Thursday, April 05, 2007


Split Personalities

When Josip Simunic - the player Australian fans love to hate - sidled up to Matthew Spiranovic for a few well-chosen words after the Hertha Berlin v. FC N├╝rnberg match on the weekend, you could just feel the indignation rising in the hearts of Socceroo aficionados.

Another player poached by the Croatians, to follow the likes of Ante Seric, Joey Didulica, and Simunic himself? Man the barricades!

Mike Cockerill was straight onto it, quoting copiously from a panicky Graham Arnold. Soon afterwards, a soothing piece appeared on SBS's World Game website, which indicated that Spiranovic is not to go the way of the aforementioned trio.

As is so often the case in Australian football, the fuss is largely unwarranted.

Don't get me wrong here. There is certainly a problem when players who are trained at the AIS, at Australian taxpayers' expense, choose to represent another country in international sport. That, however, is an issue for FIFA and the FFA; my beef is with the typical over-reaction that has followed the reports that Spiranovic may become another "Split personality", as a friend of mine once wittily described the Croatian turncoats.

Cap him immediately! Dario Vidosic on their radar as well? For goodness' sake, give him a run!

It is not quite so simple.

For players of European descent, implicitly expressing equivocation over which country you intend to represent has become something of a fashion statement - and a cynical one at that. An international cap should not be earned easily; although many internationals these days are of limited importance, they are still invaluable, from a player's point of view, in terms of putting oneself on show (among other things).

By all means, if a player using the dual nationality bargaining chip is worthy of a call-up, let him be capped. But if the player is merely trading on the fact that he might go elsewhere, why should he deprive a deserving "local", of less dubious loyalty, of the reward of a green and gold shirt?

I haven't yet seen Matthew Spiranovic play, so I can't make any comment on his quality. But at 18 years of age, with only a few games in a top European league behind him, what message would a "cap of convenience" send? It's worth remembering that many, many young Australian players could use the possibility of a "defection" as a convenient threat.

Recent European ancestry should not become even more of a competitive advantage than it already is, in the push for a Socceroo shirt.

Something the "cap him now!!!" brigade don't take into consideration at all is that it's not as simple as just offering a kid a cap. All players can retire from international football whenever they want for any amount of time, and I'm not sure if the FIFA club sanctions for players who refuse NT call-ups are even enforceable for uncapped players with dual-nationality.

Look back at the situation with France and Gonzalo Higuain late last year. Uncapped at senior level and eligible also for Argentina, France called him up hoping to "lock him in" but he turned them down and it now looks as if he wants to play for Argentina. The Argies have yet to call him up at senior level, but it hasn't cost them. Rushing to lock him in hasn't done France any good.

If Spiranovic really wants (or wanted) to play for Croatia, then Arnold offering him a cap in the next game is unlikely to be of any use.
The tangent to this story is the new FIFA limits on foreign players. What impact will this have on the game around the world, including the A-L, and just who is a foreign player (note A-L players like Korean Seo getting citizenship so that they no longer are).
A bit late commenting I know but...

It seems to me the Croatian FA & the Australian media were responsible for this drama, rather than Spiranovic himself (who, as I understand it, had already indicated his preference for Australia). Arnie deserves a slap on the wrist for talking to Cockerill before talking to the player too.

Some may cynically wield their dual nationalities and fish for caps (pointlessly IMO since it guarantees nothing) but I don't think that was the case here.
...Some may cynically wield their dual nationalities and fish for caps (pointlessly IMO since it guarantees nothing) but I don't think that was the case here....

Probably not. My point was that by rushing to indiscriminately cap the dual nationality brigade (and fussing about it in the press), you're only encouraging the sort of cynical manipulation that goes on.

Scott McDonald, incidentally, is an example of someone who was fishing for a cap by hinting about "defecting", IMO.
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