Growing up to play for Canada

While doing my usual rounds of Canadian soccer surfing I came across a list of players called to a national camp for boys under the age of 15. Surely a sign of too much time on my hands, I randomly entered one name, Yacine Ait-Slimane, into Google.

This was the first link that showed up. I originally thought it was some sort of suburban Montreal weekly, but eventually figured out it was actually based on Algeria. Either way, the article covers both Yacine and his twin brother Ilyes, also in the U15 camp.

Even my grade school French understands the part where the father of the two Montreal-born brothers says he hopes his sons will eventually play for his native Algeria. And there we have it.

There’s always a lot of talk about how Canada just needs to get good, and then Canadian kids will want to play for Canada instead of dad’s country. And for that matter, more Canadian soccer fans will actually support Canada.

Well, I wouldn’t be so sure. How about the Germany-Turkey Euro qualifier last week in Berlin where half of Olympic stadium was full of German-Turks cheering for Turkey. German star Mesut Ozil was whistled derisively by the Turkish supporters all match and this is a guy who’s grandparents immigrated to Germany.

Bayern Munich’s Hamit Altintop, a German-Turk born and raised in Germany who plays internationally for Turkey, accused Ozil of opportunism in deciding to represent Germany. Remember now, Ozil is a third-generation German.

Germany boasts one of the most successful soccer programs in the history of international competition, and even it can’t draw in all newcomers.

Of course as Canada improves its standing and reputation in international football the CSA will have an increasingly easier time convincing Canadian kids to play for Canada. But the saying about blood running thicker than water applies to more than just familial ties. As long as Canada remains a country of immigrants (and I very much believe that it should), this thorn in the side of Canadian soccer supporters is simply not going to go away.

Edit: As per my comment at the bottom…One thing I should make very clear: I have absolutely no idea which country these two kids want to represent when they get older. The linked newspaper article above very, very loosely attributes some thoughts on the subject to their father, but beyond that, who knows?

The Internet is fucked up. Rumours quickly become truth, and it would be supremely unfair for either of these guys to get stuck with any kind of reputation regarding their future intentions with Canada until they say something on the record.

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14 Responses to “Growing up to play for Canada”

  1. JoeSoccerFan Says:

    Excellent point guys. This problem will never completely go away for the “smaller” soccer nations, but even the super-powers have this problem.

    Let’s not forget that the US has a pretty strong program, but Giuseppe Rossi chose to play for Italy despite being born in the US.

    We can however stop losing players to marginal soccer nations such as Bosnia (and maybe England) but having a much better national team.

  2. What I’m hearing is that the Germans need to be more nationalistic.

  3. it sucks that players don’t have more pride for THEIR country. I can understand it if you are an immigrant, but if you are born in canada I feel like you should have enough pride to choose Canada over another nation that is not much better(if at all) than Canada at soccer. Of course it is not always motivated by the players themselves as we can see form this article.
    It is unfortunate because I can understand the father’s feelings. If I was living in say. . .Sweden and I had a son who was an NHL calibre hockey player, I would likely want him to represent Canada. though i’d probably let him do what he wanted. . .

  4. It’s a fucking disgrace how immigrants come to this country and talk about how great this country is, only to stab Canada in the back. I bet those kids cheered for Canada in Olympic hockey. On another note, of course all those kids come from the 3 biggest cities…

  5. And here I thought this blog was unlike the rest of the country and only got intelligent, well-thought out comments. Then “yo daddy” had to come along. Hahaha…

    Anyways, it’s a difficult situation that we can’t really totally understand. We may see soccer as an international showing of patriotism and in some ways it is, but it is also simply a career for some players. Many players might simply want to advance their career and if they have ties to more than one country, they might be proud of both, but don’t necessarily see how this relates to their career.

    Imagine if… accountants were ambassadors of their country. Would we fault them for wanting to be part of the country that has more of a chance of being invited to the best… accountant parties? Okay this metaphor is ghastly but accountant party = World Cup and my point is that for a soccer player who has a chance to play for England or Italy and thus have a chance of maybe winning a World Cup some day… it’s hard to convince them to play for a team who’s best case scenario is APPEARING at a World Cup simply based on the argument that they popped out of the womb in a certain geographical location.

    • Kevin Smith Says:

      I would suggest that “yo daddy” is too Nationalistic, but that your comment lacks some as well.

