In the eyes and opinions of many of you, I am about to defend the indefensible: the decision of Guiseppe Rossi to play for the Italian National Team instead of the United States National Team. This issue came to head this week, with many calling Rossi a Judas or Benedict Arnold, because on Monday Rossi scored two of Italy’s 3 goals against the US at the Confederations Cup in South Africa.
Despite playing for the Italian National Team, Rossi was not born in Italy, he was born in lovely Teaneck, New Jersey on February 1, 1987. His parents, Ferdinando and Cleonilde Rossi; however, were born in Italy and had moved to New Jersey, where they taught at Clifton High School.
Rossi’s football skills were noticed by Parma, of Italy’s Serie A, when Rossi was only 13 years old. Parma offered Rossi a spot in its youth program, which he accepted, moving to Italy with his family. In 2004, after two years in Parma’s youth system, Manchester United bought Rossi’s contract and brought him over to England where he spent two years in Manchester United’s youth system. By this time, Rossi had already attracted attention from Italy’s National Team and had played for several of the National Team’s youth sides, including its U-16 squad.
Rossi ultimately made five appearances with Manchester United’s senior team, scoring a goal against Sunderland, but Manchester United also loaned him out to Newcastle United and Parma. In 2007, Rossi was sold to La Liga’s Villarreal, and there is currently speculation that he might return to Italy via a sale to Serie A’s Juventus this summer.
It was not until the build up to the 2006 World Cup, several years after Rossi first suited up for the Azzurri’s youth squads, that the U.S. National Team made an overt effort to pull Rossi into the USSF’s fold. However, Rossi turned down Bruce Arena’s offer and expressed his desire to play for Italy’s National Team.
Rossi’s dream to play for Italy’s Senior National Team came true in October 2008, when Marcello Lippi called him up for Italy’s match with Bulgaria. In less then a year, Rossi has made six appearances for the Italian National Team and has scored three goals. Baring the unforeseeable, Rossi will most likely be playing for the Azzurri when it defends its World Cup Title in South Africa next summer.
While Rossi was born in the United States, his football skills have been grown and nurtured not by the U.S.’s suburban club soccer, high school soccer, or college soccer, but by the youth systems established by Italy, Parma, and Manchester United. Rossi has developed his technical skills outside of the standard U.S. system, and, as such, is a foreign entity in terms of the USSF system. While Arena might have had an interest in Rossi, I find it hard to believe that Rossi would see serious playing time under the current Bradley regime, which seems to favor past personal relationships and toeing the line over technical ability and independence.
Instead of heaping blame and hate upon Rossi, a young, competitive athlete who chose to play for a team with a proven winning record, fans of the U.S. National Team should criticize the USSF for allowing such a talent to get away. Indeed, fans of the U.S. National Team should start putting pressure on USSF to get Vincenzo Bernardo capped. Like Rossi, Bernardo is an Italian-American who was born in New Jersey and has the option of playing for either the U.S. or Italy. Bernardo, who recently turned 19, is currently a member of SCC Napoli’s Primavera side. While Bernardo has indicated a desire to play for the U.S. Senior National Team, that interest has not been reciprocated and it might only be a matter of team before he turns his eyes toward the Azzurri.
I know the following position will not endure me to many fans of the U.S. National Team, but I cannot help but point out how hypocritical it is for U.S. fans to criticize a player who does not play for the country he was born in. Among those who have been capped by the U.S. National Team, but who were not born in the United States are Tab Ramos, Freddy Adu, Dominic Kinnear, Hugo Perez, Predrag “Preki” Radosavljevic, and Joe Gaetjens, among others. Meanwhile, many U.S. fans are expressing a strong desire to see Jermaine Jones, who was born in Frankfurt and has already played for the German Senior National Team in several friendlies, take advantage to recent FIFA eligibility changes that allow him to play for the U.S. National Team.
The reality is that FIFA’s rules regarding nationality have always had grey areas and wiggle room, and as the world grows more mobile there will be more and more instances of players choosing to play for a national side that does not represent the country in which he was born. Instead of blaming the player for the side he ultimately chooses, attention should be focused on why he made the decision he made. When it comes to players who shun the U.S. National Team, that fault might fall upon the dysfunctional, insular ways of the USSF, not the player.
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