First, a question, how many of the hundreds of players at the World Cup actually play in the country they represent? The answer is a precious few, probably not enough to make up a handful of teams.
It is all part of the vain, virtual glory that the games seem to breed these days. That game that appears ubiquitous these days with endless replays from 95 cameras on HD.
I have been kicking a ball around since I began watching the game, at my grandfather’s knee, at the age of seven; and even with me football on TV can be cloy.
In those days you had to play and study the game in order to know it and form an opinion. These days all you have to do is sit on the couch, listen to the commentators, and delude yourself that if you say you support some successful megabucks team, you are immediately an anointed expert on the game.
The world cup is the ultimate virtual fan park.
Teams can compile a fantasy league with players from the top leagues in the world. If you have a grandparent from a country, there is a good chance you can play for them in the world cup. The Republic of Ireland is a classic case. It has built an international track record based on picking émigré stars from other leagues. The governing body, FAI, used to be nicknamed Find Another Irishman. Some of the Irish team players were as Scottish as the whiskey or as English as a country lane. In the squads of the country’s two successful world cups, in 1990 and 1994, not one of the players played football in the country it was representing.
Yet, you won’t find an Irishman who will quarrel with this as long as his team has a chance of making it at the world cup. I remember my joy when Senegal beat France at the world cup and my disappointment when I found out most of the Senegalese players were also Frenchmen born-and-bred.
I say, this is rot that eats at the roots of the game. If you can merely pick and choose from overseas, what is the incentive to build up your own country’s game and infrastructure? Can’t you just choose another star from another rich team? It means fewer and fewer players are likely to be spawned by the game in the country of their birth.
Now, my idea is that FIFA should change the rules to make it compulsory for players to play in the league of their home union during the qualifying period of the world cup. Imagine, Didier Drogba in Cote D’Ivoire, Lionel Messi lighting up Argentina and Eto’o drawing the crowds in Cameroon. Imagine what in interest, inspiration and sponsorship it could generate around the game in Africa. Then the stadiums and the academies would be easier to build. Maybe then grassroots football could be taken more seriously and people could cheer on true sons of their country’s game at the world cup.