The Blurred Lines of Soccer Nationalities

March 3, 2010

Mario Balotelli

African-Italian striker Mario Balotelli

As an Italian born to Ghanaian parents, Mario Balotelli has dealt with the realities of being an African-Italian his entire life which on the football pitch, equates to racial chants and taunts from the notorious soccer crowds in Italy. However, Mario’s personal connection to Italy has a strong enough foundation to withstand these personal attacks and still perform at a high level. One of Balotelli’s biggest career goals it to represent the Italian national team. It is this goal of his that has seen him reject the advances of the Ghana Football Association who have offered him a spot on their World Cup bound squad, the Black Stars.

Many would believe that Balotelli has chosen the right squad for the future, but for those who aren’t aware, the Black Stars are a fierce force to be reckoned with, anchored by Chelsea star Michael Essien and Inter midfielder Sulley Muntari. The question is: Should Balotelli join up with Ghana simply to gain access to the World Cup and have a chance to perform at the pinnacle of World soccer at the young age of 20?

Balotelli, who has been capped and played for Italy at the U-21 level answered this question emphatically.

“My parents come from Ghana but I don’t know anything about that country. I have never thought of playing for Ghana neither do I have any inclination towards the team. It is Italy or no other country.”

This statement reflects the fact that Balotelli was raised in Italy, and feels no emotional connection to Ghana as a home nation.

Balotelli certainly has the talent to be a key member of the Italian squad in the future, however Italian National team coach Marcello Lippi has already said that the uncapped Balotelli will not make his World Cup squad. Such a snub may convince other players to look elsewhere for International teams to play for but not Balotelli, who seems to know that at 20 years old, he has many tournaments to look forward to in the future.

The Balotelli saga raises a good point about the true allegiances that footballers have towards the countries they are born in. Many prominent players are born outside of the International teams they play for but because of FIFA’s passport possession rule, are eligible to play for other national teams. This is the case with France’s Thierry Henry, Croatia’s Eduardo da Silva, England’s Owen Hargreaves, Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain, Italy’s Giuseppe Rossi, and Spain’s Marcos Senna. Each of these players were born in other countries than the ones they represent at International level.

Giuseppe Rossi

American born Giuseppe Rossi playing for Italy

FIFA’s allowance of this kind of picking and choosing of player’s International teams is confusing and irritating for many fans, and a some future reform of the rule should be looked into to even the playing field for smaller nations that lose their best players to the powerhouses in the World.


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