Tuesday, 3 March 2009


Just when we thought the whole elligability row over Northern born footballers representing the Republic of Ireland had been put to bed once and for all, up pops the man in charge of football's world governing body FIFA Sepp Blatter to add to tuppence worth to the debate. The latest can of worms has been well and truly ripped opened this week and you have to wonder, what motivated the outburst?

To quote Blatter "As the Fifa legal committee understood the issue, the situation in Northern Ireland is such that all Northern Irish players could opt to play for both Association teams, given that they have a birthright to an Irish passport."

So there you are, Northern Ireland-born players can now opt to represent the Republic of Ireland if we are to take the comment at face value. NI's football association, the IFA, now get the opportunity to get young players involved in football, train them up and make them potential superstars of the game. And the punchline? Well, the FAI, who represent football in the Republic reap what the IFA have sowed. The Northern Ireland player defects to the Republic and the IFA are left to pick up the pieces. An Ireland of equals, and all that...

But only time will tell whether there will be more Darron Gibson or Mark Wilson's of the world or whether those who have thought about switching actually reverse their decision to do so as reflected in cases involving Michael O'Connor and Tony Kane. One thing is for sure, allowing players to pick and choose what side of the border they want to play in simply isn't feasable. A return to the 50's and 60's methods of both associations naming themselves 'Ireland' and choosing from the whole island made a mockery of international football on the island, and FIFA soon copped on. My advice to Sepp Blatter would be to take a step back and think about the situation for a while instead of bringing politics into it. To put in plain footballing terms, border's are there for a reason - to distinguish footballing nations from one another. There is a border in Ireland (whether you agree or disagree, that is not the issue) and associations must repect that. The FAI and IFA must work closer together on this issue and should the current Northern defections continue without FIFA santions imposed then surely the IFA should make sure there is some kind of compensation scheme put in place. That way at least when Northern Ireland lose a player to the Republic, they will be rewarded with coaching expenses etc.

But then again FIFA's official statement mentioned that the Gibson case was a 'one-off' and that in order to be eligable for a country the player must have lived in the country for at least two years or had a grandparent from that country, of which incidentally Gibson met neither condition.

So who do we believe, FIFA? Or the man in charge of FIFA?

You decide.