Naturalization in Southeast Asia

The leagues are over in East Asia but there are still plenty of Asian football this December. The AFF Suzuki Cup group stage ends with some upsets: Favorite Thailand leave without a win, and supposedly non-footballing Philippines go to the Semi Finals undefeated. What happened?

‘Naturalization’ is a popular topic in Asian football. Despite the supposed less migrant-friendly societies, citizenship transfer of foreign born players are less controversial than it should in Asia. In modern times, Japan started it when Ruy Ramos and Wagner Lopes played for Japan in the 90s. In Korea, Valery Sarychev and Denis Laktionov became Korean citizens although in the end they never played for the Red Devils. Qatar has no qualm in recruiting Uruguayans and Brazilians.

Singapore was the pioneer in Southeast Asia when it opened path to foreign players in the S-League to play for Singapore. Nigerian born Precious and Agu Casmir, English born Jonathan Wilkinson and Daniel Bennett, and Chinese born Shi Jiayi did it for several reasons: They’ve married to Singaporeans and have children, they won’t be able to play for their national team, life’s better here, and so on. But after shocking Asia in mid 2000s, they might have been out of steam and looked less than impressive this month, getting away with a hard fought 2-1 win over Myanmar while held by Philippines and lost to Vietnam.

Now both Indonesia and Philippines do well with naturalized players. Cristian Gonzales have played in Indonesia for years and have an Indonesian family. He’s 34. Irfan Bachdim, now idolized as a pretty boy by middle class girls who usually skip local football, has Indonesian father and Dutch mother.

On the other hand, the Filipinos consist of several Filipino-looking men who have classy English surnames (e.g. Greatwich, Younghusband, or Etheridge). They study professional football in England and United States and the nutrition, training and experience there have rewarded them with the sharp edge in defeating Vietnam 1-0 and holding Singapore 1-1. Even Indonesia cannot take them easily despite having a double home advantages (the organizers deem Philippines to not having adequate ground for their home leg). Better for these Filipinos, they don’t have to ditch their father’s side citizenship, unlike in Indonesia (although they are aware they won’t be able to play for England or Iceland).

Of course, naturalization is difference with recruiting migrant kids. When the naturalization debate began in Indonesia, many people wrongfully thought that Zidane, Desailly, and Henry were ‘naturalized’ too, while in fact they grew up in France. Alessandro Santos graduated from Japanese high school and so were Tadanari Lee and Mike Havenaar. So far, Southeast Asia hasn’t had youth players who are born from migrants. Perhaps Singapore would have more half-Western players in the future, although this is still not the case in Thailand. Certainly, it would also help if more ethnic Indians and Chinese feel comfortable to become professional footballers in Singapore (which is still happening in Malaysia). Indonesia is still eager to find more European based players who have Indonesian parents, usually Moluccan-Dutch.

In Indonesia, the Red and White’s successive wins have overcome all the skepticism about the team’s quality, the new citizens, and the new coach. Even now people say that Gonzales and Irfan are ‘nationalist’ Indonesians who sing the anthem proudly. Still, the semi finals will just begin on Wednesday and more people going to get hurt when their enterprising team failed to reach the final. The expectation is very big on Indonesia’s side.

Asians on World Stage

Seongnam continue the tradition of Asian teams to qualify to the semi-finals of FIFA Club World Cup, after defeating host Al-Wahda 4-1. Goalkeeper Jung Sung-Ryong attracts the attention of FIFA.com as the only Asian player who are in two World Cups this year. Seongnam will take it easy against Internazionale but feel at advantage with Inter’s current confidence crisis.

Shinji Kagawa scores. Again. In Dortmund 2-0 win against Bremen. Another FC Seoul striker joins the Ligue 1 after Auxerre recruits Park Chu-Young’s successor Jung Ju-Gook. Park’s Monaco are on the edge of the relegation zone, while Auxerre do bit better on the 14th.

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