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Explainer: Why FIFA say Bayern prospect Johansson can't play for Ireland - and his six arguments for why he can



Ryan Johansson has decided that his international allegiances lie with Sweden

Ryan Johansson has decided that his international allegiances lie with Sweden

Ryan Johansson has decided that his international allegiances lie with Sweden

Why is Bayern Munich's Ryan Johansson being prevented from playing for Ireland? It's a curious case.

Ultimately, the teenager is in bother because his Luxembourg-based parents Thomas and Christine naturally weren't thinking about an international football career in the weeks after his birth in 2001. Thomas is Swedish and Christine is Irish - although she was born in England to Irish parents, which adds a slight complication.

He was entitled to both Swedish and Irish nationality and through Thomas they quickly applied for a Swedish passport because it was a simpler process than the Irish route.

At the age of 12, Ryan gained a Luxembourg passport through his mother's residency there.

Their son's football ability was becoming apparent, but the family weren't aware that failing to formally apply for his Irish citizenship through the Foreign Births Register (FBR) before he made his first appearance for Luxembourg at 15 would have such implications.

That's because Luxembourg officials indicated that Johansson, a promising player who was snapped up by Bayern Munich, still had the option to switch to Sweden and Ireland if he so wished.

The problem for Ireland is that Article 8.1 of FIFA statutes say a player who looks to switch allegiance from one nation to another can do so provided they "already had the nationality of the representative team for which he wishes to play".

Therefore, when Johansson - who lined out for Bayern's first team in pre-season and is starring in the UEFA Youth League - decided that his future lay with Ireland, a request was met with a rejection from FIFA.

Correspondence from Luxembourg on Johansson's passport situation alerted global football authorities to his breach of their criteria. Johansson's family feel he was misled and strongly argued to FIFA that their application of the rules in this instance does not take a number of key factors into account.

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The Irish Independent has seen FIFA's October 25 communication to the FAI explaining their stance, and asking if they had any more information to offer. They are now in possession of a strongly worded reply sent from Abbotstown but influenced by legal advice that Johansson's camp privately sought to present their case.

Their six arguments can be broken down as follows:

  • Johansson was entitled from birth to Irish citizenship so all he is guilty of here is not going through a simple administrative procedure. They say FIFA is making "form prevail over the substance of the right" with "serious long-lasting legal consequences".
  • They say the interpretation is "perverse" as it "arbitrarily empties of substance" his citizenship rights.
  • They say it's against the spirit of a rule which is designed to avoid "tenuous and non-genuine" changing of the associations which does not apply in this instance.
  • They claim the ruling is "arguably in conflict with EU rules on EU citizenship" and free movement.
  • They say that "most importantly" it punishes a player for a decision he took while he was a minor and "as such not legally liable or able", adding their feeling that the Luxembourg FA "acted in bad faith" by not laying out the implications of his debut to Johansson and his family
  • In conclusion, they refer to case law of EU jurisdictions that declare "null and void any transfer restrictions imposed on underage players for decisions... which have caused them harm" and urge FIFA to consider that this case raises questions about the "protection of the rights of minors".

No response has been forthcoming. As Christmas draws closer, they are frustrated by the lack of a response and considering other legal options available. But they know that going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) can be costly and time-consuming with no guarantee of success.

Johansson cannot be stuck in limbo for too long and the FAI are believed to be far from hopeful.

This case opens a window to the next wave of eligibility rows which go beyond Anglo-Irish relations, grandparent rules, and the cynical application of same - which the FAI has certainly exploited.

Luxembourg is a prime example of a country with a large ex-pat population and the issue of identity is far from black and white.

The matter now hinges on whether the return correspondence is enough to prompt a rethink. Johansson's future is out of his hands.

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