Fans of the United States national team have a tradition of eager impatience upon the release of the squad for any game. When the squad was named before their game against Russia last month there was general surprise to see the re-inclusion of Nuremberg’s Timmy Chandler, sparking the latest chapter in a raging debate about football and identity.
Before his appearance against Russia it had been almost a year since he last played for the Americans. Prior to this, Chandler had rejected a call-up for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup, citing a desire to continue to train with Nuremburg where he had recently broke into the first team. When Chandler declined the call up by Jurgen Klinsmann for the first set of World Cup qualifiers last summer, serious questions were raised as to whether the right back would remain with the US national team or file for a switch to play for his native Germany.
At 22, Chandler was about to be cast by US fans into the same boat as Giuseppe Rossi and Neven Subotic: Americans who went on to play for other countries. Some were ready to condemn Chandler to his own level of American soccer hell for actually playing senior games with the Stars and Stripes before switching to Die Mannschaft.
Chandler, as well as Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson and several other German-American players all have American fathers who were stationed in Germany during the Cold War. This makes each and every one of them a US citizen upon birth, making their decision to play for the US much easier. While legally American, Chandler spent most of his time in Germany with his mother, and is just as eligible to play for Germany as he is for the US.
This made the legality of deciding which national team to play for a non-factor; the main influence in the decision is identity.
During a five-game summer camp this past year, CNN sent a reporter to conduct interviews with Jones and Danny Williams. Williams said he was the subject of racial abuse while growing up in Germany due to his mixed heritage. He told the reporter that the difference between being in Germany and being in the United States is that having a mixed background is frowned upon in Germany while generally accepted in the States.
“When people look at me in Germany, they know I’m not one hundred percent German,” Williams said. “I told my parents I feel more American than German.”
Thomas Rongen, the former USA Under-20 coach, is the man who can be credited with the growth of foreign players in the US senior team because of his work in creating a database of all potentially eligible players across the world, including every foreign player, during the Klinsmann era. In an interview with the New York Times, Rongen said America’s melting pot ideals play a huge role in convincing foreigners to play for the US.
“I look them in the eyes and I talk about values,” Rongen said. “I talk about being proud of representing this country. It’s what America is all about.”
While America’s values serve as the pull factor in bringing German-Americans to US, there is a push factor as well. Noah Sow, a black German radio personality, summed up the feelings toward black people in Germany at the Black German Cultural Society NJ Convention in 2011.
“Unfortunately…the majority likes to think even today that Germany and the Germans are something homogeneous. Incidentally, white. Germany likes to imagine itself as white. The fantasy overrules logic, law, history, and reality to this day.”
A common feeling among Germans is: ‘I don’t know who we Germans are! But certainly not Black!’ And in perpetuating this fantasy, this image, Germany is very successful.
Modern Germany not always appealing to black players, especially those with mixed heritage. Jerome Boateng is the exception. He, like his brother Kevin-Prince, both had the opportunity to play for Ghana. Jerome never identified with Ghana, though, and opted to play for Germany instead. What makes the Boatengs different to Chandler is that both played for Germany at the youth level. They were very much German in their upbringing, and both made appearances in the German youth national teams. Chandler never made it into a German youth national team.
It is also important to note that the only reason Kevin-Prince played for Ghana was because of his falling out with the German FA in 2009. The Ghanaians were more than happy to bring him into the fold in time for South Africa the following year. That sentiment has dramatically reversed with Kevin-Prince’s retirement from international football. While he said he could not keep up with the constant travel, something Chandler cited as a problem with playing for the US, most Ghanaians saw through his explanation believing he just used the team as a way to play in the World Cup and earn a move from Portsmouth to Milan.
Unlike Kevin-Prince, glory hunting was never a factor in Chandler’s decision-making process. Joachim Loew never had Chandler in his plans, and as long as Philipp Lahm that is unlikely to change. It is understandable for American fans and media to speculate that he did, however. Taylor Twellman, former American international and color commentator, publicly did so during the Russia game. It makes sense from a fan point of view to have this belief; Germany is much better than the United States, and are far more likely to win a World Cup. All Timmy Chandler needs is to make one move and be a part of it.
In the end, Chandler’s decision came from prolonged introspection with him and his loved ones. He told ussoccer.com he is in “1000%” after long conversations with his family, and with Klinsmann. Those that have led the way for him – Jones and Williams – have also facilitated his return by keeping in touch with him. When Chandler officially commits next year, this debate will finally be over.
However, this scenario shows just how precarious life can be for dual-nationals in the modern game. The issues of glory hunting and career advancement are viewed as equal in their decision-making to the ideas of identity and heritage — the factors that representing a country was supposed to be about in the first place.
By Christian Araos
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona