This appears in the Monday December 13, 2010 edition of the Business Mirror.
Azkals play the globalization game
piece and pic by rick olivares
After the Philippine National Men’s Football Team beat Vietnam 2-0 during the Final Rounds of 2010 Suzuki Cup, some quarters around Asia commented that the only reason why the Philippines found success was because of a bunch of “naturalized” players.
The players in question were Fil-Ams Aly Borromeo and Anton del Rosario, Fil-Britons Phil and James Younghusband, Chris Greatwich, Rob Gier, and Neil Etheridge, Fil-Dutch Jason de Jong, Fil-Icelander Ray Jonsson, and Fil-German Mark Drinkuth.
The accusation is wrong on many counts.
First of all, it is not the first time these players, save for Drinkuth, suited up for the Philippines. Several of them have been with the national team since 2004! So why is it that there are only complaints now?
And second, they are not naturalized. They are half-Filipino. Unlike the Singaporean National Team that has naturalized players in Serbians Aleksandar Duric and Mustafic Fahrrudin, Englishman Mark Daniel Bennett, and Chinese-born Shi Jiayi.
Another Southeast Asian eleven that makes use of players of foreign descent is Indonesia. Their national squad has four Dutch-born players in defender Tobias Waisapy, midfielders Raphael Maitimo and Jeffrey de Visccher, and striker Jhon van Beukering.
The “naturalization” phenomenon isn’t new. In fact, in this world made more variegated with globalization and immigration, countries have naturalized different people for different reasons. It just so happens that in sports has evolved with the times and football, the world game, is the best example of athletes without borders.
Guiseppe Rossi was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, yet he is a backup striker with the Italian national team and played for the Azzurri in the recent World Cup in South Africa.
Germany’s youth movement during its vastly successful 2010 World Cup campaign featured several players of foreign descent. Midfielders Sami Khedira is born to a Tunisian father and a German mother while Mesut Ozil is a third generation Turk-German.
Jerome Boateng is of Ghanaian descent yet plays in the backfour for Die Mannschafft. His half-brother Kevin Prince Boateng plays for Ghana. Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose were both born in Poland but immigrated to Germany at an early age. Both could play either for Poland or Germany but they chose the latter.
One country at the forefront of the naturalization movement is Brazil. The world’s fifth largest country counts among its biggest exports (aside from its natural resources) supermodels, badass mixed martial arts fighters, and football players.
Former Arsenal and current Shaktar Donetsk midfielder Eduardo Alves da Silva is Brazilian born and bred. But after success playing in Croatia’s top-flight league, he was naturalized in 2002 for the national side.
And more than a decade ago, Japan naturalized Brazilian Wagner Lopes who played for their 1998 World Cup team.
As for Team Philippines, ranked 151st in Fifa’s rankings, it’s also about playing the global game.
Jonsson, who plays for Grindavik in the Iceland Premier League, spent the first eight years of his life in Cebu before his family moved back to Iceland. He doesn’t express himself well in Filipino but can speak Visayan fluently. Jonsson, who once played in a UEFA tournament where he scored a goal against Austria, first suited up for the Philippines in the 2010 Long Teng Cup in Taipei.
Gier, who plays in the back four for Ascott in the English Hellenic League, has played for the Philippines since the 2009 AFC Challenge Cup.
Greatwich, who now coaches football in New Jersey, USA, has played for the Philippines since 2004. He was a part of Brighton and Hove Albion’s Youth Squad in 2002 and has played in other league. Greatwich, who now coaches soccer in New Jersey, USA, has two other brothers, Philip and Simon have also suited up for the country.
De Jong, currently plays midfield for Dutch second division team VB Veendam. He was offered an opportunity to play for the Netherlands but instead chose to represent the Philippines.
Etheridge, whose mother is from Tarlac, is a backup goalkeeper for Fulham in the English Premier League. He first started out with the Younghusband brothers in Chelsea’s Youth Academy and rejoined the brothers in the Philippine national team in 2008.
The Younghusband brothers, perhaps the most famous of all the Fil-foreigners with the Philippine team, have suited up for the country since 2005. As children, they were already exposed to Philippine culture as their mum would take them to Filipino-British events in London. Phil was with Chelsea from 1997 to 2005 while James was with the current English Premier League champion’s youth and seniors reserve team from 1996-2006.
Del Rosario and Borromeo were both born in San Francisco, California a year apart where they played high school and college ball in the area. They made their national team debut in 2004 with Chris Greatwich, current team co-captain Emelio “Chieffy” Caligdong, Peter Jaugan, Roel Gener, and Ian Araneta.
National team head coach Simon McMenemy believes that the inclusion of Fil-foreigners significantly improves the team’s standings and chances at international competition but doesn’t do much for growth in the grassroots level. “Their experience to top-flight competition and training is an asset,” said McMenemy. “But since they play abroad they are only able to train with the national team about a few days or even sometimes a day before we go into competition. That’s why we haven’t changed our formation or tactics because there wasn’t enough time to do so. That requires constant practice to get familiar with it and for everyone to know their roles and how to react when the situation calls for it. Hopefully, our national team’s success spurs real change and growth for the sport on every level.”