Foreign-Born Players Rise to the Top Importing Goals at Euro 2008
Europe is a continent shaped by migration. Nowhere can that be seen more clearly than on the football pitch. So far in this year's tournament, almost 30 percent of the goals have been netted by foreign-born players. For the German team, the total is much higher.
The team certainly couldn't complain about a lack of scoring opportunities. Three times in the first 20 minutes of Thursday night's game between Austria and Poland, the Austrians were virtually alone in front of Polish keeper Artur Boruc. Three times they failed to put the ball in the net.
But then, in the 93rd minute, an Austrian player went down in the Polish box and the referee gave a penalty. Ivica Vastic, long a fixture on the Austrian national team, calmly fired the ball past Boruc. Finally, after two games and over 180 minutes of football, Austria had its first goal of the tournament.
Vastic's goal, though, was significant for another reason as well: Of the 28 goals scored so far in this year's European Championship tournament, it was the eighth goal by a player not born in the country he is playing for. Indeed, so far almost 30 percent of Euro 2008 goals have been by foreign-born players. On Tuesday night, three of the five goals scored were netted by foreign-born players. Brazilian-born Roger Guerreiro scored Poland's lone goal on Thursday night.
A glance at the squads shows that this is hardly a statistical anomaly. The Turkish team boasts five foreign-born players, including Colin Kazim-Richards, originally of England. Portugal also has five. Croatia and France have seven each. And four of the five strikers on the German national team were not born in Germany. (The fifth, Mario Gómez, has a Spanish father.) Only four teams -- Romania, Czech Republic, Netherlands and Russia -- don't have a single foreign-born player in their squads.
Not all are completely happy with this trend. While France has a long history of immigration and Croatia has benefited from Croatian families moving back to the country, many in Poland were unhappy about Guerreiro's speedy naturalization. He has played for Legia Warsaw only since 2006, was granted Polish citizenship in April and speaks no Polish. Many in the country are reminded of the accelerated naturalization of Nigerian-born Emmanuel Olisadebe -- and the overtly racist attacks it generated from the Polish right wing.
Even FIFA President Sepp Blatter has turned his attention to the issue of foreign players -- albeit on the club level. In early June, he pushed through a new rule requiring clubs to start games with at least six non-foreign players on the field. (The new rule is supposed to be in place for the 2012/13 season, but might never be enforced as it might contravene EU law.) Otherwise, he worries, club teams will simply recruit players from abroad instead of investing in youth sports closer to home.
He even went so far as to say that England's failure to qualify for this year's Euro 2008 was partly as a result of the fact that top Premiership teams employ so many foreign players. "So where are the best English players coming from? They are coming from the less strong teams, which is weakening the English national team," Blatter said in an interview last week at the University of Zurich. "What is happening in England is that the best teams are preparing the national team players for England's opponents."
Another way of looking at it, however, is that England isn't taking enough advantage of European cosmopolitanism. Most of the foreign-born players on Euro 2008 rosters are simply a reflection of a Europe that has grown closer together in recent years -- with last-minute naturalizations like Guerreiro's the exception.
Indeed, a reliance on foreign-born players is an absolute must for many teams. Like Germany, for example. In the 2002 World Cup, seven of Germany's 14 goals were scored by foreign-born players. In the 2006 tournament in Germany, if one eliminates the penalty shoot out with Argentina and the goals scored in the match for third place, nine of Germany's 11 goals were fired in by Germans not born in the country -- with Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, both born in Poland, leading the charge.
And in this year's European Championship? So far, the ratio for Germany is 100 percent.