First game v SEN 21/11/22 @16:00 GMT, Al Thumama Stadium
Words by Ili Hyseni
The Netherlands are one of the teams featuring in Qatar this winter courtesy of their diaspora. Hundreds of years as a colonial power mean that De Oranje’s first eleven at the finals will feature players who’s roots stretch across the globe; from the Caribbean to West Africa and East Asia.
I published a piece 2 years ago looking at how the Dutch team have benefitted over the years thanks to mass migration from Suriname. Some of the country’s best players and indeed a large part of the side that won the Euros in 1988 could trace their roots back to Paramaribo. We’re talking about legends like Gullit, Rijkaard, Davids and Seedorf. These are names that have written themselves into Dutch football folklore such was their impact on not only the national team but clubs like Ajax who dominated the 90s thanks, in part, to these players and their families. Today, Denzel Dumfries, Steven Bergwijn and Tyrell Malacia among others can all trace their lineage back to South America or the Caribbean; while PSV’s Cody Gakpo and Barcelona’s Memphis Depay have Ivorian and Ghanaian heritage respectively.
As the son of an immigrant, I know all too well the importance of being able to move freely across borders in search of a better life. I also know the feeling of what it’s like to yearn for a country you’ve never lived in. It’s part of being a member of the diaspora; the emotional tug of war that plays out in the heart between the place one calls home and ancestral lands.
While the Netherlands get to enjoy the immense talent of their multi cultural communities on pitch, many other countries are missing out and suffering from a talent drain. In the case of Suriname, the situation is particularly complicated because the country has prohibited dual citizenship for many years. This has meant that the decision of whether to play for the Netherlands or Suriname was made easier for Davids, Rijkaard et al. However, this won’t stop the football romantic dreaming of what could have been. Had things turned out differently, South American teams may well have had another football heavyweight to deal with in Suriname. For now unfortunately, Suriname will have to watch on in pride as well as envy.