concept of national team eligibility continues to elude some fans.
Take this exchange, for example, on TalkSPORT’s Scottish phone-in when
goalkeeper Antii Niemi still played for Hearts (borrowed from Jason Burt’s
“The Sweeper” column in The Independent, 1 January 2003):
I'm a Hearts fan and, fair enough, Stephen Pressley gets a game for Scotland but
what I can't understand is why [national coach Berti] Vogts never picks Antii
(former footballer Arthur Albiston): Eh? Sorry?
Why does he never pick Antii Niemi for Scotland?
It's because he's Finnish.
Niemi is Finnish.
enraged caller: He's not Finnish! He's only 28!”
footballers played for more than one national team in the old days.
Italy’s World Cup-winning sides of the 1930’s featured the so-called oriundi,
South American players who had played for the national team of their native land but whose Italian
ancestry also made them eligible to play for the azzurri.
Later, in the 1940's and 1950’s, Alfredo Di Stefano, indisputably one
of the two or three greatest players of the century, played for three national
sides—his native Argentina, Colombia after his move to the renegade league in
that country and Spain after he joined Real Madrid, although the Colombia
matches were deemed unofficial because the Colombian association was on the outs
with FIFA. Di
Stefano’s Real Madrid teammate, Ferenc Puskas, starred for his native Hungary in the 1940's and 1950's and
then went on to play for Spain in the early 1960's after the Soviet suppression
of the Hungarian Revolution in 1957 led to his exile from his homeland. And Ladislao Kubala, a forward of wonderful skills voted the greatest player in
FC Barcelona's history in 1999, appeared for three national sides from the late
1940's to the early 1960's, Czechoslovakia, his native Hungary and Spain.
a list of the four England players who have appeared for other national sides in
official international matches
on this website.
The list also includes four other England players who made appearances
for national selections in unofficial matches.
In the early
1960’s, at the 33rd FIFA Congress in Santiago, Chile, in 1962, to be precise
(thank you, Nathan de Sousa Malafaia), FIFA put an end to this
era of relatively free country-swapping.
It enacted what became Article 18 of the Regulations Governing the
Application of Statutes.
Article 18, which has itself been replaced effective 1 January 2004,
Any player who is a naturalised citizen of a country in virtue of that
country's laws shall be eligible to play for a national or representative team
of that country.
If a player has been included in a national or representative team of a
country for which he is eligible to play pursuant to §1, he shall not be
permitted to take part in an international match for another country.
Accordingly, any player who is qualified to play for more than one national
association (i.e. who has dual nationality) will be deemed to have committed
himself to one association only when he plays his first international match in
an official competition (at any level) for that association.
The only players exempt from this provision are those whose nationality
has been changed not voluntarily but as the result of an international decree
either granting independence to a region or ceding part of one country to
Two things are noteworthy here.
First, FIFA leaves the question of naturalisation to the laws of its
If the player is deemed a citizen under a particular country’s laws, he
is eligible to play for that
country’s national side.
FIFA does not care if a nation grants citizenship on the basis of
parentage regardless of place of birth.
Nor does it care if a country refuses to grant citizenship on the basis
of parentage alone.
To that extent, then, eligibility for a country’s national team is left
up to the naturalisation laws of the particular country.
Second, the custom has been to regard "official competition" as
excluding friendly matches even though all games between the senior teams of two
countries are regarded as official matches and certainly constitute competition.
But once a player has participated in a competitive match as so defined
for one national team, he is not free to play for another national side in the
absence of the special circumstances set forth in section 3, which was designed
to cover situations like the breakup of the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and
FIFA made a wholesale revision of its statutes and
regulations at its Extraordinary Congress on 19 October
2003. It rewrote the entire article on "Eligibility to play for Association teams,"
renumbered it and provided a procedure for players to change their
national team affiliation. Article 15 of the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes,
which took effect on 1 January 2004, now reads:
"1. Any person holding the nationality of a country is
eligible to play for the representative teams of the Association of his
country. The Executive Committee shall decide on the conditions of eligibility
for any Player whose nationality entitles him to represent more than one
"2. As a general rule, any Player who has already
represented one Association (either in full or in part) in an official
competition of any category may not play an international match with another
"3. If a Player has more than one nationality, or if a
Player acquires a new nationality, or if the Player is eligible to play for
several Association teams due to his nationality, the following exceptions
"(a) Up to his 21st birthday, a player may only once
request changing the Association for which he is eligible to play
international matches. A Player may exercise this right to change
Associations only if he has not played at “A” international level for his
current Association and if, at the time of his first full or partial
appearance in an international match in an official competition of any other
category, he already had such nationalities. Changing Associations is not
permitted during the preliminary competition of a FIFA competition,
continental championship or Olympic Tournaments if a player has already been
fielded in a match of one of these competitions.
