What makes a citizen?
Nationalism is, perhaps, the biggest aspect in supporting a national team. So when a player denies, or is perceived as denying, his or her heritage it seems as if a nation turns on them. However, players’ national acknowledgements and identifications do not necessarily make them Benedict Arnolds. Even if that is the storyline that supporters groups are trying to sell.
There are no words that irk American supporters more than the combination of Giuseppe and Rossi. To some, even mentioning the New Jersey wunderkind’s name is akin to burning the American flag. He is one of the top strikers in Spain’s La Liga. He’s been featured on the cover of ESPN:The Magazine –meanwhile, Lionel Messi can’t get the American cover of Times– as the most important American during the 2010 World Cup, while playing for Italy.
Rossi was not discovered by Americans. He was instead passed over by many clubs due to the fact that he was not an athletic player. Luckily, at age 12, he was offered a spot in the academy of the Italian club Parma. From there he went on to Manchester United and Villareal. So the American soccer establishment did not recognize him, because in 2000 they were still looking for athletes as opposed to soccer players. He never played in an American youth national team, yet people think he sold out his country. After all, he’s American! He still comes to New York and New Jersey in the summer. Add to that the position the USMNT is struggling at the most is forward and the vitriol grows continually harsher.
But he never expressed interest in playing for the US. Rossi lived in New Jersey until he was 12, in a household full of Italian immigrants. The idea of playing for Italy was probably always with him. In my own childhood, growing up close to dozens of Brazilians, the dream of many Brazilian-Americans that I played throughout middle and high school with was always to play for Brazil’s national team not America’s –something that US Soccer needs to face and change– so I would imagine the pressure to play for Italy was similar for Rossi. Subrtract his time training with Parma and instead place him in Red Bull Academy, or DC United’s Academy, or the New England Revolution Academy and suddenly we’d have to wonder if he would even be the player we pine and opine about at all.
Rossi made his choice for Italy early on, never even teasing the US. Americans despise his success, label him a traitor, but he is still an American doing great things in a top three foreign league. It’s time for us to move on and celebrate his accomplishments as an American abroad, even if he won’t ever play for America.
In an almost reverse role of Rossi there is Lionel Messi. Messi played minimal youth soccer in his home country of Argentina. Yet unlike Rossi people in Argentina recognized his talent. Born lacking certain growth hormones, his childhood club and parents split the cost of the therapy to replace them. When the costs of this hormone treatment grew too much for his parents and youth club to afford, Barcelona came in took over the payment and happened to get the best footballer of his generation.
Some supporters of the Argentinian National Team have still not forgiven Messi. They refuse to absolve him for doing what he needed to do to literally grow up. They are mad because he apparently chose life over playing for a big Argentinian club. They remind him as much as possible that he is no Maradona. They attack him outside of Buenos Areas nightclubs.
In the Argentine footballing culture, the supporters want their national team players to have come through the youth systems, played for Boca Juniors, then go to Europe, then lead the national team to glory at World Cups and Copa Americas. Messi skipped the first few steps, and thus far, has not lived up to the second half. He only leads his European team to European titles. He has, in many opinions, done nothing for Argentina.
But perchance the supporters are putting too much blame on Messi. Unlike Rossi, Messi has always said he wanted to play for the Argentine national team. He went back to play for his own national team, despite the fact he could probably have qualified to play for Spain as he had been in Spain for five years before getting his first call-up to Argentina’s U20 squad.
Then there is the instability of Argentina’s FA and national team. If people think the US’s team has no style, they should look at Argentina. A nation that’s coaching carousel has made the style change so much that there almost isn’t one at all. And even if there was one without the talent that Barcelona is able to afford Argentina can’t put Messi in a style that meshes with his ability. Yet, the supporters blame him. They blame the “Mercenary, Catalonian,” which they called him during a draw with Columbia.
They too need to realize that Messi is happily Argentinian, just as culturally Rossi is as American as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Messi is a player who’s game grew in Spain, who was able to receive the medical treatment he needed in Spain, but comes home to play internationally for country who only wants to abuse him.
American supporters always see the shoe on the other foot, but they too have stolen players. Tab Ramos, Thomas Rogen, Stuart Holden, Teal Bunbury, and more recently a slew of German-Americans (Among them: Danny Williams #6, Timmy Chandler #2, pictured left). And while none of them, so far, have been to the level of Lionel Messi, they are receiving some of the treatments that he receives when he plays for his native country.
The term African-Germanicans, while originally used jokingly, has seemed to become a pejorative term. Nearly everyone has heard or read Preston Zimmerman’s Tweets on the subject. People are saying these German players are “less American,” when they had fathers who served in the United States military is about as anti-American a statement as can be made. And the fact is, no matter what the GOP wants, we do not live in an isolationist society. We have our clusters of communities of Mexican-Americans, Hatian-Americans, Cape Verdeans, Irish-Americans, and Italian-Americans, but are they any less Americans because of the hyphen?
We have army bases in Germany, Japan, throughout the Middle East and Africa. The makeup of multicultural societies, like America and Canada –who have lost Owen Hargreaves, Jonathan De Guzman, Sydney Leroux, and are possibly losing Junior Holliet, make losing players easier. But it also makes gaining players easier as well.
It is time to get over an aversion towards dual-nationality players. We can cheer on Rossi while playing for Italy –unless he is playing against the USMNT. Argentinians should celebrate the accomplishments of Messi –even if he will never win them a World Cup. Americans should welcome Germans to their squads –even if they don’t speak the de facto language. And while even I feel the pains of Canadian supporters who lost Teal Bunbury and Sydney Leroux, they need to come to terms with those decisions as well.
When a business person moves from one country to another and makes millions of dollars, then vacations back in his or her home country people still accept his or her money. People are still happy that their country produced the mind that created the inventions or business plans that made the millions. Celebrate your citizen’s success, at least until their succeeding against your team. Then, and only then, is it okay to jeer.