New FIFA rule means players freely switching allegiances
The World Cup has seen the odd pair of brothers taking part in the competition over the years.
Everybody remembers Ronald and Frank de Boer, linchpins of the Dutch side of 1998. Twins Hossam and Ibrahim Hassan (Italia '90) are legendary figures in Egypt, and the two Toures, Kolo and Yaya, will make their second successive tournament outing with the Ivory Coast next year.
On June 23, something completely unprecedented is set to happen in Johannesburg's Soccer-City Stadium, however.
A tale of two brothers
Jerome and Kevin-Prince Boateng, two brothers from Berlin, will take the field but on opposite sides. Twenty-one-year-old Jerome, a defender with Hamburger SV in the Bundesliga, will compete for Germany, while his older sibling, who plays for Portsmouth FC in the Premier League, will run out for Ghana.
"It's a bit strange but I'm looking forward to it", said Jerome after the World Cup draw in Cape Town pitted him against his brother. He wonders where the loyalties of his Ghanaian father and German mother will lie during the 90 minutes.
"Boateng vs. Boateng" highlights a new trend in international football. Players with dual nationalities have always been able to choose their national team freely, but thanks to a new FIFA regulation that came into force this May, they can now switch allegiances right up until the first senior competitive game. This rule change has allowed Kevin-Prince Boateng to opt for Ghana despite turning out for Germany's under-21 side in the past.
Because there are no competitive fixtures for European teams before the World Cup next summer, many players are effectively free agents and are now busy weighing up their options. German broadsheet Suddeutsche Zeitung discovered that something of a "secret transfer market" was operating behind the scenes, where various football federations are clamouring over the brightest talents.
Central Europe, with its high number of footballers with a migratory background, is the prime battleground in this respect. The Swiss squad, for example, boasts striker Blaise N'Kufo, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Eren Derdiyok, who is of Turkish descent. Germany fought tooth and nail to secure the mercurial talent Mesut Ozil - the Werder Bremen midfielder was also wanted by his native Turkey - and were glad that Lukas Podolski turned down advances from the Polish national team before the last World Cup.
Smaller teams taking advantage
Big, established football nations could in the past rely on their traditional "pulling power" but the new regulations have opened the doors for smaller teams. Earlier this year, Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones, who has featured in friendly matches for Jogi Low's national side, decided to switch to the U.S. team.
Jones, whose father was an American soldier stationed in Frankfurt, hinted that his move was motivated by encountering racism - "perhaps they don't like people who look like me in Germany", he told the New York Times - but most people believed he was simply calculating the odds. Turning out for the U.S. in South Africa will be a lot easier than forcing his way into the Germany line-up.
Others are tempted by the chance to play in the World Cup, too.
Hamburg midfielder Dennis Aogo, an established member of Germany's under-21 team, has been asked to turn out for Nigeria next summer. "It's a serious offer but we haven't made a decision yet", said his agent Gordon Stipic.
Bremen's Aaron Hunt has chosen his father's country (Germany) over his mother's (England) but teammate Sebastian Boenisch, 22, is reportedly close to accepting Poland's advances; national manager Franciszek Smuda has promised the defender to be an integral member of the team who will host the 2012 European Championship together with Ukraine.
Deco plays for Portugal, not Brazil
And then there are the Brazilians, of course. Portugal, who has a long history of Brazilian-born players in their side, such as Chelsea's Deco, managed to naturalize Sporting striker Liedson just in time for the playoffs against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Amauri, of Juventus, could play for Italy in South Africa next year after becoming an Italian citizen next year.
England national manager Fabio Capello, however, has so far refused to heed media pressure to consider the inclusion of Arsenal's Manuel Almunia. The Spanish-born goalkeeper qualifies for British citizenship and could legitimately turn out for the "Three Lions". Capello, it seems, is a bit of traditionalist though.
"Almunia is Spanish, as far as I'm concerned", he declared earlier this year.
Other national managers see things more pragmatically. They will search the leagues and youth teams for eligible candidates and hope that the lure of the biggest show on earth will convince some to change the colour of their shirt.
Boateng vs. Boateng will just be the start - internationals are set to become even more international in the future.
About the Author
Raphael Honigstein is a London-based soccer correspondent for Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's biggest broadsheet newspaper. He covers German soccer for The Guardian and Talksport Radio, is the author of "Englischer Fussball. A German's view of our Beautiful Game," and writes a regular blog on www.footbo.com.