Ghanaian-born midfielder Gershon Koffie is considering one day playing for the Canadian national team, according to Vancouver Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi.
It may be years off yet, but the wheels are in motion, as Goal.com Canada has learned the Ghanaian-born midfielder has applied to become a permanent resident of Canada – the first step toward citizenship.
And while the move would have practical career implications – making him more desirable as a domestic player according to Major League Soccer roster rules rather than an international player (clubs are generally restricted to eight unless they acquire further spots through trades) – there’s more to it than just that.
“We’ve talked along the way, and it’s kind of come up in a more of a jestful way than anything else,” Whitecaps club president Bob Lenarduzzi told Goal.com on Friday. “He’s certainly interested and now we’ll go through the process.
“He still has to get picked, but he’s brought it up enough times that there is an interest on his part.”
While national teams selecting naturalized players has been a controversial topic in some parts of the world – FIFA actually changed its rules in 2008 to expand the naturalization period to five years from two years due to some countries abusing the rule to import foreign stars – Lenarduzzi has no such qualms about potentially doing his part to boost the players available for Canada.
“If players have committed to being in a country for X number of years, which obviously he’s been here two now... I’d like nothing better as a former [Canadian national team] coach to make more players available to the player pool,” Lenarduzzi said.
If Koffie is indeed interested in playing for Canada, surely the feeling will be mutual by the Canadian Soccer Association.
The 21-year-old has been a revelation in the heart of midfield for the second-year MLS club, mixing an elite level of athleticism with a coolness on the ball that belies his years.
While South Korean fullback Lee Young-Pyo walked away with the Whitecaps Player of the Year award at season’s end, many would have been happy to see it go to Koffie, one of the club’s most consistent players in arguably the most important position on the pitch.
However, if Koffie does intend on playing for Canada, it won’t be a straightforward process. Apart from jumping through the hoops of Citizenship and Immigration Canada over the next couple of years, by the book, Koffie isn’t eligible.
Under FIFA rules, a player can switch from representing one nation to another if he hasn’t received a senior competitive cap – but only if he was eligible for the second team at the time he was capped for the first team.
Koffie has been capped by Ghana at U-20 level, and at that time was not eligible to play for Canada – thus making him ineligible to represent Canada’s senior national team; however, there is a precedent that indicates FIFA is willing to make exceptions in the case of naturalization.
In February 2011, FIFA granted Thiago Motta special permission to represent Italy, despite receiving caps from Brazil at U-23 level prior to his becoming an Italian through naturalization. There is nothing in Motta’s case, at least on the surface of things, which is different from Koffie’s situation.
Given that decision was made so recently, that precedent would most likely stand should Koffie decide to aggressively pursue the option of playing for Canada.
Some might wonder why Koffie would consider playing for Canada over his native Ghana, but apart from a love for his new home which he is quite happy to share, the reality is that there are many elite players vying for spots in his home country’s midfield, with players such as Anthony Annan (La Liga side Osasuna), Derek Boatening (Ukrainian Premier League side Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk) and Afriyie Acquah (Serie A side Parma) ahead of him in the pecking order.
While many observers of MLS, including senior Whitecaps players, feel Koffie is capable of eventually playing at the highest level in an elite European league, that might not happen for a number of years – and perhaps North American soccer is off the radar of Ghana’s senior national team set-up.
Those circumstances could push Koffie toward accepting a Canadian call-up if he does stay long enough to receive citizenship, if he feels ignored by his homeland and embraced by Canadians, specifically Vancouverites.
Still, Koffie is known to be very proud of his heritage, and making the one-time irreversible decision to switch to Canada will no doubt be difficult.
He’s in Ghana right now, and Tweeted this upon touching down: “HOME SWEET HOME #GHANA#FORLIFE”
Five days before that Tweet, he had a message for Whitecaps fans though, perhaps worried, as some were last offseason, that Koffie would be moving on to a bigger league: “I love y'all (capsfuns) I love the team and ready to share my heart. I'm staying, PEACE.”
If “ready to share my heart” means what some think it does, that relationship between Koffie and his fans in Vancouver could one day take a step to the next level.