World Cup players juggle national team and fatherhood

MOSCOW — Having a baby is even more important than playing in the World Cup for some.

Three dads-to-be have made trips home from Russia to welcome a child, with the blessing of coaches and teammates.

On Tuesday, Fabian Delph will likely miss England’s match against Colombia in the round of 16 while awaiting the birth of his third child.

“Some things in life are more important than football,” England coach Gareth Southgate said Monday. “His focus needs to be with his family at this time.”

Southgate echoed a view of parenting that runs through the World Cup.

Switzerland forward Breel Embolo is preparing to face Sweden on Tuesday after dashing home within hours of a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica last week. The 21-year-old Embolo saw his daughter born and described it as “the most beautiful 24 hours” of his life.

The family-friendly trend was started by Denmark’s players, who helped send teammate Jonas Knudsen home in a private jet. Knudsen’s daughter was not due until after the tournament, but the team wanted him to see her right away.

“It’s a bit of perspective in life,” Southgate said. “Everybody says you only get one chance to be in a World Cup but also there’s only one day in your life where your children are born.”

In soccer, players fulfil their family duties at the discretion of team leaders.

Paternity leave is mandated in Major League Baseball. A rule was passed in 2011 allowing teams to place a player on the paid paternity leave list for 1-3 days if he is “the father of a child whose delivery or adoption is imminent or has occurred within the prior 48 hours.”

The rule did not spare then-New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy in April 2014 from criticism on sports radio for taking two days off with his wife and newborn son.

However, the backlash against radio hosts Boomer Esiason and Mike Francesa — who said Murphy could “hire a nurse” if his wife needed help beyond one day — showed that athletes have public support to be good fathers.

In 2013, golfer Hunter Mahan won praise for leaving a tournament he led by two shots to return home for the unexpectedly early birth of his first child.

“Thanks to all to my sponsors who appreciate what’s important in life and all my fans for being Awesome!” Mahan wrote on his Twitter account.

It was not always so in soccer. A notorious English case in 1989 saw a player with Queen’s Park Rangers fined two weeks’ salary for missing an away game to attend a birth.

The manager who ordered the fine, for England player Trevor Francis, was fired soon after.

The subject is still a dilemma for Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist, who on Tuesday is set to play against Switzerland in what is likely his last World Cup at the age of 33. Granqvist has stayed in Russia with the approval of his wife, Sofie, who is overdue to give birth to their second child in Sweden.

“I’m fully focused on the game tomorrow and my wife is very strong,” Granqvist said Monday.

Southgate acknowledged his decision to release Delph, who played in England’s two previous games, would not always have been approved.

“My father’s generation and those before them would view that differently,” said the England coach, who is building a reputation for smart and thoughtful handling of his players. “But you have got to be there for your family.”

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