (a man no stranger to controversy), had the choice to play for either Sweden (his country of birth), Bosnia or Croatia (where his parents are from). It is often amusing to think how the 2014 World Cup would have played out differently if he was playing striker for one of these talented countries. Furthermore, with the almost certainty that Qatar was involved in some shady dealings to secure hosting of the World Cup in the first place, there is no doubt that they will take advantage of FIFA’s article 7 and pay talented players not of Qatari origin to play in Qatar for at least 5 years and become eligible to play for the national team. It will be interesting to see how these issues play out in the 2022 World Cup, but regardless this is a very important article to be familiar with!

  3. Paige Newhouse

    Great post Carlos. I also found your point on Qatar interesting. I agree that players would switch nationalities just to have the opportunity to play in the World Cup, but I also think that money could be a deal breaker. Qatar is one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, nations in the world and thus could afford to lure players with money. This would be an unfair, because it would not only be exploiting players, but it would take away from the sport. There is also a deeper sense of achievement for players who win for their home countries (the countries that they were born in and/or grew up in) than for players who play for a country that they have little connection to.


  4. Brian Wolfson

    Very interesting post, Carlos! I had also thought a lot about how one can just switch nationalities after 5 years and represent another country during the World Cup, most notably with Diego Costa playing for Spain instead of Brazil (and getting boo-ed at by fans in the stadium). One interesting note that you brought up is the fact that Qatar might recruit players to start playing in their national league’s federation by 2017, so that when the World Cup comes around, they can represent Qatar. While many people think that players are often too patriotic in that they would never switch (unless they were born in X country but moved to Y when they were young and grew up there), I believe that in many countries with great national teams, players may be more open to switching nationalities. Why? This way, they guarantee international play at a World Cup. I speak for Brazil when I say this, but because there are so many Brazilians who play soccer professionally and so little of them get to play for the National team, many choose to switch their nationalities so that they too can experience an event such as the World Cup. Of course, if given the choice, those players would probably choose to represent Brazil and not their newly adopted nation, but the reality is that said players might not have the technical abilities to play in Brazil’s squad (because of the number and amount of talent available) but they might be “good enough” for a team such as Qatar, where there is less so.

    1. Connor Shannahan

      I think Brian makes a good point. Its important to realize that Article 7 gives many players the chance to attend a World Cup which they might not ever do otherwise. The USMNT is a great example of this. Coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, used his German contacts to recruit a number of German players that had grown up in Germany but could play for the US due to their American fathers. Many of these players would never have a chance at making the star-ridden German side. The five German-Americans totalled 2 of the USMNT’s 5 goals last summer and built a name for themselves. While I agree that skewing world cup rosters by simply handing out money is wrong, there are parts of Article 7 that do good.


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