He may have put it a bit clumsily, as if he were scripting a party political broadcast by UKIP, but you could see Jack Wilshere’s point when he said the England football team should solely selected from the English.
Because the FA’s pursuit of Adnan Januzaj, in the sad hope that he might pledge himself to the Three Lion cause, is not merely cynical. It is actually pathetic.
International football is in enough of a crisis condition with the absurdity of the 2022 Qatar World Cup that it should not be blurring the boundaries of its purpose. Sure, the international rules suggest that a player can turn out for a country once he has lived there for five years. But if Januzaj slips on a white shirt, the whole point of the international game would be utterly undermined.
There is enough of this stuff going on in other sports. So why would the FA want their representative team to look like the England cricket side?
And to be fair to Kevin Pietersen, a man whose embrace of England was largely motivated by the opportunities it gave for more enhanced commercial prominence, at least he has English antecedents. Januzaj was born in Belgium of parents who hail from Kosovo. He came to England at the age of 16 to further his footballing career. He has absolutely no connection with the country beyond it being the place where he makes his soon-to-be-greatly-enhanced living.
Where should football draw the line? Only a fool would suggest that only those born in this country could turn out for England. That would have precluded Terry Butcher, for instance, wearing the white shirt because he was born in Singapore, where his parents happened to be working at the time. And no-one could suggest that Butcher was not prepared to shed blood for the national cause.
The world has changed from when internationals were first played, boundaries are more fluid, frontiers more elastic. It might be thought if Mo Farah won gold medals for Britain last summer when he was born in Somalia, then why can’t Januzaj do his bit for the English cause?
Farah’s case, however, was different. He came to this country when he was eight years old and learned his sport here. In the same way Januzaj’s contemporaries like Saido Berahino, Nathaniel Chalobah and Wilfried Zaha learned their football in England, Farah only became an international sportsman because he came here in the first place.
Januzaj was actively brought to this country because he was already an outstanding talent. At 16, Manchester United signed him from Anderlecht; Berahino came to England aged two.
There is a substantial difference. One is a product of the same system that developed Paul Gascoigne, John Barnes and Paul Ince. The other is from the one that made Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany and Marouane Fellaini.
International football is not the Champions League. You can’t simply sign up those who you think will best promote your cause. This isn’t rugby union. There has to be some sort of sense it is representative – of a place, a population, a system.
If the game is to have a jot of remaining point, then Zaha, it seems to me, is entitled to make himself available for England in a way his club mate Januzaj isn’t. A line has to be drawn.
There are 60 million people in this country. Surely the FA has the wherewithal to find 11 of us good enough to wear their shirt without trying to purloin those who belong to someone else.
Besides, the player himself has made absolutely no indication that he has any ambition to play for England. An intriguing, driven, intelligent individual, he has so far resisted all claims on him to play internationally. The Belgians – not exactly short of talent – rate him so highly they have offered him the chance of selection to the first team immediately. He has turned them down, as he has done at every stage of his career.
Tellingly the reason he gives is not that he wants to play for someone else – Albania, for instance, or even Turkey, who have a claim through his mother’s heritage, and certainly not England – but that he wants to concentrate on his club game.
Now is not the time for him to even think about playing internationally, he says. For anyone.
That, in a sense, should be the thing that most concerns the FA. Not that the brightest young talent in the country is resisting their overtures, but that he considers international representation secondary to progressing in the club game.
And you can see his point. Zaha already has two England caps, but they haven’t done him much good in his day job: currently he can’t buy a place on the Manchester United bench.
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- England football team
- England cricket