Time for England to widen their selection net?
Athletes representing nations not from their countries birth remains a major talking point in sport, but is it really that much of a big deal? When Germany benefit so greatly from players not born in their nation, I think England are too stubborn and old fashioned in their views on international football. Most sports see the greatest nations with best resources often try and poach the best talent; England’s reluctance to use Mikel Arteta looked extremely careless when the Three Lions were humiliated by a German squad full of foreign born talent at the 2010 World Cup.
Players to an extent in international football can play for countries that they only the slightest allegiance towards but I for one don’t get upset about that. England won the Ashes with a cosmopolitan line-up, England in rugby union have used all-back castoffs regularly. Yet in both sports people have moved on from the issue and perhaps a distorted sense of patriotism still affects football. The anger that surrounded Sven Goran Eriksson’s appointment as the first foreign England manager was nothing short of short-sighted delusion. In any incident you want the best manager for what you’d hope is the most important job, in English football, regardless of nationality. My one gripe with Fabio Capello as manager is the strange scenario where the England national team manager, was able to hide behind his dodgy grasp of the national language to avoid difficult questions.
The main thing I like about the situation currently is it allows better players an opportunity to play international football. Republic of Ireland have constantly benefited from players who are not quite good enough to play for England but are eligible for Ireland. Now whether fair or not this offers better players the chance to compete on what used to and may still be the biggest stage in world football. A player as good as Mikel Arteta deserves the chance to play at an international tournament and it is frustrating that England didn’t offer him that opportunity. It’s also interesting to consider whether he was overlooked on a political or moral level for England, or because at the time he qualified for our national team he was already in his late twenties and not seen as long-term solution in England’s midfield.
While the current laws are in place, I believe England need to take a more pragmatic approach in national team selection. There are still some uneasy aspects of the current selection system. In recent years Adam Barton and James McClean have declared an interest in playing for Northern Ireland before switching allegiances to the more talented Republic set-up when advised they may be good enough to play for the better team. I don’t like this ability to change your mind on national team it’s not particularly fair or morally sound. Another example is Matt Phillips the English born winger, has chosen Scotland at 21, rather than have the indecision of trying to make the breakthrough for England. Blackpool’s wide-man had represented England at youth level prior to choosing a nation that would offer him a chance to win more caps, more quickly.
While the current loopholes that allow footballers to represent countries they only have partial allegiances to. In my opinion it would too simplistic to suggest FIFA changed rule to make it so players can only play for their country of birth. Andrew Strauss and Laura Robson are two examples of people who represent England and Britain and have grown up English and British, despite being born in another country. If those two were to represent South Africa and Australia respectively due to rulings that you must represent your country of birth, it could be argued you’d be denying them the chance to play for their true nation.
Personally I think patriotism in Britain blinds fans when it comes to international football, and the problem of people playing for nations not of their birth isn’t a great one. Although I do fear the foreign born Qatar team will push the boundaries of this rule 2022. Other sports have learnt to deal with an idea of picking the best for your country despite their natural allegiances its time the FA and England did the same. If FIFA can find a simplistic solution to this convoluted problem then, great, if not it’s time for England to take a more realistic, if un-patriotic approach towards our national team.
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