SEA Best Imports Ever: How do naturalised players perform for their new national teams?
Singapore’s bag is definitely mixed. Expectations were highest for Egmar Goncalves and Mirko Grabovac and neither delivered.
They had always been told that they deserved to play all the time and they didn’t like being on the bench
Grabovac came from Croatia and brought goals along with him. In 2005, he was named the S.League’s Player of the Decade, yes decade, not year.
His tally of 244 goals are second only to Aleksandar Duric (321) and his medal haul was impressive too: four league titles, three Singapore Cups and one ASEAN Club Championship.
So Grabovac being drafted into the national team via the fast-track route being offered by football authorities was an attractive prospect for all parties.
He was never going to represent a Croatia side that had finished third at the previous World Cup and Singapore were getting the services of one of the best strikers in the region.
Yet it just didn’t work out. The striker played 12 times for the Lions and didn’t score once.
Something similar happened, or rather didn’t happen, with Egmar Goncalves.
The Brazilian scored bucketloads of goals in the S.League, a total of 238. Yet in 15 appearances for his new national team, he scored just four times, which was better than Grabovac’s record but still nothing to write home to Rio or Singapore about.
“It didn’t really work for Grabovac and Goncalves and they left,” Duric, another converted ex-Singapore international, told FourFourTwo.
“It was probably because they had always been told that they deserved to play all the time and they didn’t like being on the bench or being changed by Raddy.”
Raddy Avramovic was national team coach from 2003 to 2012 and the Serbian belonged to the old school.
“Raddy liked discipline. He expected players to listen and obey and if they could not fit into his play then he would find someone who could,” Duric said.
“I played with him from day one and we retired together. I knew what he was all about – his philosophy was that you may be a striker, but you are there for the team.
“They couldn’t seem to fit into that. I am not sure what went wrong but that was a factor.”
Yet Duric had a much better time. He arrived in the S.League in 2000 and made his debut for the national team in 2007.
“My case was different and I came through on my own.”
Duric was not going to be playing five years later, but in the short-term, he had a big part to play on many levels
It may have taken the Bosnian-born striker three attempts before his application for citizenship was successful, but he took to international football with the relish of Friday night revellers heading to Clarke Quay.
At the grand old age of 37, he made his debut and scored twice in a 2-0 win in a 2010 World Cup qualifier against Tajikistan.
“I selected Duric because his performances deserved a place in the Singapore team,” Avramovic told FourFourTwo. “It was that simple.
“I felt he would improve the team. I felt that he would score goals and also be a leader on the pitch.”
His age was not an issue.
“Of course, we knew that this was not going to be a long-term solution in attack. Duric was not going to be playing five years later, but in the short-term, he had a big part to play on many levels.”
For two of Duric’s contemporaries, however, it was clearly a different story.
The Philippines have famously, or infamously, called up numerous European-based players with a Filipino mother or father
“With Grabovac and Goncalves, it just didn’t work out,” added Avramovic. “Sometimes it doesn’t. They were talented but there is more to it than that.
“Look at [John] Wilkinson. There were players with more natural ability but he worked so hard and became an important part of the team.”
Daniel Bennett became a citizen in 2002 and the English-born defender is still playing 15 years later.
“He was a competitor,” said Jan Poulsen, the coach who handed the centre-back his debut. “He had international experience with a fierce desire to win with Singapore.
“I am not surprised he has played over 100 games.”
Naturalised players tend to be those that are linked to their new countries through a parent.
The Philippines have famously, or infamously according to some, called up numerous European-based players with a Filipino mother or father.
Such an influx of talent has helped lift the Azkals to the No.1 spot for ASEAN teams in FIFA’s rankings, currently No.116 overall.
Malaysia have welcomed the likes of of Brendan Gan, Matthew Davies and Darren Lok into the ranks, while Indonesia have Dutch-born duo Irfan Bachdim and Stefano Lilypaly.
Thailand’s classy midfielder Charyl Chappuis was not only born in Switzerland but was an important member of the Swiss team that won the 2009 U17 World Cup.
Naturalised players tend to do well for their new national teams, but talent is not enough by itself.