Canada and the de Guzman dilemma | Soccer | CBC Sports

CanadaCanada and the de Guzman dilemma

Posted: Sunday, December 4, 2011 | 09:44 PM

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If midfielder Jonathan de Guzman, front, gets a chance to play for Canada, he must do so with humility and with an appreciation of what others have done for their country while he was If midfielder Jonathan de Guzman, front, gets a chance to play for Canada, he must do so with humility and with an appreciation of what others have done for their country while he was "unavailable." (Jaime Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

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Canada needs Jonathan de Guzman. He, apparently, now needs Canada. He would be a valuable addition to the national team, perhaps even a game changer.

 

Canada needs him. He, apparently, now needs Canada. He would be a valuable addition to the national team, perhaps even a game changer.

With him, Canada could look ahead with renewed belief to the next round of World Cup qualifying, knowing one of Europe's better attacking midfielders is on its side. Without him, Canada may well struggle to survive the next exam and the World Cup dream could flounder for another four years.

But why the change of heart, and why now? Did Jonathan de Guzman just grow up, or did he just realize he's not good enough to play for another country? And if it's the latter, does it really matter? Having turned his back on the country of his birth, should the prodigal son be welcomed back with open arms or should the head coach politely decline his overtures knowing someone is going to get hurt here?

De Guzman's return would not guarantee World Cup qualification. It would, however, guarantee another player would lose the place he fought so hard to claim. Someone else would be dropped for the sake of a player who snubbed the land of his birth and became a foreigner.

Jonathan de Guzman is a very good footballer. He always has been. Drafted into the Feyenoord Academy at the age of 12, he was playing for its first team in the Netherlands at just 18, and a regular starter for three seasons before a succession of injuries interrupted his progress.

Shortly after becoming a Dutch citizen in 2008 he represented Holland's under-23 team at the Beijing Olympics. De Guzman played virtually every minute in China but the Netherlands' hopes of medalling were ended by a Lionel Messi-inspired Argentina, which won its quarter-final matchup only after extra time.

He has spent the last 18 months in one of Europe's top leagues. Like his older brother, Julian, before him, Jonathan is now earning a living in Spain's La Liga, currently playing for Villarreal after a season with Real Mallorca. At 24, and finally free of injury, de Guzman has some years before he reaches his peak.

Pedigree can't be questioned

His pedigree cannot be questioned. He was schooled at one of Europe's top academies and proved his potential after being fast tracked into the professional ranks. He's already a seasoned veteran who has had to carry the burden of expectation and responsibility from a young age.

So why, at this stage of his burgeoning career, does de Guzman want to be bothered with Canada? Three-and-a-half years have passed since he became an Olympian but he's still waiting for the call to join the Netherlands senior squad. Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk knows all about him; he was the Feyenoord manager during de Guzman's last full season before injuries took their toll.

The truth is the call may never come. De Guzman has been away from Holland for a while and is building a new life in eastern Spain. Perhaps he is feeling a little less 'Dutch' than he did back in 2008 when it seemed only a matter of time before he made the transition from U23 to full international.

Fact is he will always "feel" Canadian, at least in part, because he was born here. Yes he has spent more than half his life living in other lands but ultimately home is where the heart is, not where the professional prospects are more attractive, however enticing they may appear.

Family pride

His older brother recently won his 50th cap for his country. I am sure that was a great source of family pride not lost on Jonathan, who must be wondering when his time will come. It is time to do the right thing and if de Guzman junior feels it is time to come home, that's fine with me.

Canada needs all the help it can get. Head coach Stephen Hart is a custodian of the national team. Whatever his personal feelings over de Guzman's apparent change of loyalty, he has no right to handicap the team for years to come by rejecting a player many would love to have the option of selecting.

Hart's dilemma is more pressing. How does he adjust the team to accommodate de Guzman? Who makes way for JDG2? He is an attacking midfielder who likes to play in the middle, direct the operation and support the attack. Rather like Canadian icon, Dwayne de Rosario.

In fact, a lot like DeRo, who has worn the Canadian jersey with pride for more than a decade, is about to become the country's all-time leading goal scorer and who has given no hint that he's ready to retire from the international scene anytime soon.

Canada's most reliable and versatile midfielder will soon be back in action. Atiba Hutchinson is completing his rehab from a knee injury and will surely be in Hart's starting lineup when World Cup qualifying resumes in June next year. Then, of course, there's Julian de Guzman who generally operates in central midfield, albeit in a more defensive role.

They are three players who have earned well in excess of 150 international caps between them. Which one does Hart sacrifice to make room for the "new" kid? And what sort of dressing room unrest might it cause at a pivotal time in the team's bid to go deep in the qualifying process.

The answer is none of them. If and when Jonathan de Guzman becomes eligible for selection, Hart has a duty to pick him and then sit him on the bench. If and when the opportunity presents itself, and it will, Hart can then call on him as a substitute in the first instance.

De Guzman must accept he has to earn his spot. He cannot return expecting to walk into the team. It is evident he possesses superior skill but this is all about attitude. If he truly wants to represent Canada, he must do so with humility and with an appreciation of what others have done for their country while he was "unavailable."

Jonathan de Guzman can make Canada better. He cannot do so alone. In time he could be the fulcrum around which the national team is built.

But first he has dues to pay.

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