      It’s pretty simple for me. If you’re an immigrant in Canada, you should become a ____-Canadian. My girlfriend is an Egyptian-Canadian, for example, having come over here when she was 12 or so. It’s important to remember your heritage, but equally important to remember where you are (assuming you like it here, since it’s worth noting many people might not*).
      So this kid, I have no problem with him wanting to play for Algeria some day…but he should also want to play for Canada. Then he should struggle with the decision as an adult, recognising what Canada has done for him while loving his heritage.

      It’s hard for me to judge, but I’m usually a fan of the underdog. If I was a skilled soccer player, who could call on British teams (I think I could, as my grandmother is an Englishwoman, full citizenship, who was born in Cardiff. I know my mother could claim English/Welsh citizenship, not sure if I could), I’d still go with Canada, because they’re the underdog. The pride from helping Canada make the world cup is worth so much more than helping England get to the semi-finals only to be defeated on penalties.

      Although Canada vs Algeria…tough to see which is the underdog there.

      *although I usually suggest that if you don’t like it, you can leave. Not just immigrants, I include people like me, with pure British-Canadian roots, who might not like the country and/or its weather. Bloody snowbirds…

      • Kevin Smith Says:

        on second thought, Algeria is definitely better than Canada.

      • “It’s important to remember your heritage, but equally important to remember where you are”

        Agreed. But this is the problem that makes this issue so divisive. The argument remains as to what is more important: being born and live your childhood in one country or moving to a country and feeling that place is your home?

        Take Giuseppi Rossi for example, a player who is loathed in the United States almost as much as Canadians loathe Owen Hargreaves. Born to Italian immigrant parents in the US but moved to Italy when he was something like 16. You usually have to decide pretty darn early where your sporting allegiance lies in this sport and when you have a debateably equal claim to either nationality, blogs about being upset a player chose differently than we would hope seem like nothing but spoiled grapes.

        And when you say you’re usually a fan of the underdog, most people are. Underdog stories are fun. But I’d suspect being a player and a fan are two VASTLY different things on this issue and like you said, it’s hard to judge. But I would think that while it’s fun to cheer for the underdog, it’s not so fun to BE them. And so while I would love these players to swallow their ambition, in a sense, and choose Canada… I can hardly blame them for not doing this.

  6. Wow, I write a blog post in the morning, head out to Buffalo for a day of shopping and return home to find all this.

    One thing I should make very clear: I have absolutely no idea which country these two kids (and let’s be clear, they are still kids) would want to play for when they get older. I’ve linked to a newspaper article that very loosely attributes some thoughts on the subject to their father and beyond that, who knows?

    The Internet is a fucked up place where rumours quickly become truth, and it would be supremely unfair for either of these guys to get stuck with any kind of reputation regarding their future intentions with Canada until they say something on the record.

    I just wanted to use their case and tie it into the current situation in Germany to show that footballers who grow up in one country but want to represent another is a reality everywhere now.

    As always, thanks for those comments.

  7. My point was these kids have been given an opportunity to play at a high level in Canada. There are a lot of other kids in this country that would like to have the opportunity that these kids have. So if Canada is where you have learned to play soccer you should play for Canada.

  8. I have a feeling that a certain Bosnian goalkeeper was probably feeling much the same external pressure during his teenage years.

  9. Canada isn’t the only country with these problems they are everywhere with every nation that plays football. The only thing that we can do is run a good show, and start capping young players. When the Gold Cup comes around we need to make 3 subs a match to tie the squad to Canada. Other nations are much more ruthless about recruiting and capping players than Canada has been. Unfortunately under the new FIFA rules you can only tie a player to your nation by playing them in a competitive match, which for Canada means the Gold Cup, World Cup Qualifying, the Confederation Cup, or the World Cup. Personally I would like to see Canada’s automatic Gold Cup entry waived and make us qualify. This would give us more opportunity to cap our players as we would have more competitive matches and could call a larger contingent of players. I think that if Canada has a talented young player 17, 18, 19 we need to call them up to our side and play them before another nation does the same.

    My main concern from the list of the U15 team was where was the kid that we have Barcelona!? I know he is only 10 or 11 but he is at Barcelona and surely must be talented enough to merrit an underaged call up to the U15 national side. It is important that we make sure he feels involved in the Canadian set up, so that when Spain try to poach him, and if he is good they will, that he at least considers Canada first. Remember that he went over there when he was 9 so when he is 18 he will have lived half of his life in Spain and definitely runs the danger of saying “I feel more Spanish than Canadian”.

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