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How Do You Define "An English Player"?

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Is Jack Wilshere right? Should the England football team be reserved for born and bred English players?

Michael Regan

Who have grown up with the English football culture? Or are we breaking into dangerous territory denying a player the right to represent a country after gaining citizenship. If a player who has been here for his teenage years wants to represent this country, has the desire to represent this country, are we right to deny him that right?

This conversation is of course fuelled by the recent performance of Man United starlet Adnan Januzaj. The teenage sensation scored twice on his debut against Sunderland. First of all, let’s not get carried away with this performance, it’s one game. A player that does not make. Having watched Adnan there is absolutely no doubt that this young man has some serious talent. If he stays on the straight and narrow then the sky is the limit. However he is 18 years old, and with his contract set to expire he will receive quite the pay cheque this summer. Let’s see how this young man deals with the fame and the money.

So far Adnan Januzaj has not appeared for his birth country of Belgium at any level. He is also eligible for many other countries thanks to his Albanian-Kosovan parents, he could also choose to play for Turkey and Serbia, so his options are open. If he wanted to play for the most talented team as of today, then he’d choose Belgium, as his birth place that is the most logical. However the FA are eyeing him up, and he could be eligible to play for England in 2018 under the FIFA residency rules. However is that right? As Wilshere put it, living in England for five years does not make you English!

As England fans we want to see the best players on the pitch representing our country, but do we want to see foreign born players pulling on the three lions shirt. Personally I wish Adnan the best of luck in the future, I hope he has a great career at Man United and for Belgium. I wish Adnan was born in the UK and then we could call him our own, however the pass-the-passport game the FA is dabbling in is dangerous, it would make a mockery of international football. The fact the FA are flirting with this idea gives you an idea for how they view the current talent pool and the set-up to supply talent for the next generation. Instead of looking for loopholes to bring talented foreign born players into the national set-up they should be focusing their efforts on actually improving the foundation of English football and how players are developed from grass roots football.

However is there a limit, we embrace the likes of Berahino and Zaha who were born outside England, but grew up here throughout their childhood. Adnan came to England when he was 16, many consider 18 to be the age you become a man, so where is the cut-off? Do you need to start your football career in England? Need to be here from the age of 6? 8? How about 10? Do they need to come through the educational establishment? I can see the differences between the Zaha’s and Januaj’s of the world but then you extend past the football boundaries. We have embraced several South African born and raised cricketers as English players and as a result we have seen both ASHES success and World Cup success.

In a world that is constantly changing, with families moving across the EU and international borders, I expect this topic to come up more and more. However there is one aspect that has been mentioned that I find absolutely laughable. That being if Adnan Januzaj chooses to play for England, he will have no affinity or desire for the country. If he makes that choice to represent England, it will be because he wants to play for the country that he now calls home. How many times have we read in the national newspapers that English players don’t show a commitment or desire for the national team, instead reserving their effort and commitment to their domestic team, the team that pays them more.

Finally I would just like to mention that a few fans have questions Adnan himself in relation to this. He has not said who he will play for, has not talked to the FA about the possibility of playing for England. He is a young man who is trying to carve out a career for himself in one of the most competitive teams in the most competitive league in the world. I can’t fault him for putting his international decision on hold until he has established himself more in the Premier League.