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From the archives: de Guzman, Nsaliwa and Haber in 2008

Back in 2008, I wrote for “Canucks Abroad” with North American football guru Al Clark profiling Canadian talent playing overseas.  At the time, I set out to get to the bottom of the international situations of two potential Canadian national team players, Jonathan de Guzman and forgotten man Tam Nsaliwa.

De Guzman, currently on loan at English Premier League side Swansea, is still holding out for a senior Dutch national team cap, while Tam Nsaliwa’s passport situation means that he remains on the outside of Canada’s national team program looking in. Below, Jonathan told us back in 2008 about his national team ambitions, while Tam spoke about his international status and expressed a preference for a future North American team. I also heard from striker Marcus Haber, now at Stevenage in the English League One.

Keep in mind that these players were speaking back in 2008, when Toronto was the only Canadian MLS side, the Canadian Soccer Association was taking criticism from all sides and 2010 World Cup qualification was still a possibility. I’ve highlighted parts of the interviews that are particularly relevant now in 2012.

Note: in 2014, a more recent update went live at the new Canucks-Abroad.ca.
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Jonathan de Guzman, March 3rd, 2008:

Canucks Abroad: Along with Jacob Lensky you make up a Canadian contingent at Feyenoord, and there’s more Canucks than ever in the league.  What kind of challenges do our young players face in adjusting to life in the Netherlands?

Jonathan de Guzman: Well, I come from Scarborough and live in Rotterdam now, and the two cities are alike.  It’s a multi-cultural city and it was easy for me to adapt to the culture and the lifestyle in Rotterdam at a young age.

CA: While it’s not quite de Kuip, have you had a chance to take in a game at BMO Field yet?  Are we finally on our way to establishing a football tradition of our own in Canada?

JDGII: I actually have been to BMO Field, and it was a great experience!  I saw Toronto play three times and they won all three.  I’m very happy with the turnout, too.  TFC has the best fans in the MLS and it also shows how big soccer can get in Toronto and in Canada.

CA: The CSA has been under a lot of criticism this year.  Do you think that a serious, professionally-run national association would help young players to commit their futures to Canada?

JDGII: Yes, of course! I believe that if we use the right resources, we can create a better soccer system in Canada.  Canada has a lot of talent but we just don’t know it yet.  It’s a pity that soccer isn’t the Canadian sport.  I’m happy that TFC is here to bring soccer to another level and hopefully it will get bigger and bigger.

CA: The Dutch under-21s won last year’s European title and are set to travel to Beijing this summer [for the 2008 Summer Olympics].  Have you been in contact with the coaching staff about being considered for the squad?

JDGII: No, I haven’t spoke to any of the KNVB members so I’m not sure if I’ll be called up or anything.  I just have to work hard and hopefully my skills will do the talking. [note: de Guzman missed out on the squad]

CA: On that note, has [then-Feyenoord coach] Bert van Marwijk said anything about a senior call-up when he takes over the national team after Euro 2008?

JDGII:  No.  It was just today that it was announced that he’s officially going to be the Dutch national team coach after the European Championships.

CA: World Cup qualifying will begin on both sides of the pond this year.  What do you think Canada needs to do to get to South Africa?

JDGII: Canada has potential, and I believe that if they use the same players that they had in the 2007 Gold Cup, they have a good chance of making it to South Africa.

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Tam Nsaliwa, April 20th, 2008:

Canucks Abroad: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us.  Have you been back to Toronto to take in a TFC game yet?

Tam Nsaliwa: I haven’t been to Canada since last Christmas, as during the summer holidays my first child was born in Germany so I couldn’t make the trip home, but I have seen how TFC has been hugely successful with its fan base already. I’m very happy to see professional soccer receive such strong support in Canada.

CA: There’s been some confusion about your international status — it seems that getting a German passport allowed you to avoid taking up a non-EU spot at AEK Athens, and in order to do so, you had to relinquish your Canadian citizenship.  Is this the last we’ve seen of Tam Nsaliwa in a Canadian shirt?

TN: No, I don’t think it’s the last I’ve played for Canada. At the moment, I’m working together with the CSA to try and get clearance from the German government to re-acquire my Canadian passport.  It’s a very complicated situation that goes back a few years now, but rather than talk about how it got to this point, I’m just happy to report that things look positive for me to get my Canadian passport back while maintaining my EU status in European football.

CA: Some fans have pointed to the mystery surrounding your international situation as further evidence that the Canadian Soccer Association is not doing it’s job.  Do you feel that the CSA or our national government could step up and do more to get you back in a Canada jersey?

TN: Well, to be fair, at this point I really feel that the CSA is doing everything it can given all the red tape involved in the situation.  Having said that, I was a little disappointed when the situation was beginning, because there were steps that could have been taken to avoid it getting this far. Still, at this point I do believe that the CSA is doing everything it can, and everything that I ask them to do, to definitively resolve this issue, so I’ve chosen to look forward to a positive outcome from all of this.

CA: Has [then-national team coach] Dale Mitchell been in contact with you about the World Cup qualifying squad?  If so, how do you see yourself fitting into a stronger-than-ever midfield alongside Julian de Guzman and Atiba Hutchinson?

TN: Well, to be honest, having played one game for Canada in about four years now, it’s kind of hard to see how I would even fit into the scheme of things at this point.  I have spoken to Mr. Mitchell, and basically our conversation was centred around trying to find a solution to the situation at hand and to leave whatever happened in the past where it is.  I haven’t talked to him about how or what he would want to do with me if and when we’re past this position, but for my part, I’m just looking forward to returning to playing for Canada with my old teammates and trying to qualify for the next World Cup.

CA: Now for something more light. Who are your best friends in football?

TN: Julian de Guzman and Victor Oppong.

CA: Germany, Greece, or someone else — who will you be cheering on at Euro 2008?

TN: Holland, if Jonathan [de Guzman] is playing.

CA: Imagine its 2012 – Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps have joined TFC in Major League Soccer. Which of the three do you support?

TN: Vancouver, as it’s the closest to Edmonton!

CA: Do you see yourself playing in North America, maybe at the tail end of your career?

TN: I would love to.

CA: And finally, where do you see yourself professionally in five years?

TN: Hopefully, playing in one of Europe’s top leagues — or possibly collecting German welfare! (laughs)

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Marcus Haber, March 3rd, 2008:

CA: Obviously the U-20 World Cup last summer was a bit of a disappointment.  Is this part of a bigger problem in developing Canadian talent or are we on the right track?

MH: I think the fact that we have so many young players abroad can only bode well for the future of Canadian Soccer.

CA: Imagine its 2012, the Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps have joined TFC in the MLS.  Which of the three do you support?

MH: As a Vancouver boy, that’s really easy.  Vancouver no doubt.

CA: Do you see yourself playing in North America again, maybe at the tail end of your career?  Possibly on a Vancouver MLS team?

MH: Obviously the idea of playing in my hometown at a high level is appealing, but right now that’s not something on my mind.  I’m very happy right now at FC Groningen, and as a young player, I can only try to improve and try and make the most of the opportunities in front of me.

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Student of the game. @scott_ferguson

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