Moving with the Ball: The Migration of Professional Footballers

Moving with the Ball: The Migration of Professional Footballers

Moving with the Ball: The Migration of Professional Footballers

Moving with the Ball: The Migration of Professional Footballers


As a universal game, association football has been particularly suited to the transfer of labour forces. It does not require the use of a specific national language, a recognized diploma or acquired qualification, and the rules are standardized across the globe. Thus the international football market could be considered an ideal example of a transnational and multicultural employment sector. Role models throughout the history of professional football have not necessarily come from the town, nation, racial group or religious denomination of the majority of supporters, as is seen in the cases of Maradona in Naples, the German Bert Trautmann after the Second World War, and more recently the Frenchman Eric Cantona in Manchester, the Cameroonese Milla in France, and the Argentinian Di Stefano in Madrid. Football provides a particularly revealing lens through which to examine changes in national styles and stereotypes as they have been (and still are) reflected in the search for identities in sporting heroes.In this book, the authors consider the movement of football labour from the late nineteenth-century to the present day within the framework of international migration as a whole. Emphasis is given to the initial role of the British in the early twentieth century and the impact of the earliest South American and Yugoslav football 'wanderers'. The position of African footballers in the postwar period and the failure of America's national league in the 1970s are also discussed, along with the international market for coaches and managers, the development of national playing styles and the immediate consequences and future implications of the Bosman ruling.


In 1998, more than 2,000 professional footballers from the former Yugoslavia played abroad. the impact since 1992 of the civil war and the break-up of the nation only partly explains the dissemination of Yugoslav footballers across the globe. in fact, the phenomenon has deep historical roots, beginning during the second half of the 1920s, the same period when players from Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and the first South Americans began to move across Europe to play football. Over the last four decades in particular, players from Yugoslavia have been employed in all the major European leagues and have played for ‘ethnic’ clubs in Australia, Canada and the United States. Possibly more than any other nationality, Yugoslavs have wandered across the European continent and beyond to play professional football.

As we have observed of other cases, the chronology, scale and direction of Yugoslav migration has not been indiscriminate. the outflow of players has been conditioned by the changing nature of domestic politics and economics and by international diplomacy, which have themselves heavily influenced the regulations of the national football federation. It is impossible to understand the movement of Yugoslav footballers since 1945 without being aware of the politics and ideology of the Tito regime, its relationship with Western and Eastern Europe and the internal nationalist tensions of the recent past. However, the history of the migration of Yugoslav footballers begins much earlier than this.

The Student Footballers, 1925–35

Although the case we will consider in this section involved no more than two dozen individuals, we would argue that its singularity and its resonance in a key period of the development of European football justifies the attention given to it. Football in Yugoslavia had shown significant advances by the middle of the 1920s, particularly in three urban centres: Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo. Although a newly-constituted state, Yugoslavia was quick to join fifa and become involved in international competition, sending a team to the 1920 Olympics. However, its football remained backward when compared with the game of Central European neighbours Austria and Hungary. Contact with foreign countries was sporadic. There were no Yugoslavian players in any of the major European leagues and . . .

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