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Icelandic FA president raises valid questions of nationality in Kick TV interview

Aug 2, 2013, 6:00 PM EDT

The president of Iceland’s soccer association, Geir Þorsteinsson (Thorsteinsson), appeared on Soccer Morning with Jason Davis on Friday to discuss Aron Jóhannsson’s decision to play for the U.S. national team over Iceland.

In part, Þorsteinsson joined Soccer Morning to discuss a release from the KSÍ following Jóhannsson’s announcement that said, among other statements, that “Aaron’s ties with soccer in the United States are nonexistent.”

The striker played for IMG Academy in Florida in 2007-08 after stints with Icelandic youth clubs, and he returned to make his professional debut with Fjölnir of Reykjavik in 2008. Jóhannsson played for Iceland at the under-21 level, earning 10 caps and scoring one goal, and he started every game at the 2011 UEFA European U21 Championship.

“This particular player has been brought up through all the youth levels in Icelandic football until he reached the age of 20, and then he went abroad,” Þorsteinsson told Soccer Morning.

The KSÍ boss seemed to disagree with the FIFA regulation more than Jóhannsson’s decision in particular, although he said he would like the player to explain his actions.

“He hasn’t spoken, so we don’t know why,” he said. “Is it for us the conditions? What is the real reason? We need to know.”

In the KSÍ’s statement on Tuesday, the association said that it “has received suggestions” that Jóhannsson’s move was influenced by a greater possibility to earn sponsorship money as a U.S. player than as an Icelandic player.

Þorsteinsson’s full interview is available here:

The text of FIFA’s Regulations Governing the Application of FIFA Statutes Article 3.6 states that a player can play for a national team “only if, in addition to having the relevant nationality, he fulfills at least one of the following conditions:

a) He was born on the territory of the relevant Association;

b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant Association;

c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant Association;

d) He has lived continuously on the territory of the relevant Association for at least two years.

In addition, according to Article 3.8, a player can only file a one-time request to change allegiance if he hasn’t played in an official “A”-level international game. Although Jóhannsson received a couple of Iceland call-ups, most recently for World Cup qualifiers in October 2012 against Switzerland and Albania, he did not step on the field.

With the seemingly endless statutes and possibilities, some strange permutations of national teams have made recent appearances at major tournaments.

In Turkey’s Euro 2008 squad that finished in third place, five of its players had a similar lack of ties to the country they represented: Colin Kazim-Richards was born and grew up playing in England; Mehmet Aurélio is Brazilian; Hakan Balta and Hamit Altintop are German; and Mevlüt Erdinç is French.

While nothing is inherently wrong about players representing other nations, especially those with unique immigrant situations such as Turkey and the United States, it does raise a question of veracity with regard to international competition.

If a nation wins a World Cup with a squad comprising primarily foreign-born and raised players, can that country claim to have won anything? Does it add an asterisk to what should be an undeniably major triumph on the global stage?

In Jóhannsson’s case, he is good enough to play for both Iceland and the U.S. Other players could use their second nationalities to get into situations they otherwise could not. Jermaine Jones, for example, only declared his intent to play for the U.S. after German coach Joachim Löw decided he was surplus to the current crop.

Players switch clubs like playing cards, but representing a national team is supposed to have a different sort of resonance in the soccer world. These days, it feels like another transfer market has opened up among national teams.

As Þorsteinsson asked in his interview this morning: “Is this really how football should be done at national team level?”

  1. talgrath - Aug 2, 2013 at 6:34 PM

    I think the rule should be changed to either having been born there or having lived there a long time (and I would add in needs to be a citizen of the country or applying for citizenship status), eliminating the familial ties rule. That said, that wouldn’t change Johanssen’s eligibility, he was born in the US and is a US citizen, even if he hasn’t lived here in some time.

    • kirielson - Aug 2, 2013 at 7:31 PM

      I disagree. Just like with citizenship, if your family members are from a different country and you are born in a different country, you get dual citizenship. In that respect FIFA is doing the same thing, except they lock you down for either.

      • randomhookup - Aug 2, 2013 at 11:07 PM

        Not all countries grant citizenship based on place of birth, so keeping the familial ties is necessary for those situations.

        The grandparent rule is in place because so many countries allow a grandparent to get you citizenship yourself. It gets confusing if you are a citizen of, say, Italy, but you aren’t eligible to play for Italy. Can you move there and show you were there long enough?

    • ncroeder - Aug 2, 2013 at 7:42 PM

      I would argue that the requirements should be through family or birthplace. If I were to get a job in Canada for 5 years, when that 5 year stint is over I wouldn’t consider myself Canadian, I would still be an American through and through. Family and birthplace should be the only two that matter. If you did cut out a piece of the family, it should be the birthplace of the grandparents. The mother/father birthplaces should be the only thing that really matters other than the player’s birthplace. But if you did keep the d) option from above it should be significantly longer than 2 years.

      • talgrath - Aug 2, 2013 at 7:51 PM

        I’d think that Osvaldo Alonso for the Sounders, for example, would consider America his home now, even though he’s only been here a few years and was recently made a citizen (if you don’t know, he defected from Cuba). Of course, Alonso is ineligable for this situation as he is cap-locked by Cuba. In fact, this is a fairly specific situation, Johanssen has caps for Iceland, but isn’t cap-locked (in short, he hasn’t played enough games to no longer have the option to transfer); it’s fairly rare for this to occur, usually a player who doesn’t get first team time for their initial chosen country transfers, not someone who is a guaranteed starter.

  2. bellerophon30 - Aug 2, 2013 at 8:08 PM

    Aron Johannsen was born in the United States. He’s eligible to be President, so he should be eligible for the USMNT. Period.

    Look, I get why the Icelandic federation is having a cow over this, it’s not often that they generate a world class player. But since he showed he was “good”, they’ve known this could happen. Unless he made private assurances that said otherwise, this should not have been a huge shock to them. The USMNT, under the current qualifying rules, is all but qualified for the WC every time, given our weak region. Iceland is at best a long shot.

    And I have to say, whining about this like they’re doing isn’t going to get him to change his mind.

    • randomhookup - Aug 2, 2013 at 11:08 PM

      You have to wonder if they tried to recruit him to stay. The coach mentioned that he hadn’t met Aron. Seems to say a lot right there. They should have put a full-court press on him back in May when he said he was going to take some time to decide between the two countries.

      • bellerophon30 - Aug 2, 2013 at 11:49 PM

        The only thing I can think of is that at some point, probably after he transferred to AZ, he told them “Don’t worry about it.” Which would lead most rational people to worry, but apparently not them. If I’m right.

        But he ran with the Timmy Chandler playbook, though a bit late. You have to assume that he talked to Jurgen a couple of times and got his tacit blessing before doing this. Given Sunil’s love affair with Klinsmann, he’ll have the job in the next cycle too, which is when Johannsen is likely to factor in with us. Given that Deuce and Donovan are likely to be Bocanegra’d in the lead up to Russia 2018, we’ll need all the attacking players we can get.

  3. randomhookup - Aug 2, 2013 at 11:03 PM

    FIFA changed the rule from 2 to 5 years residency in 2008.

  4. adiaz9201 - Aug 5, 2013 at 10:36 AM

    This kid is an american, if Obama can be our President this kid can play for our national team and be President if he wants to, I dont care about the other rules, if your born here you are an American!!

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