Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj’s recent displays and Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere’s statement that “only English players should play for England” have once again raised questions over nationality and who should be eligible for national sports teams. (The Belgian-born Januzaj could qualify to play for England should he remain resident in the country for five years.) Wilshere later took to Twitter to clarify his position before praising the likes of runner Mo Farah and fellow footballer Wilfried Zaha, both African-born, but raised predominantly in Britain and have worn the colours of Great Britain and England respectively. Hopefully this will quieten those perhaps looking to associate Wilshere with the likes of the BNP.
Wilshere argued that just because someone acquires a passport it does not make them automatically English, adding that spending five years in Spain would not make him Spanish. My concern about allowing athletes to join a national team after five years residency is that it could lead to sportsmen and women opting to represent the country in which they have been residing only after failing to be selected by their ‘first-choice’ country, the one they consider their homeland, in other words. I think I stand with all fans in saying that all athletes in national colours ought to be committed one hundred percent to the country they represent.
The case of Jermaine Pennant is a case in point. In 2011 the Stoke footballer said he would play for Ireland if approached. Although Pennant was eligible for the Irish through a grandparent, at this point he was in his late twenties and had won 24 caps for England Under-21s. He had held out in the hope that England would award him a call-up which had (and still has) yet to materialise. The case of Mo Farah is different. He has been in Britain since childhood, attended school here and has come through the ranks of British athletics. I don’t know him personally but after last year’s Olympics would you want to question his loyalty to Britain?
Selection to a national team should certainly be open to those born overseas with roots back in Blighty. There have been many in this category who have represented their country with distinction on a track or field of some sort; Mike Catt, Kevin Pietersen, Justin Rose, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome to name a few. Likewise there have been others born in the country to foreign parents who have done the same; witness recent Olympic medalists Christine Ohuruogu and Phillips Idowu, or the half Italian, one quarter Irish England Rugby World Cup winner Lawrence Bruno Nero Dallaglio. You don’t need to have a name like Smith, Walker or Illingworth to be British.
Furthermore, a born and bred Englishman or woman with firm ancestral ties to the land of his or her birth may have problems with identity and thus feel not greatly attached to ‘their’ country. Look at Jamie Carragher. He once revealed how defeat with England was easier to take than defeat with his club side, Liverpool. Growing up in the city in the 1980s he claims there was a ‘detachment’ between Liverpool and the national epicentre, London. Perhaps Carragher sees himself as Scouse first. Someone’s nationality, in a legal sense, may be different to how they feel in their heart, which may belong, first and foremost, to a city, region or to another country.
Daily Mail sports columnist Jeff Powell went further than Wilshere, declaring that everyone involved in the set-up of any national team, including the manager, coaches, physios and kitmen should hail from that country. Hiring a foreign manager can be a controversial step, and one which many oppose. As will be covered in a subsequent post, I beg to differ on this one. However when it comes to the players, it is time to tighten up the residency rules.