"(b) Any Player who has already acquired eligibility to
play for one Association but has another nationality imposed upon him by a
government authority, is also entitled to change associations. This provision
is not subject to any age limits.
"4. Any Player who wishes to exercise this right to
change Associations shall submit a written and substantiated request to the
FIFA general secretariat. After submitting the request, the player is no
longer qualified to play for his current Association’s team. The Players’ Status Committee shall decide on the request.
The committee’s decision may be brought before the Appeal Committee. The
Regulations for the Status and Transfer of Players contain more detailed
Any Players who have already had their 21st birthday at the time of
implementation of these provisions and who fulfil the requirements in par. 3
(a) are also entitled to submit such a request to change Associations. This
entitlement will expire definitively twelve months after implementation of
major substantive change was designed to deal with
repeated complaints that players had made irrevocable commitments to a
particular national team by taking part in international youth tournaments when
they were too young to make an intelligent decision on such an important matter
and when their tender age rendered them peculiarly susceptible to pressure from
The new provision seeks to rectify this problem by allowing a national team
change in limited circumstances. It contains five limitations preventing country-shopping:
the player must not yet have reached his 21st birthday when he makes the
request to change his national team, he must already hold the dual or multiple nationality when he
makes his first appearance in a competitive international match, he must not
have appeared for the A or senior level national team of his current
association, he may change his national team only once and he may not change
his national team during a preliminry competition in which he has taken
part. FIFA waived the
age limit for making the request for the first year of the new rule's existence,
thus allowing players already 21 or older to change national sides during that one-year adjustment
period provided they are otherwise eligible to do so.
general rules apply to all countries, although there is room for differences
between countries because national team eligibility depends on nationality or
citizenship, which, in turn, hinges on a particular country’s
own nationality or citizenship laws.
The national teams of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are,
however, a special case because these four “home countries” are part of one
national state, the United Kingdom. There is no such thing as English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish
The associations of these four countries entered an agreement regarding
international eligibility in 1993 which provides that a player holding a British
passport is eligible to play for the country of his birth, the country of the
birth of either of his natural parents or the country of birth of any of his
natural grandparents. If the player, his
natural parents and his natural grandparents were born outside the U.K., he may
play for the home country of his choice. Our understanding is that once a player has
played for one of the
home countries, even if it is only a friendly match, the 1993 agreement
precludes him playing for another home country.
The FIFA rule change for players under 21 must be followed in the U.K.,
however. Under U.K. law, a player (or
anyone, for that matter) who was born abroad becomes eligible for a British
passport after five years of lawful residence in the country, and he thus
becomes eligible to play for one of the home countries provided he has not
played for another national side in official competition.
remains to be seen whether the second sentence of paragraph 1 of new Article
15--"The Executive Committee shall decide on the conditions of eligibility
for any Player whose nationality entitles him to represent more than one
Association"--carries any effect on the U.K. arrangement. Under
old Article 18, FIFA left nationality entirely to the laws of its member
nations, but the new Article 15 seems to reserve a measure of power in
FIFA's Executive Committee where a player's nationality entitles him to play for
more than one national side.
football associations of the home countries have long allowed young players to
appear at schoolboy
level for the national side of the home country in which they live regardless of whether they would be eligible to play for that country's
national side at a higher level and then to switch to another home country's
higher level national side provided they are eligible. Ryan Giggs, for
example, played for England Schoolboys because he lived in England although he
was not eligible to play for England at a higher level. Later he played
for Wales' senior side, for which he was eligible through both his own
birthplace and family ancestry. And Bob Wilson, the old Arsenal
goalkeeper, played for England Schoolboys but later was capped at senior level
by Scotland, for which he was eligible through family ancestry although he was
born in England and thus could have played for England had he ever been