Oh, you will read the same caveats all over the place in the coming weeks, days, years. Jonathan De Guzman spent most of his life abroad, so his choice to hold out for the Netherlands is perfectly understandable. We should commend him for making the best choice for his long-term career. You will hear patronizing reminders ridiculing you for the insult you felt watching him breathlessly speak of his desire to play for the Netherlands while wearing a Canada shirt at a Canadian national team game, mere months after his brother admitted he was in talks with the CSA about getting his passport to play here, and mere seconds after admitting the idea came about simply because he wasn’t getting enough playing time with Villarreal.
“He was there to cheer his brother, playing for your country is one thing, supporting it is another,” some will say. “Don’t buy into simple nationalism. Let’s improve the program to keep our players home.” You might be tempted to buy into this kind of sophistry, so as not to look like a salivating nationalist, or worse, a “typical Canada fan.”
Yes, Jonathan’s story is a complicated one. His parents came here from the Philippines and Jamaica. He grew up in Scarborough and left to train with Feyenoord when he was 12 years old. The Netherlands nurtured his football side in ways Canada was not equipped to, made him the player he is today.
But his is the story of countless Canadians, with residences here and elsewhere. Had he made his decision for Holland early and kept to it, he would have been a footnote in Canadian soccer history, a reason to improve the program here at home, a minor sore point.
But he didn’t. Instead, he used the prospect of playing for Canada as leverage with his La Liga club, a mere option for “more playing time.” He used his brother as a pawn to send the message to the domestic media, with no regard for the feelings and expectations of Canadian soccer fans. And he casually broke the news reporters had been asking about for months now, in a Canada shirt, at a Canada game, after sending out messages of support to the national team via Twitter.
Perhaps we should grow to accept that international football is as much a game for mercenaries as the club version. Quickly nationalized Brazilians play in national teams around the world, after all. International football is a lark for UEFA/FIFA to make lots of money.
Except that we know as spectators of the Euros, it isn’t. The team celebrations that followed Kuba’s equalizer against Russia should be an indication of that, as well as the incredible rivalry on display tonight between Germany and the Netherlands. Despite the hipster cynicism, the shirt deals, the FIFA Fan Zones, the corruption, national pride still means something in football, it’s the reason we care, the core reality that makes football good.
Yesterday, Canada drew Honduras at home 0-0, a game they dominated from start to finish. Canada’s players, far more so than those currently competing in Europe, traveled long distances to help their country qualify for the World Cup. Their desire was evident last night. No, we don’t need the likes of Jonathan De Guzman in the national team to succeed.
But the strident disconnect between professed “love of country” and the desire to play for Holland because “they regularly make World Cups” cannot be explained away, apologized for, reasoned with. It’s a disgrace. We’re not an outfit or a means to a starting XI, or a mere shirt, or flag. You can’t profess to be a proud Canadian and then use your national team colours as leverage.