Capello and other aliens

Players of other nationalities have always graced many an international team over the years. And despite protests from English manager Fabio Capello things are not about to change now. Over to Brian Glanville.

Recently at a major football conference in Dubai, Fabio Capello, still the England manager, was fulminating. All those Turks playing for Germany when they should be playing for Turkey! Those Polish-born strikers who also turned out and scored all those goals for Germany! “A line needs to be drawn!” he exploded. “These players are acquiring new passports. Germany had five of Turkish origin who opted to represent them and we all know what happened.”

Hold on! There was only one, admittedly outstanding, player of Turkish origin in the Germany World Cup team in South Africa: the splendidly inventive and incisive attacker, Mesut Ozil. Another Serdar Tasci, was in the squad but on the fringe. It is also true that Ozil is very proud of his Turkish origin. But both he and Tasci were born in Germany and were therefore fully qualified to play for the team of their birth.

Capello was doubtless still feeling aggrieved about Germany's emphatic victory over England in that tournament not least because the strikers, Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, each Polish-born, both scored against England in that game. But both of them came to Germany from Poland as children, Klose at the age of seven, Podolski when he was only two. They hardly then arrived in Germany as fully developed footballers.

This in stark and ironic contrast with all those so called Oriundi who, as Capello as an Italian footballer and manager should know better than anybody, turned out over so many years for Italy. Go back as far as 1934, when Italy, playing on home soil, somewhat contentiously won the World Cup. Three of that team were Oriundi, the term which characterised foreign, chiefly South American, players who, under Italian law, could claim Italian nationality.

These three players, all of whom had played with great success for Argentina, were Luis Monti, the ruthless, roving centre half, Raimondo Orsi, the left winger, destined to score a remarkable, freakish, essential equalising goal against the Czechs in World Cup Final, and the right winger, Enrico Guaita.

Proudly and defiantly, Vittorio Pozo, commissario tecnico, inspiration and father figure of the Italian teams which won World Cups in 1934 and 1936, proclaimed, “If they can die for Italy, they can play for Italy.” Meaning that they were eligible for military service in the Italian army.

A declaration which looked pretty stupid when, on the outbreak of war against hapless Abyssinia in 1935, Guaita and several other footballing Oriundi were caught trying to cross the Swiss border, to escape conscription. Evidently prepared to play for Italy, but not die for Italy!

Shamelessly, you might say, Italy would continue to deploy Oriundi for decades to come. I remember, when I was living there, going to Genoa in December 1953 to see Italy beat the Czechs 3-0. Their second goal was scored by an inside right called Eduardo Ricagni, an Argentine international who had only just arrived in Italy to play for Juventus!

Later there would be a still more famed clutch of young Argentines. In the South American championship of 1957 Argentina fielded the so called trio of death, Humberto Maschio, Valentin Angelillo and Omar Enrique Sivori. Scarcely had the smoke cleared over the tournament than all three of them were snatched by Italian clubs and, in due course, all three were capped by Italy. The unfortunate Maschio, in fact, had his nose broken by a Chilean opponent in the notorious so called ‘Battle of Santiago', in the World Cup of 1962.

Juan Alberto Schiaffino, the brilliant Uruguayan inside left, a hero of the decisive game of the 1950 World Cup — there was no final as such — when in Rio, Brazil were so sensationally beaten, joined Milan immediately after shining in the Swiss World Cup of 1954 and soon he was playing for Italy, as well.

There have been some strange paradoxes too in the history of Anglo-Scottish football. Not least is the odd contrasting cases of James Ferrier and Joe Baker. Between the two World Wars, Ferrier, forming a famous left flank partnership with Stevenson for Motherwell, was an outstanding outside left and utterly Scottish. But because, by a freak of chance, he'd been born in England, he never won a Scottish cap. By contrast, fast forward to the 1960s, the equally Scottish centre forward Joe Baker was born in Liverpool before being taken back over the border as an infant. Scottish as he could be, with the accent to prove it, he was, however, snapped up by England to play for them!

And what of two of the game's greatest attackers. Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas? Scorer between them of all seven Real Madrid goals in that sensational 7-3 victory in the Glasgow European Cup final of 1960. Di Stefano was an Argentine international when he came to Real Madrid via Colombia, Puskas was the supremely left footed skipper of Hungary. Both took Spanish nationality, both played for Spain, Puskas in the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile, when di Stefano, at odds with autocratic manager Helenio Herrera, was in the squad but didn't play, supposedly injured.

Capello himself was forced to insist that England hasn't “stolen”, the young Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck from Ghana, for whom he is qualified, though born in England. So it will, doubtless go on.