I hold three different nationalities; British, Indian and Swiss. So when it came to me deciding which national team to support just eight years ago when I got into football, I went with the latter, because it was the country of my dad. Eight years later, I watch every single game from London and went to watch them at this summer’s World Cup, in the historic 2-1 win against Serbia.
The point of this article comes from that game in Kaliningrad. Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, two players with Albanian roots, scored Switzerland’s goals to get the three points. So when they scored against the country that had oppressed their parents’ homes during the infamous Balkan war in the 1990s, they chose to celebrate with the double-headed eagle gesture; a symbol of Albania.
Their gestures were met with uproar, with people back in Serbia saying that they had reignited tensions between the former Yugoslav nations. However, in my opinion their biggest critic was former Swiss football federation (SFV) general secretary Alex Miescher. In an interview with Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, he controversially questioned whether players with dual nationalities should be allowed to represent Switzerland.
Although Miescher resigned from his position a month later, this controversy was far from over. In a whirlwind couple of weeks, Valon Behrami retired from international football in what he called a ‘political decision’ from manager Vladimir Petković. This was followed by the recent interview from former Swiss international Stéphane Henchoz, who said that potential future captain Granit Xhaka doesn’t represent Switzerland to Swiss newspaper Blick.
To think that this all started from about twenty total seconds of goal celebrations is incredible. Except it didn’t. Ever since players with dual nationality started to play for Switzerland, there were people who criticised them. There were fans who didn’t feel represented by them, and didn’t want them to wear the red kit if they were not 100% Swiss.
Despite all of this, some of Switzerland’s greatest players were from different backgrounds. Murat Yakin, Hakan Yakin and Gökhan Inler were all of Turkish origin, while Ciriaco Sforza was of Italian descent. For decades, other countries have shared some of the greatest talent ever produced in Switzerland. But it works the other way as well. Ivan Rakitić was born in Northern Switzerland, but despite having represented his country of birth at three different age levels, he chose to play for Croatia, the nation of his parents.
This has all personally hit me a lot, because of my background. As mentioned earlier, I am from three different countries. I am proud of all three, and embrace them all. What I like most though, is how similar my ethnic background situation is to many of the players of the Swiss national team.
Take this article’s feature image: the team photo from yesterday’s game with Iceland. In a photo where eleven men are wearing the same red kit with the same Red Cross stitched in, there are eleven different nationalities being represented. This one photo shows players with roots from all across the world. From France to Cameroon, Spain to Nigeria, Chile to DR Congo, there are a huge variety of nations being showcased in this one photo.
Dozens of nationalities are represented every time those players step out onto the pitch, but when they do they are representing Switzerland. I feel close to the players not only because we all come from the same small nation, but also because almost all of us have other backgrounds in our blood. Granit Xhaka puts it perfectly. He always says that he has two hearts; one Swiss, one Albanian.
I won a competition to write the official slogan for Switzerland’s team bus at the World Cup. It got me to Russia to see the slogan and my team play. My slogan was simple yet complex:
Four Languages, One Nation
This references to the four national languages of Switzerland; German, French, Italian and Romansh. The slogan means a lot to me. It represents the diversity of the Swiss national team. It aims to quieten all the critics, all the people who condemn certain players for having dual nationality. It represents that, despite all the different backgrounds and languages spoken, we are all united by one country: Switzerland.