When Al Nasr summer signing Wanderley struck twice in the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarter-final last month, you can be sure a few players across the region came over in a sweat. Days later the governing body meted out a suspension to the Brazilian, bringing the issue of fake passports in Asia to the fore.
The Dubai club overpowered El Jaish of Qatar 3-0 thanks to Wanderley’s brace, putting a foot and three toes in the last four of Asia’s premier club competition. The United Arab Emirates have not had a champion since the inaugural edition in 2003 and Nasr have never been this deep in the competition in their entire history. But now, they have a real chance.
But Wanderley’s superb display raised interest in a subject that has been bubbling below the surface for some time. There are a growing number of Brazilian-born players plying their trade on the continent that have dubious Asian nationality.
Jack Kerr of Sports Integrity Initiative has been looking closely at the case of Timor Leste. The Southeast Asian country has been naturalising Brazilians left, right and centre and seven such players were fielded in a 2015 World Cup qualifier against Palestine.
The Palestine Football Association made an official complaint against FIFA. So far, little has been done.
People are still wondering what exactly made those Brazilians Timorese and similar questions have now been raised about Wanderley, with the AFC investigating the former Sharjah striker over his alleged Indonesian nationality.
His double against El Jaish was the catalyst. Firstly, it got Indonesia excited. The country has only just come out of a FIFA-imposed ban that lasted a year. This is perhaps the most passionate football nation in Asia and is desperate for success, any success.
Indonesian clubs do not participate in the Asian Champions League so the news of one of their countrymen scoring twice in the last eight of the tournament made people take notice. It was only going to be a matter of time before he was called up.
Sport360 asked Indonesian national team coach Alfred Riedl at the time whether he was interested in selecting the striker, playing in a league of a higher standard than any in Southeast Asia. The Austrian replied that it would be difficult as his club would never release the player for non FIFA dates, of which there are many in Southeast Asia.
More intrigue followed, with Riedl saying he knew nothing of the player, a sentiment felt by many, if not all, observers in Indonesia.
And here’s the rub. The questions asked in the media about Wanderley started to be thrown in the direction of the country’s Justice Ministry. On August 31, officials held a press conference to say that Indonesia had never issued a passport to the Al Nasr striker. In short, they said the documents were fake.
It is difficult to see the AFC coming to a different conclusion and it is also unlikely that the investigation will take the 60 days that the organisation originally stated.
From the outside looking in, the case seems pretty open and shut. The big question is unlikely to not be whether the documents are genuine or Wanderley is eligible to play in these games, how this situation came about.
If it turns out that the club was involved then the consequences for Nasr could be severe. The one bright spot is that El Jaish are the only international opposition that Wanderley has played against in the tournament. There is no trail of clubs that the Brazilian faced in the group stage that would be waiting.
If it were to be found that the player was acting on his own then the club may escape serious punishment.
There is, importantly, a wider issue that needs addressing. The investigation is not stopping at Wanderley and it shouldn’t do.
There are two other players active in Asia, born in Brazil and have acquired Asian nationality. The AFC declined to name them when asked by Sport360 but one thing is for sure, there are plenty of candidates around.
Wanderley’s two goals may have come on one of the greatest nights in Al Nasr’s history, but the Asian-wide recognition that is coming the way of the club is more negative in sentiment and not centred around their historic progress on the pitch. And not only did those efforts write new history for the club, it may well alter the entire landscape of football across the continent.