Europe may be at odds with the idea of migration, but European football and more specifically European national teams are benefitting greatly from the age-old concept
It’s fair to say Europe is a little unsettled at the moment. Great Britain recently voted to leave the European Union (EU), the Front National continues to make noise in a very divided France and the anti-immigrant Freedom Party in Austria narrowly lost in the country’s recent presidential election.
The news media is awash with stories about the European migrant crisis and immigration. European politicians and citizens alike of the aforementioned countries, and many others, have been demanding for borders to be shut with immediate effect and restrictions implemented on the free movement of people from within the EU and beyond. Far right politics just seems to be the in-thing.
In 2015 the number of migrants in Europe was reported to be over 76 million (76,145,954 according to official figures from the UN), which was more than Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Oceania combined.
The aftermath of colonialism – a pretty awkward topic but one that needs to be acknowledged here – played a big part in making the European continent one of the world’s most powerful. Belgium, France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain were the main EU republics to occupy the African continent. Today, as a result, you’ll find large African migrant communities in most, if not all, of these countries.
This summer’s European Championship in France (Euro 2016) showcased the continent’s diversity and Africa’s presence was felt. Not only did the tournament include some extremely young squads – England’s being the most youthful with an average age of 24 years old – there was also significant upside in the number of black players that made the cut.
Take a look at the team rosters for Euro 2016 and you’ll find at least one black name in the 23-man squads of Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and Wales. A total of 552 players were selected to represent their country and 58, just over 10%, were black.
France integrated the likes of Kingsley Coman, N’Golo Kante and Samuel Umtiti in their final squad, which saw their black tally total up to 11. Les Bleus was followed by England, where among others, Danny Rose, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling contributed to the 10-strong black contingent included for the Three Lions. Both Belgium and Portugal had nine black players in their squads.
Compared to Euro 2012, played in Poland and Ukraine, under the old 16-team format, a total of 33 black players were included in squads for eight nations – Czech Republic 1, Denmark 2, England 8, France 9, Germany 1, Holland 6, Italy 2, Portugal 5 and Sweden 1. Euro 2016 may have featured 24 teams split between six groups, but there was still an increase in the number of black players included in the England, France, Germany and Portugal squads.
The Euro 2016 final saw hosts France go up against Portugal. Didier Deschamps named Patrice Evra, Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Moussa Sissoko, Bacary Sagna and Umtiti in his starting line-up, later bringing on Anthony Martial and Coman. For Portugal, Pepe, Joao Mario, William Carvalho, Renato Sanches and Nani all figured in Fernando Santos’ starting-11. Eder, full name Ederzito Antonio Macedo Lopes, was introduced in the second-half. In total, 14 black players participated in the final and one of them, the Lille forward Eder, played the most important part scoring the tournament-winning goal in extra-time.
Eder was born in Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, a former Portuguese colony, but moved to Portugal as an infant. He represented his adopted nation at the 2014 World Cup and again at Euro 2016.
Then there’s Werder Bremen defender Theodor Gebre Selassie – Czech mother and Ethiopian father. Born in the Czech Republic, the pacey defender made his full international debut for the country in 2011 becoming the first black player to represent the nation. He too was present for the Czechs at this year’s Euros.
David Olatukunbo Alaba and Rubin Okotie were the two black players included in the Austria squad. Bayern Munich’s Alaba, of Filipino-maternal and Nigerian-paternal descent, was born in Austria. Okotie, who plays his club football in China for Beijing Enterprises Group, was born in Pakistan to a Nigerian father and Austrian mother making him eligible for three nations from three different continents.
Belgian-born Michy Batshuayi could have played for DR Congo through his parents who are both Congolese natives, but the Chelsea striker opted to represent the country of his birth. He too was involved in the Belgium setup this summer.
See the theme? Many black players have a choice of either representing the country of their parents’ origin – two separate nations in some instances – or the country where they themselves were born and raised. Due to migration black players have taken ownership of their foreign nations of birth or adoption, and as this year’s European Championship showed, multiple numbers are proud to don the international jerseys of the European lands they recognise as home.