9 February 2018

World Cup pull could decide which country Daniel Arzani will represent

Australian football fans concerned about losing another talented young player are urging their national football team to urgently cap a 19-year-old with barely a few hours of game time under his belt. But is that fear well founded? Daniel Arzani was born in Iran and raised in Sydney. He has represented Australia a dozen times at youth level, and his performances in recent weeks for Melbourne City have prompted calls for the Socceroos to cap him before Team Melli (the Iran national team) does.

“I think he’s very special”, said former national and Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich at the weekend. “If I was the FFA [Football Federation Australia], I know there’s been talk about him possibly playing for Iran, just arrange a game against anyone and just cap him”.

Arzani has represented Australia at youth level, for the Under 17, Under 20 and Under 23 teams. But as he’s yet to play a senior national game, and when asked about where his loyalties lie last week, Arzani told reporters he had no idea. “To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it at all. I’d have to talk to my parents, I’d have to talk to my father and we’d have to decide together.” So what are his options?

You can’t be cap-tied in a friendly

Bosnich’s suggestion that Australia organise ‘a game against anyone and just cap him’ might win the player over, but it won’t mean a thing to FIFA. Yes, he will have one cap as a Socceroo, but he won’t be ‘cap-tied’ until he has played in competitive senior match. That means the soonest he could commit to either country – and it is a life-long commitment – would be the World Cup, despite each team playing a number of friendly matches in the interim.

National youth selection limits options

Arzani’s decision to play for Australia at youth level does not cap-tie to him Australia. For this, he can thank Tim Cahill. He briefly represented Samoa at youth level, and that meant he was Samoan for life under FIFA’s rules of the time, despite being raised in Australia. But after a years-long fight, FIFA amended the rule in 2003 to give young dual citizens the opportunity to switch allegiances when they made their senior debut.

However, that doesn’t mean Arzani can play for whomever he likes. Once you play for a national youth team, your choices are limited to the countries you were a citizen of at the time of that debut. So Arzani – who had both Australian and Iranian citizenship (presumably) when he first represented Australia – can’t take up an offer from Qatar, East Timor or the Ivory Coast.

In other words, he can’t do a Diego Costa. The Brazilian played two friendlies for his homeland in early 2013. A few months later, he was cap-tied by Spain. This was possible because:

(a) you can’t be cap-tied in a friendly;
(b) he hadn’t represented Brazil at youth level; and
(c) he’d lived in Spain long enough for FIFA to consider him Spanish.

Further consideration for Arzani is the inability to reverse an allegiance switch. If he does ask FIFA to change to Iran – but does not play, or even get selected – he would not be able to switch back. FIFA only allows one change of sporting nationality.

A risky move

So that leaves Arzani with two teams to choose from, both of which will be in Russia this June. The good news for Socceroos supporters though is that switching to Iran could be a risky move. Should he switch allegiances, it’s a decision he’ll never be able to undo, even if he fails to get any game time. However, if he sits on the Australian bench for the entire tournament, his options will remain as they currently are. Of course, it’s now up to one of the two teams to select him.

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