The Curious Case Of Suriname
Suriname, the self-proclaimed ‘beating heart of the Amazon,’ is a small country in northern South America.In terms of area it is the smallest in South America.
The legions of football fans may have never even heard about this country,but it has played a far major role in football as we know today.
Most of its people are descended from African slaves and Indian and Indonesian indentured servants brought over by the Dutch to work as agricultural labourers.
However, there is little assimilation between the different ethnic groups, which confine their contacts to the economic sphere. Similarly, most political parties are ethnically based. This acts as an obstacle to consensus-building.
So what has all of these to do with the beautiful game?
Suriname is the only Dutch-speaking region in the world that is not a part of Netherlands or Belgium, and is the only state outside Europe with Dutch as an official language.One more interesting fact is that 27% of the population is of Indian origin.
While the Surinamese economy is based mostly around bauxite and bananas, its rather more famous export is footballers.Consider Ruud Gullit, a one-time European Player of the Year, and the captain of the Dutch team that won Euro 88. Or Frank Rijkaard, also a mainstay of that 1988 side, two-time Dutch Player of the Year and who would later coach Barcelona to the 1996 Champions League Title. Both are Dutch-born to Surinamese fathers.
Also a member of the Euro 88 squad were Gerald Vanenberg and Aron Winter.Here Winter is a peculiar case as he is of Indian origin where as all the others are of African origin.
And Winter scored a goal against Brazil in the 1994 world cup quarter finals.Just imagine,an Indian scoring a goal against Brazil!
And during the nineties some more stars emerged including Clarence Seedorf,Edgar Davids,Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Patrick Kluivert.All who went on to become footballing greats at least in Europe.
Just imagine if all these guys turned up for Suriname and not Holland,then Suriname would have been a footballng powerhouse.
So why do these players turn up for Holland rather than Suriname?
Of course the main reason is that most of these players are of Surinamese descent but actually born and brought up in Holland.Originally Suriname was a Dutch colony and this was a time when many Surinamese people were taken to Holland as slaves and also after the colonization ended Surinamese people preffered migrating to Holland rather than other countries because of the common language.
Dutch football has immensely benefited from Suriname,there is no doubt. Without the Surinamese, the Dutch national team would be similar to Germany,’ according to Humberto Tan the only Suriname based journalist in Holland. In 1991 a Surinam XI beat a Holland select team which included the likes of Ronald Koeman, Jan Wouters and Danny Blind. A few names on the Surinam Select teamsheet weren’t bad either – Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Winston Bogarde.It was a charity match to raise money for families who lost loved ones in a plane crash just outside Paramaribo, the capital of Surinam, in 1989. On board were 20 members of a football team made up of players from the Netherlands’ Surinamese community.That match showed how much Dutch football depended on Suriname and the Dutch authorities as expected never organised such a match again.
So how does Suriname produce such quality players?
Edgar Davids has a theory. ‘Surinam has many similarities to Brazil,’ says the Ex-Juventus midfielder who was born in Coronie, 130 miles west of Paramaribo. ‘There’s a lot of poverty and a lot of kids on the street who have no money, come from broken homes and have plenty of time on their hands. They play football all the time and they learn to play with their bare feet.’
Davids maybe right,but playing with barefeet alone doesnt make you great,the few fortunate Surinamese who are based in Netherlands turn up into such superstars primarily because of the coaching system.Davids is himself is a product of the famed Ajax Youth Academy.
The heavy Surinamese presence in the Dutch team continues with Ryan Babel, Mario Melchiot,Nigel de Jong, Kew Jaliens and Orlando Engelaar. .Also,rising stars like Edson Braafheid, Eljero Elia,Andwele Slory, Romeo Castelen, Urby Emanuelson and Evander Sno have all made appearances in national colours.
So why is Suriname in itself such a low ranked team?
One reason for this strange case is that a curious Surinamese government policy that prevents former residents who have taken up Dutch citizenship from playing for Suriname. So all those Surinamese playing in Holland, who aren’t quite good enough to make the Oranje, cannot enrich the team of their homeland either. Thus the Surinamese national team is made up almost entirely of amateurs from its domestic league.
Whatever the government’s policy is,Suriname is one amazing country managing to produce such stars with a population of 494,347