Do Soccer Players Have to Play for the Country Where They Were Born?

Choosing which national soccer team to play for is not as simple as playing for the country where you were born. While national teams sound like they should have players from that nation, the football (soccer) association FIFA has rules which almost make it possible for players to choose to play for any country they like.

When do players have to decide?
The decision can be made at any age, and delayed until the player gets to the senior national team. Players can be on the Under 17 or Under 21 teams for a country, but until they play for the National Team, they still have options. The decision is final when the player steps foot on the field as a national team player. When a talented young person with ties to several countries starts to get some attention, everyone begins to ask, “Where will he or she play as an adult?”

Players can choose the country of their birth, but there are plenty of other options, such as the country where parents or grandparents were born, where they have been raised, or where they have chosen to live.

Making the choice can be hard for some players.
Which players in the current World Cup had choices about the national team they would choose? With current rules, most of them, but there are some who have closer ties which made the decision more difficult. According to the announcer on ESPN, 17 of the 23 players on the Algerian team were born in France, which makes it almost the second string French team. France is generous with citizenship for those born in their colonies and territories, so they have a lot of choices. Patrice Evra of the French national team was born in Senegal, but as the son of a diplomat, was raised in France.

Jose Torres, on the US team, was born in Texas, of a Mexican father and a US mother, and he has been playing professional football (soccer) in Mexico since he was in his mid teens, so when he was ready for the national team, everyone waited to see where he would play and breathed a sigh of relief when he chose the US team. However, he has not had as much playing time as his talent might expect, and one can only wonder if he would get more playing time if he had chosen to play for Mexico.

Freddie Adu was born in Ghana, but moved to the United States when he was eight years old. He had the option to play for Ghana, but chose to play for the US. While he started at MLS DC United, he has been playing for various European teams these past few years. As he was not called up to the US team this year, does he watch the team from Ghana and wonder if he would have had a better chance of playing World Cup games if he had chosen the country of his birth instead?

On the Serbian team, the player Neven Subotic was born in Yugoslavia, but raised in the US playing American youth soccer. He made his choice after he was not called up to play for the US under 20s team. Franco was born in Argentina but plays for Mexico. DeSantos, a wonderful player on the Mexican team has a Brazilian father, but fortunately for Mexico, plays for the country of his birth.

Foreign born players on the German national team.
Some of the most interesting international players are on the German national team. Cacau was born in Brazil, but is a naturalized German. Two of the stars on the German team, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, were born in Poland. That left me thinking about the fact that the Poles did not qualify for the World Cup this year, and yet there are two very talented players, born in Poland, but playing for Germany. A little thought to the history of those two countries, with occupations, invasions, and wars, adds to the mix. Some research into the players explained some of the reasons. Both players were born in the area in Poland known as Silesia, a previously German territory. Their fathers had played football in Poland during the Communist years, but left for West Germany. The boys were both raised in Germany, and consider themselves ethnically German. So, you almost need to know the genealogy and family history of a player to make some sense out of which country they choose when they play international football.

In the world today, with the European Union, the French and British recognizing citizenship of those in previous colonies or territories, and the ease of people moving for a better life, a better job, or a more comfortable place to live, it will be increasingly difficult to identify who belongs to a national team.

In the United States, just about everyone either comes from somewhere else, or has parents or grandparents who did. So, if your young soccer player looks like they have potential, and yet may not be quite good enough for the US national team, start checking out the teams where the competition isn’t so tough, and checking your ancestors. Of course, if you have a really good soccer player in your family, especially one who can score goals, we need them here!

Sources: Television commentators, team and player websites.