The curious rise of soccer nationalism coincides with a larger political movement

15 November at 16:00
By: Matthew Klimberg (@KlimbergCalcio)

Like in politics, the footballing world appears to be experiencing a wave of nationalism across its ranks. With ‘Brexit’, the election of Donald Trump, rise of Beppe Grillo, and many other examples, countries have seen a rise in anti-immigration stances. Now, it appears those ideas have found their way into the ‘Beautiful Game.’
Last night, former US National Team manager Bruce Arena, who helmed his country’s shocking World Cup qualification failure, appeared as a TV analyst for the Portugal-US friendly. On the broadcast he promoted the idea of mandating national team players come only from MLS, saying, “It’s certainly a thought.” The US fielded just two latino players last night.
That quote came only a day after longtime Italian defender Paolo Cannavaro echoed a more direct rebuke of foreigners playing in Serie A. “Guys, we didn't lose the World Cup [Monday]. We lost it 15 years ago when thanks to incredible cashing in by those in the football world, Italy brought in flops from every area of the world to unfairly steal places from our lads…"

Ragazzi il mondiale non L’abbiamo perso oggi.L’abbiamo perso 15 anni fa quando grazie ad un magna magna clamoroso degli addetti ai lavori,arrivavano in italia bidoni da ogni parte del mondo a soffiare ingiustamente il posto ai nostri ragazzi...gli abbiamo dato soldi gloria e conoscenza grazie ai nostri allenatori italiani che restano i migliori in assoluto.spero solo che oggi toccando il fondo si rifondi il NOSTRO CALCIO!via le mummie che gestiscono il calcio italiano e spazio ai giovani anche fuori dal campo!fuori dalle palle grazie...onore al grande Gigi Buffon che ha perso la possibilità di essere L’unico giocatore a disputare sei mondiali e nonostante non ci sia riuscito ci ha messo la faccia!!! Speriamo che le tue lacrime versate siano le ultime del nostro calcio!!!! Sosteniamo la giovane italia che verrà!!!! Ritorniamo ad essere l’Italia che il mondo intero ha invidiato purtroppo doveva accadere ciò per svegliarci!!!! @lagiovaneitalia

A post shared by Paolo Cannavaro (@paolocannavaro) on

Cannavaro is far from the first Italian to express such a view. Days before Italy was eliminated from playoff contention, and after they had lost 1-0 to Sweden, Serie B manager Sandro Porschesci delivered an impassioned plea to curb the flow of foreigners playing in Italy.

“Italy used to be a team that beat other teams up (physically),” Pochesci said. “Now we’re the ones that get beat up and cry about it. When you bring all these foreigners to Italy, that’s what happens.” His rant was lauded by many in Italy, including the media.

Earlier this year, the Chinese Super League imposed a limit on the number of foreign players that can be on team rosters. Ironically, Paolo’s brother Fabio is a manager there.

Last year, Abby Wambach, the all-time leading goalscorer in women’s soccer history, doubled down on her pointed criticism of “foreigners” allowed to represent the United States. “The way that [Jurgen Klinsmann] has changed and brought in these foreign guys, it’s just not something that I believe in.”

It’s difficult to say whether these are new viewpoints or if they are simply getting more attention due to the rise of social media, like numerous examples found in contemporary political movements. While it’s not yet a sweeping change, the phenomenon of soccer nationalism is something to pay attention to.
Matthew Klimberg


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