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Black History Month: Malouda defies rules, plays for birth country

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After a long career of playing for France, Florent Malouda decided he was going to play for French Guiana.

FBL-CONCACAF-GOLDCUP-HON-GUF Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Florent Malouda is one of many dual nationals that have played soccer for more than one national team. However, he’s of the few that have defied the FIFA rules and played for a national team after being cap-tied for another.

Florent Malouda was born in French Guiana, and as a kid, he played soccer well enough to earn looks from scouts in France. He eventually moved to Paris to join Châteauroux, making his senior debut when he was 16 years old. His club career spanned 22 years, with the bulk of those years spent at Lyon and Chelsea. He also had stops at Guingamp, Trabzonspor, Metz, Wadi Degla, FC Differdange 03, and even the Delhi Dynamos in India.

Malouda debuted on the French national team in November 2004, quickly becoming a regular player for Les Bleus. He made 80 appearances for the French from 2004 until 2012. He was a member of the 2006 and 2010 World Cup teams. The 2006 team saw him play regularly on the way to the final, where they lost to Italy on penalties. In 2010, he scored the lone goal for France against South Africa, as they crashed out of the World Cup finishing last place in their group. His career with the French national team ended after appearing in the 2012 Euros.

French Guiana was in need of help for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Being 5 years removed from his time with the French national team, Florent Malouda decided to make himself available for his birth nation’s national team. He was able to do this initially because French Guiana is not a member of FIFA, so he wouldn’t run afoul of cap-tie rules. In June 2017, he was named to the preliminary roster for French Guiana for the 2017 Gold Cup. He made his debut for French Guiana in June 2017 in a friendly against Barbados. He also appeared in the 2017 Caribbean Cup for French Guiana, who finished 3rd in the tournament. For that effort, he was named to the final roster for French Guiana.

However, a few days before the start of the Gold Cup, CONCACAF declared Florent Malouda ineligible because while FIFA does not run the tournament, the Gold Cup operates under FIFA rules:

Each participating Member Association shall select its national representative team from the best players who are nationals of its country and under its jurisdiction, and are eligible for selection in accordance with the provisions of the applicable FIFA Regulations.

The most interesting thing about the rule was that CONCACAF confirmed that they couldn’t stop Malouda from being on French Guiana’s roster or playing in their matches during the tournament. However, if he played, the game would be ruled a forfeit and a 3-0 victory for the other team regardless of the actual outcome.

“The rules say he’s ineligible,” a CONCACAF spokesperson told Sports Illustrated in an interview before the tournament. “We are using FIFA rules, and so a player who has played in an official match for a different [national team] cannot play in Gold Cup. More precisely, he is not eligible to play. He can play, but he’s not eligible.”

French Guiana’s first match in the tournament was against Canada, and they decided to hold out Malouda in that match. French Guiana would go on to lose 4-2. After that, facing elimination from the tournament, the team decided that they would play Florent Malouda and see what happens. “We knew it was a big environment that was surrounding the case of Malouda so we decided not to have him in the first match,” head coach Jair Karam said in an interview. “But after analyzing and reading and knowing all these rules, we decided to take our chances for the second match.” Their next match was against Honduras, and Malouda appeared in the starting XI for French Guiana. He played all 90 minutes for Les Yana Dòkòs, but the game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Shortly after the game, CONCACAF opened an investigation against Malouda and French Guiana, claiming he was ineligible to play in the tournament. They eventually ruled it a forfeit for French Guiana, awarding a 3-0 victory to Honduras. French Guiana was also fined for deliberately using an ineligible player. After that, French Guiana held Florent Malouda out of their final match against Costa Rica.

After their exit from the Gold Cup, Florent Malouda appealed the ineligibility ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. However, in April 2018, the Court dismissed his appeal. That match against Honduras marked his final appearance for French Guiana. However, Malouda knew that he had a bigger goal: to increase the soccer history for his birth nation. “French Guiana is trying to exist internationally in [soccer]...[t]rying to be able to play and develop the local football. So that’s the strategy....There’s nothing political behind it.”

Florent Malouda’s legacy will be surrounding his time with France and his achievements at Chelsea, Lyon, and elsewhere. However, this footnote for some will be one that will affect dual nationals going forward, particularly those coming from smaller nations. Florent Malouda wanted to help put French Guiana on the map, and in a interesting way, he did just that.

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For more Black History Month stories, check out our Black History Month hub. We will be bringing a story each day this month to highlight some of the biggest moments in black American and world soccer history.