Finally, the United States bred a world class soccer talent. But Giuseppe Rossi was born in New Jersey to Italian parents and dreamed of playing for Italy, as the rules of international soccer allow. Now he is not only playing for Italy – but he’s scoring the goals that beat the United States.
The United States, like other traditionally soccer-poor countries, has benefited from the play of more than a few talented multi-national athletes, and it will again in the future. Jermaine Jones (German-American) is likely on his way, and the US would love to persuade Edgar Castillo to return from Mexico – though that seems unlikely.
One somewhat provocative way to look at these cases is through a property lens. No country “owns” a player, but national identity is a kind of intangible “thing” that comes with complex rules of origin, management, and disposition. Some of those rules are determined and managed by the countries themselves (for example, a player can’t compete for a country if s/he doesn’t hold a passport from that country); some are governed by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body (FIFA sets the rules that determine whether a player is eligible to play for a country other than the country is her/his birth); and some aspects of identity are claimed by the players themselves (who get to choose, at the end of the day, whether they will play for one country, the other or, as in Castillo’s unusual case, both). [I’ve added this link to the FIFA statutes. Articles 15 and 16 state the relevant rules. Keen-eyed lawyers who are soccer fans will note the implications of the difference between these rules, which are referred to in English as “statutes,” and the “laws” that govern play itself.]
And don’t forget the fans. I think that Rossi’s success is a great thing (he left New Jersey at 12 to train in Italy and then England), but a lot of passionate American fans resent him, or worse.
For more on sport and national identity, see the interesting-looking Sport and National Identity in the Post-War World, by Dilwyn Porter.