The United States’ Fabian Johnson. Cameroon’s Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Sead Kolašinac. Can you make the connection? Yes, they all play in the Bundesliga: Johnson for TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (soon to be Borussia Mönchengladbach), Choupo-Moting for FSV Mainz 05 and Kolašinac for Schalke 04. Anything else? Yes, they were all born in different parts of Germany: Johnson from Munich in the South, Choupo-Moting in Hamburg in the North and Kolašinac in Karlsruhe in the West.
That’s right. Three German-born players playing for German clubs, representing another country in the World Cup finals.
This is not a recent phenomenon, and seeing players born in one one country represent another is not some massive revelation. Back in the 1990s we had Schwenningen-born Robert Prosinečki and Bechhofen-born Thomas Dooley play for Yugoslavia (later Croatia) and the United States respectively. Nobody made a big deal out of it, it was simply a case of two guys that happened to be born in the “wrong” country playing for the land of their parents.
Today, this is perhaps even more pronounced with the more extensive movement of people around the world. We have David Alaba, a Nigerian-Filipino born in Vienna, playing for Austria. We have the likes of Adnan Januzaj, born in Belgium, being subjected to a tug of war between the land of his birth as well as Albania, Turkey, Serbia and England. But here’s where we need to look a little closer. Alaba was born in Austria, played at youth level for Austria, and now plays at full international level for Austria. Januzaj would not play any international football at youth level, and has plumped for Belgium.
This is not the case for the likes of Johnson, Choupo-Moting, Kolašinac and a number of others who we will see this summer in Brazil. For these are players who would once wear the German Nationaltrikot.
In Johnson’s case, he would be a German youth international from Under-17 right through to Under-21 level. A solid full-back and a member of the winning team at the European Under-21 championship in 2009 alongside the likes of Mesut Özil, Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira, the Munich born son of a US serviceman and German mother would be seen as having a future in the senior side.
Cue the arrival of new US coach Jürgen Klinsmann, and Johnson’s jumping across the pond. As an individual playing in the World Cup in 2014 would have been a no-brainer, but his decision must surely have been a slap in the face for all of those who had invested their time and investment for years. Johnson has quite simply been taught everything he knows by the German youth system, and just like that will now be playing against his former team mates in Brazil. Meanwhile, the US Soccer Federation have acquired a quality young player with little or no investment. It’s been that easy, and by relaxing the rules FIFA have made it so.
It’s one thing being born in one country and choosing to represent another, and in some cases such loyalty can only be applauded. Take the case of Borussia Dortmund’s Nuri Şahin, for example. Rather than embark on a game of international shirt-swapping, Şahin would decide right from the start that his loyalties rested in Turkey. As a promising talent many observers in Germany would be disappointed by the Lüdenscheid-born playmaker’s decision not to play for the Nationalmannschaft, but the truth was that Şahin was always going to play for Turkey: he would never pull on the famous white Nationaltrikot. One could only say fair play, and good luck.
This is a far cry from the position adopted by Fabian Johnson, for whom the German national shirt would be little more than a vehicle of convenience – something to be proudly worn yet discarded when the opportunity for a more instant fame arose.
Perhaps I am picking on Johnson unfairly, in that he is one of a staggering five German-born players who are in Klinsmann’s US squad – four of whom would at one time wear the Schwarz und Weiß. Apart from Johnson, perhaps the most well-known is Jermaine Jones – who would play three full friendly internationals in 2009 before defecting to the US team – and the other two are Berliner John Anthony Brooks – who tried his luck first with the US and then with the German Under-20 side before flipping back again, and FC Bayern München starlet Julian Green, who would start out with Germany at Under-16 and Under-17 level, switch to the US Under-18 team and then back to the German Under-19 team before the grasping at the chance to represent the States in the World Cup.
While even a change of country mid-stream is understandable, the constant flipping of loyalties is nothing short of bizarre. It is as if playing for a national team has become like playing for a Sunday park club.
A fifth German-born player, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Timothy Chandler, is also in Klinsmann’s squad – but unlike other four he has never worn the Nationaltrikot.
While the United States has clearly been the biggest beneficiary of the German international youth system, it is not the only one. Bosnia have two former Nationaltrikotträger in the aforementioned Kolašinac and Ermin Bičakčić as well as two other German-born players in Zvjezdan Misimović and Muhamed Bešić, the Ghanaian line-up features long-time German youth international Kevin-Prince Boateng, Iran’s twenty-three include Ashkan Dejagah – another member of the 2009 Under-21 team – and Cameroon has two former German youth stars in FC Schalke 04’s Joël Matip and the aforementioned Choupo-Moting, who would twist the knife even further with his late equaliser in the recent 2-2 draw in Mönchengladbach.
While Germany has provided other teams playing in the World Cup with a total of ten different players, they are actually the joint largest contributing nation. Of the twenty-three players in the Algerian squad a massive sixteen were born in France, and of these no fewer than eight would play for France at youth level before opting to throw in their lot with Les Fennecs. In addition to their Algerian contingent, France also supplies one former youth player to the Cameroon squad, and other to the Ivory Coast.
The problem of players switching allegiances as easily as one might change a pair of shoes is something that has always concerned me. Should things continue like this, we could possibly end up with some countries fielding teams of players who simply fly in for important games – before returning to the comforts of their “real” home – while others become little more than production lines, conveniently milked to supply the natural increase in demand for pre-trained young players.
Former German youth players in other World Cup squads:
Joël Matip, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (Cameroon)
Ermin Bičakčić*, Sead Kolašinac (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
Ashkan Dejagah* (Iran)
Kevin-Prince Boateng (Ghana)
John Anthony Brooks, Julian Green, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones (United States)
*naturalised German nationals
German-born players in the other World Cup squads:
Joël Matip, Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (Cameroon)
José Holebas (Greece)
Muhamed Bešić, Sead Kolašinac, Zvjezdan Misimović (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
Daniel Davari (Iran)
Kevin-Prince Boateng (Ghana)
John Anthony Brooks, Timothy Chandler, Julian Green, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones (United States)\
Header courtesy of galleryhip
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