Here is what Wigan boss Roberto Martinez said on the fact that Charles N’Zogbia, born in France, could play for England: “I asked Charles the other day about England and he said he was hoping. I think he is definitely open to playing for England. I thought he wanted to play for France but he’s been living in England so long now he’s ready to represent whichever country asks him.” Now Roberto Martinez is simply telling us what the dialogue between the pair was about but there is more to this matter. “Ready to represent whichever country asks him”- what is international football coming to?
N’Zogbia is soon to complete the required residential period of living in England for five years, making him eligible to be considered for the national side. I believe this needs addressing as it is also something that the punters in English cricket are unhappy with. Recently the England cricket team has seen an influx of South African born players turning out for the senior team because they have qualified to play for England. For a lot of those cricketers they have a parent who is British but in N’Zogbia’s case he can only claim to represent England because of the fact that he has gained UK residency. I can appreciate N’Zogbia wanting to experience international football but he has already turned out for the French U21 side. There have been examples of players doing exactly this in the past but if N’Zogbia was to suddenly force his way in to Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad then how would the non-selected English born players feel?
By now it is clear that the reason N’Zogbia has been mentioned is due a supposed lack of cover in the left-back position and the lack of guarantee that Ashley Cole will make a full recovery in time for the tournament. But if we are to believe, and it is a sensible way of selecting, that the squad will consist of two players per position then let us not kid ourselves that there is enough choice out there regardless of Cole’s injury situation. Even though second choice left-back Wayne Bridge is almost certain not to make the trip (unless he has a dramatic change of mind), there are two solutions that Capello could come up with. Either he opts for Gareth Barry or James Milner, who both look definite to be in the final squad, to fill in or go for the more realistic approach which would be to give the opportunity to either Stephen Warnock or Leighton Baines.
The wider issue is the identity of English football. What kind of message is being sent out to talented young players for the future, or even the likes of Warnock and Baines? If we deal with the circumstances on the pitch than I am sure that the players available to Capello are proficient enough for it to be just a rumour regarding N’Zogbia. It seems that France do not view him as good enough to be selected so the Wigan player sees it as an opportunity to try his luck with England. Players like N’Zogbia have often moved abroad to further their careers, with it seeming as if they hope to turn out for that country’s national team, but if others are to follow the same method then it will look as if English football will join English cricket in giving foreign talent more of a chance. One thing that remains to be seen in English football is whether it is willing to adapt to the rules that allow foreign players to represent the national team.
Even though it seems that N’Zogbia has signalled his intentions to play for England, especially in World Cup season, these stories have come around before. You only have to look at the Manuel Almunia position and nothing ever came of that. N’Zogbia’s stance is more to do with an individual who is determined for this to happen. He stated: “I would definitely say ‘yes’ if England asked me. And I would be very happy to do so. I love English football and English life, and I have many friends here. It would be a big honour in my life, and I would be happy to do that if selected.” So we know that N’Zogbia is keen for this to happen, it is currently happening in other sports and as ever Capello is keeping his cards close to his chest. Should the Italian spring a surprise on the nation then what would the overall reaction be?
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