As a soccer fan, you must have thought before if a soccer player can change their national team.
The truth is, this was not possible initially, but with the new FIFA rules, soccer players are now capable of switching to any national team provided they have met the requirements.
Players can now switch national teams by following Article 9 of FIFA’s eligibility rules found in FIFA’s Regulation Governing on the Application of Statues.
Initially, soccer players could only change their national teams once, but an update in 2020 brought a change as long as players met certain requirements. In this article, we’re going to provide an answer to the question; can a soccer player change national teams?
Read more: How Do Soccer Transfers Work?
Can a soccer player change national teams?
Yes, a soccer player can change national teams. The president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, has stated that there is a need to create a regulation that can cater to situations of some players who, for instance, are born in a country but are brought up in a different country or for cases where the parents of the player are from different countries.
In March 2021, at the FIFA soccer Law Annual Review, Gianni Infantino explained that the eligibility rules for changing national teams had been amended.
According to him, this is important because players live in a globalized world. Therefore, they can have about three different nationalities that they can change to if they meet the strict conditions.
The new eligibility rules for soccer players to change their national team are based on the rules that have been in place as of September 2020. The rules basis remains the same with added information and some clarifications.
FIFA added new rules allowing players to change the national team that they play for if they follow the three conditions below:
Players will be able to change their national team, even if they have played in any senior-level competition for the team in the past. However, the players need to ensure that:
- They have not played in more than three senior competitive games for that national team before they turn 21.
- The player must not have played in any major official tournament like Copa America, Champions League, or the World Cup.
- The player must hold the new association’s nationality when they make their debut for their first national team.
- The player must ensure that at least, three years have passed since they last played in any major competition for their previous national team.
For instance, a player who is eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland and England can play for Ireland in three qualifying matches for Qatar 2022 World Cup and later represent the Three Lions of England when they play at the 2026 World Cup. However, the opposite, which is to play at a World Cup and then switch, is not allowed.
A player can switch to a new national team even when they do not hold the nationality at the time of their debut for their previous national team. And they must have played for their previous national team before they turned 21.
Lastly, the competitive caps rule can no longer keep any player tied to a national team if they are now stateless, which means when they suddenly lose their nationality against their will.
How do soccer players switch national teams?
For any player to change their national team, they must adhere to Article 8 of FIFA’s regulation. This article states that; only players who have at least one nationality, a new nationality, or are eligible to represent at least a single association due to their nationality are qualified to change their national team.
Article 8.1 states that the category of players stated above can change their national team “only once” subject to the conditions listed below:
- The said player must not have played any match in part or in full in official competitions at the international level for the current team and also at the time of his debut or partial appearance in any international match in official competitions for his current team. In addition, he must also have the nationality of the team he wishes to play for.
- The said player must not play for the new team in any competition that he has already played for his previous team.
This means that there will be no change if the player has at any time played at a competitive senior international match, for instance, The World Cup. Players that have played for Senior friendlies are therefore not seen as tied to a team.
For a player to change his or her team, he must first “submit a written and substantiated request” to the Governing body called Players Statutes Committee and FIFA’s General Secretariat. These bodies will decide on the player’s request. After a player files a request, they can’t play for any national team until the application is processed.
Article 8.2 talks about exceptional cases such as a player who has played for a national team and has permanently lost his nationality against his will or without his consent. Such players can make requests to change to a different team where they have a nationality claim. Such exceptional cases usually occur when a previously singular united state breaks out or splits.
Can you refuse to play for your country?
Most players are stuck in the decision of choosing if their club or national teams should take priority. What they don’t know is that sometimes relationships are stretched, and therefore it can cause damage between players and clubs. Though FIFA has a compulsory rule that states players must be allowed to go for international duty, this rule does not encompass all.
For this rule to thrive, club managers and international managers have to cooperate to reduce the pressure on players.
Most people expect that every player should play for their country when called, as it is patriotic to do so, not knowing that the player is stuck between the club that pays his wages and his loyalty to his country.
FIFA usually allows players to retire, even against oppositions, as seen with Claude Makelele’s situation with Chelsea and France.
However, if this rule is interpreted strictly, it can be said to appear white and black. Players generally cannot be forced to play for their countries if they do not intend to.
FIFA has strict rules that govern the release of players to report for international duties in a timely fashion and return to their clubs promptly. In the case of disputes between national teams, clubs, and players, FIFA’s Players’ Statutes Committee hears and rules such cases.
Though FIFA has a rule that ensures that clubs allow players to go for international call-ups, this does not mean that clubs cannot find ways to subvert such rules. This is because such means are usually difficult to police.
For instance, due to the voluntary nature of soccer, players can reject international call-ups or even retire from international soccer anytime they require. It is also possible that players can connive with their club’s medical staff to overstate injuries, which will prevent them from participating in international competitions.
