Cuban Soccer Looking to Reincorporate Players Abroad

By Ronal Quiñones

Onel Hernandez, the first Cuban to play in the top level of English soccer. Photo: Eastern Daily Press

HAVANA TIMES – This website has talked about the issue of Cuban football players who are hired in foreign Leagues returning, before. There have been discussions about this matter for over two years now, and Cuban football authorities’ meager interest in making this return a reality, or reincorporating these players in national teams, has become clear.

Some of these players play really well in important Leagues, such as Onel Hernandez for the British team Norwich, or Carlos Vazquez in Spain’s Second B division with Atletico de Madrid. They themselves have even publicly expressed their desire to represent Cuba in international tournaments, as have other players such as Marcel Hernandez (Cartagines in Costa Rica) and goalkeeper Christian Joel Sanchez (Sporting de Gijon in Spain). However, up until now, it just seems like they’ll be taken into account.

Recently, the new vice-president of Cuba’s National Sports Institute (INDER), Ariel Sainz, released a statement that said that at least two players (without mentioning names) would once again wear the national shirt in Cuba’s upcoming international matches, which would be the first step towards breaking the ice once and for all.

It’s worth remembering that Sainz is the Head of the Cuban Volleyball Federation, one of the federations that has best handled the issue of Cuban players being hired abroad, and he is also the pioneer in reincorporating players who had left the country. For example, Sainz was the key to Robertlandy Simon retuning to play for the men’s national volleyball team, who is an essential player on the team right now. He hadn’t played for the country for almost a decade.

This just goes to show his ability for dialogue and a willingness to make something happen, which has made Cuban soccer authorities look bad because their apathy when it comes to reincorporating players is obvious.

Like Sainz himself has explained, once it becomes clear that a player is interested in representing their country, and sometimes you just need to talk to them to find this out, the only thing that can stop them from returning are conditions in their contract, which is revised every now and then with each of them, depending on what it is they signed.

This is the only thing that can impede this process, not the comfortable position the Federation has adopted up until now, waiting for soccer players to come to them with all of their papers in order and for them to approach the football authorities, not the reverse.

Maybe the arrival of these players won’t save Cuban football from the disaster it has become in recent times, but if it doesn’t improve our reputation, we can at least say that we lost by putting our best players on the field, or at least the best players we had access to.

Soccer players who play in the US League (MSL) is another problem, because politics come into play here and because economic sanctions against Cuba make it impossible to take them back. A real shame because even though some don’t want to form part of the Cuban national team, others have expressed their willingness and they play really well.

Generally-speaking, the Cuban Federation has left a lot to be desired in terms of contracts, because except for a couple of players who went to Mexico to play in inferior categories, the rest have only found places in the Caribbean’s poorest Leagues, such as in the Dominican Republic and the Cayman Islands.

Nobody thinks that a Cuban footballer is good enough to play for Real Madrid, but there must be one or two who would catch the attention of a more respectable tournament such as in Mexico or any other one in South America. There is talk about this possibility now, and even Brazil has been mentioned, but I wonder: did Sainz really have to go and tell the football federation this?

This is where we hit upon the evil that this sport suffers here in Cuba, and his name is Luis Hernandez, the Federation’s president, who has held onto this position for almost 30 years already, and his time at the head of this organization has been marked by failure.

Unlike the National Commissioner, who is decided by INDER, the presidential position of the Federation is pretty much a life tenure all over the world, because the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is very jealous in this regard, and it’s a sensitive issue when one of its board members is removed from their position.

I know full well that they haven’t wanted Hernandez in this position for years now, but Cuba risks FIFA misunderstanding his downgrade and seeing it as something motivated by reasons that have nothing to do with the sport and would then declare that it needs to meddle in its business, which has led to harsh penalties in other countries in the past, who can no longer present teams in every category for an entire year.

This is what Cuban leaders fear with Hernandez, who has very a very good relationship with FIFA (he’s had enough time to nourish this relationship), and his dismissal could be made into an international problem.

It’s also clear to me that we need to analyze how to remove him as president once and for all, but his resignation would be the only valid way up until now, and that’s going to be pretty much impossible because Hernandez isn’t willing to give up the reins of power.

The same power he has also used to benefit his own family: his brother was the technical director of national youth teams for years, and his son pretty much never misses a Cuban soccer trip abroad, as a member of the Federation.

This is the evil that is eating away at the sport, and Hernandez is comfortable and knows he can’t be shifted from his position, so he doesn’t need to waste any energy to seek out contracts for soccer players, much less advocate for their return to play as part of the national team.

Today, all signs seem to indicate that the age-old dream of soccer fans on the island will finally come true, but because laws in Cuba change all too often, we have to wait and see whether it does finally materialize.

But yes, I’m sure that if the ice is broken and these first players are reincorporated, there will be a stampede of players returning because one of the best ways these football players can be seen and get or improve their contracts is by playing matches as part of their national team.

We’ll find out what happens in the next few months.

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One thought on “Cuban Soccer Looking to Reincorporate Players Abroad

  • Certainly hope Cuba’s soccer dream comes to fruition. All professional athletes no matter what sport, playing in whatever geographic area, if given the opportunity, would love to play for their home country.

    But, “Soccer players who play in the US League (MSL) is another problem, because politics come into play here and because economic sanctions against Cuba make it impossible to take them back”. True.

    Moreover and unfortunately, the American Helms Burton Law, as it stands right now, stretches way beyond the US League. Can you imagine a Cuban player playing in the Spanish league who is then repatriated back to Cuba to play for the Cuban national team in international tournaments where the US team is involved. What are the probable consequences of that? Let’s assume Trump is still in office after November 2020.

    First, the United States would withdraw and not participate given the “inappropriate” circumstances.

    Secondly, there would be so much political pressure on the lending country and its soccer federation, say Spain as an example, that it would have to capitulate and renege on allowing any professional soccer teams from sending players to Cuba to play in international tournaments. United States will ban all Spanish soccer federation authority figures and their families from entering the United States as decreed in Helms Burton.

    The world has seen this play out before in other arenas. Do international soccer federation officials want to go through this political aggravation? Maybe? Maybe not?

    International sport is so tied up with politics these days (probably always has been) one cannot discount the political ramifications of extreme American politics on the international soccer world and its country specific soccer federations.

    In the end, how about just allowing soccer players to represent their country of origin if they wish; after all, it’s just a sporting game.

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