The performance of Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj against Sunderland has sparked an unexpected debate. The 18 year old scored two crucial goals in a United victory which led to the Football Association making enquiries about the player’s eligibility to represent the English National Team. The nationalisation issue has been a prominent debate throughout the international break.
Jack Wilshere was asked about the issue before England’s World Cup Qualifier with Montenegro and said, ‘The only people to play for England should be English people’. This is clearly his personal opinion but the FA cannot hold a similar view as it would stifle a healthy debate about the future of the national team.
There have been well documented examples of players achieving success at international level with their adopted countries. Brazilian born Marcos Senna played a key role as a holding-midfielder in Spain’s 2008 European Championship triumph.
Italy, Spain and Germany have all had players from other countries adopt them as at national level in the last few years but England have not followed this example. It wasn’t long ago that Paul Robinson’s drop in form and the young age of goalkeepers such as Joe Hart and Ben Foster saw calls for Manuel Almunia to be made England’s Number 1. This never happened, and perhaps it should have.
This little Englander mentality that those who don’t originate from within our borders can’t proudly represent the national team to the best of their ability is outdated. This is a view backed by England U21’s Manager Gareth Southgate who recently said ‘We have lots of boys in our squad who weren’t born here but whose families have fled here, and they are incredibly proud to play for England.’
For this reason the Football Association are correct to make enquiries into a very talented player that could in the future enhance the national team, albeit in 2018 when he becomes eligible. This case must not be seen as a quick fix in the debate about improving the national team.
A recent study revealed that English players made up less than a third of all Premier League minutes. Glenn Hoddle who was recently selected to a commission to improve homegrown footballers ‘has a multitude of ideas’ including ‘being bold and saying that there has to be X amount of players in a squad of 18 or the starting 11’.
This is a model that has worked for other European countries and would go some way to giving opportunities to English players at the top level. The answer is not black and white and has to be a mix of solutions such as investment in more coaches and better coaching methods, acknowledgement of mental health, quotas to give opportunities to homegrown players parallel to open-mindedness about players adopting England as their National Team.