Such examples can be seen throughout soccer’s history; Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s former boss, was well known for debating over his player’s need to perform for international competitions. In 1997, Sir Alex Ferguson prevented his players from participating in Le Tournoi de France, the pre-World Cup friendly competition.
Can you play soccer for a different country?
As of 2020, FIFA made changes to the rules governing a player’s national team eligibility. The change meant that players would not be tied to any national team or a single appearance at a young age.
In addition, players are now allowed to switch their national teams if they are eligible to play for a different team at their debut for their first country, even having played in an official competition.
This would apply as long as the player has not played more than three matches, including friendlies. Furthermore, the matches must not have been in a Confederation Cup such as The FIIFA World Cup Final, and these must have happened before the player was 21 years old.
This change in the rule is needed now more than in the past since Nations League competitions have now replaced International friendlies. In addition, this has increased the locking of players who have dual nationalities with a single cap.
A player that benefited from this change in the rule is Munir El Haddadi from Sevilla. As of 2014, when Munir El Haddadi was Barcelona’s hot prospect, he played for 13 minutes in a European Championship Qualifier, in which Spain won Macedonia 5-1.
After this match, he had a fallout with Spain. The 13 minutes he had played in that match for Spain made him ineligible to play for morocco.
Unfortunately, this meant that he would miss his chance to play for Morocco in the Russia 2018 World Cup. At that time, Morocco had to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sports.
But, this change in the rule would have allowed Munir El Haddadi to be called for his solitary Spain appearance before turning 21. In addition, African nations such as Nigeria and Ghana would also benefit from this rule change because various players with joint nationality have played some games for some European countries.
Another example of a player that has benefited from the change of rule is Aymeric Laporte. The Manchester City and former France international was allowed to switch to the Spanish national team after the world governing body, FIFA granted his chance of association request.
The defender’s request was granted because he has never made a full appearance for the French national team. His only appearance for France was with the youth team which doesn’t count according to the new rules.
More soccer players are eligible to play for more than a single country. For example, France has about 15 players who are of African descent in their World Cup-winning team. Also, African teams in the 2018 World Cup at Russia were made up of players who regularly play soccer in Europe, including those that could have played at the European nations World Cup.
In soccer, nationality is not clear-cut as it was in the past because of rules changing. And this has resulted in the eligibility rules between nations being narrowed or widened.
The new rules have made it hard for top nations to accumulate talents in the guise of substitutes and made it harder for smaller nations to hold up-and-coming stars.
Do you have to be British to play for England?
Most soccer fans usually debate over the eligibility of playing for England. And most times, they ask whether a person should be British before he can play for England. In 1993, the international eligibility for playing for England stated that players who held British passports were eligible to play for the country of their birth.
Therefore, if a player’s natural parents or grandparents were born outside the UK, he can play for the home country that he chooses.
However, based on the 1993 agreement rule, once a player has played for his home country even in a friendly match, the 1993 agreement removes the possibility of playing for a different home country.
In June 2010, FIFA changed its eligibility criteria. A new clause that will allow a player to play for a British national team if he has received five years of education in the British territory of their association was implemented.
According to the clause, a player has to have engaged in at least five years of education under 18 years while in the territory of the relevant association.
This change in clause saw Andrew Driver, who was born in England, become eligible to play for Scotland’s national team in June 2012. Andrew Driver was only able to represent the England national team initially, though he had lived in Scotland since he was 11.
Another case is that of Andy Dorman, who was eligible to play for Wales, though he at that time lived most of his life in Hawarden, he became eligible to play for Wales.
He got his national call-up in November 2009 and played his first match against Montenegro on May 23, 2010, at the Stadion Grads.
The debate over the changing of national teams by soccer players can be solved with the new FIFA rules as stipulated in Article 9 of FIFA’s Regulation Governing on the Application of Statues. As stated above, it is now possible for players to change their national soccer team anytime, provided they meet the new requirements.
This new rule is against the previous one that only allowed players to change their national soccer team once in their lifetime. For a player to change his national soccer team, he first has to pass the requirements and then write a detailed application to FIFA, who then reviews the player’s request.
Generally, players cannot be forced to play for home countries when they do not intend to. However, FIFA already has a rule that ensures that players are allowed to go for international call-ups when the need arises.
With FIFA’s new rule, soccer players can now play for another national team according to their eligibility. However, the player still has to meet the requirements for the new national team as stipulated in FIFA’s governing rule.
As a British National, to play for England, FIFA’s rule stipulated that soccer players holding British passports can play for their birth country. Overall, it is entirely now possible for players to change their national team when they have met the requirements set by FIFA.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!