International football is widely regarded as being the pinnacle of a footballer’s career and international success is a direct reflection on the competency of a nation’s footballing association and structure, but is the necessity for success now so great that it is leading these ‘powers of football’ to abuse the ‘grandparent rule’ and lead to a dangerous flirtation with the idea of citizenship which is not only diminishing, but could altogether destroy the honour and principles of national representation?
Let’s look at the case of Irish football and I’m sure the same arguments will resonate with that of England and the increasing debate surrounding Manchester United’s new wonder kid Adnan Janusaj and his potential eligibility to represent England. Irish football in the late 80’s and early 90’s was at it’s peak with an international line-up predominately made up of players with a direct link, either through birth or parenthood, to the nation of Ireland. Obviously there were exceptions to this such as the Houghtons and Aldridges of this world but at that time it was welcomed with open arms as the players recruited with so called ‘suspect Irish roots’, like those mentioned above, were plying their trade at the top level of English football and without question enhanced the team and resulted in resurrecting the Republic’s stature from also-rans to serious contenders. Unfortunately, this manufactured success resulted in very little foresight. There was no lasting legacy, no national youth restructuring and as time progressed and the pressure to continue the success of the Charlton era increased, we found ourselves, as a national team, recruiting players whose only link to Ireland was that they probably at some stage in their adult life drank a pint of Guinness or flew on Aer Lingus. Being a player and a fan, this procedure in national selection is undoubtedly wrong and in my opinion detracts from the dream of representing one’s country, creates resentment and simply highlights the shortcomings, even laziness, of a nation and national association to produce and develop it’s very own talent.
Is it right that we now operate in a system where we have players representing a country throughout the various age groups even up until under 21 level and then switching allegiances to another country where they have a more realistic chance of performing? Is it fair on the genuine Irish players that have their dream of playing for their country snatched away by, what I would describe a “chancer” or in extreme terminology a fraud? The English FA would do well to take note. Likewise, is it acceptable that a player can choose from his own place of birth, his parents nationality, his grandparents nationality and now a seemingly free choice of acquired citizenship to suit his place in the pecking order of any one of several national structures?
The answer in my opinion is a resounding no. International choice should be solely dependent on a player’s country of birth and stretch no further than that of the birth places of either parent. The sad fact is we now have player’s scrolling through family trees in a desperate attempt to associate themselves with a country which offers them the best chance of international selection therefore rubbishing the old footballing chestnut of “it’s always been my dream to play for my country”. International football obviously brings with it lucrative rewards, and the desperation to aspire to this level of football, where one can pit one’s wits against the best players the world has to offer, will always lead players, managers and now seemingly national associations to abuse the system and achieve this regardless of personal pride and principle.
Spectators and sports writers surrounding the English national team are quick to criticise their side’s performance but one thing that they cannot criticise, and to my knowledge never have, is the true nationality of all it’s players. Before the meteoric rise of Joe Hart, the outcry that abounded when Manuel Almunia considered declaring for England was met with a chorus of disapproval from all quarters of English football. There was an overwhelming stance that if England as a nation could not produce a top class keeper then they would pick the best on offer as oppose to recruit a foreigner who merely acquired citizenship. Once again, England are faced with a similar situation involving Adnan Janusaj and it’s not just a media driven pipe dream that has raised debate but in fact, the FA themselves have contacted Manchester United and the player himself in enquiry as to his standpoint. A scenario where the FA have felt it necessary to try and tie down a promising foreign youngster who has shown no previous desire whatsoever to represent England throughout all other age groups is worrying to say the least. Is the English left flank problem so great that it needs solving by a foreigner?
A worrying situation indeed, and what message will this send out to the aspiring ‘genuinely’ English youth of English football–that being the best player in your position in your country is no longer good enough?? Let’s not forget, this is international football, a player shouldn’t be able to just transfer nationality in a similar way to a club player transferring between clubs, and likewise, a national association shouldn’t be able to act like club chairmen and effectively sign players to represent their national team albeit on a five year citizenship waiting list.
People always point to the example of Ryan Giggs and say he was wrong to choose Wales over England for the sake of career fulfilment, but it was a choice that never existed. Ryan Giggs is and always has been a Welshman, and a proud one at that. I’m sure all his caps and everytime he belted out the Welsh national anthem mean more to him now than any success a fraudulent career with England might have brought. I’m not going to criticise any player for taking the opportunity to play international football but in my eyes nationality is dependent on where you’re born and where your parents hail from alone, it should not and cannot be allowed to be manufactured and for me, the buck stops with the selection system.
In Ireland’s case, we have had the likes of Tony Cascarino who prospered during Jack Charlton’s reign only to make a mockery of his Irish heritage in his autobiography, coincidentally and cowardly after he retired. Similarly, Matt Holland, who represented Ireland on numerous occasions and even scored in a World Cup, was seen belting out the English national anthem at a play off game whilst representing Ipswich. This, in a nutshell, highlights my argument. I’m not for one minute calling into question Matt Holland’s performances for Ireland as he was a top player but should he really have been wearing an Irish shirt or was it merely a good second choice, a runner’s-up prize if you will.
Irish football both nationally and internationally has plateaued at best since the world cup in 2002. We, as a nation, now seem to be papering over the cracks in a desperate attempt to claw back past glories. In contrast with England, there appears to be little if any legacy in place, no Irish equivalent of St. Georges Park and no national academy to harness and hold onto and develop our talented youth. The Irish national leagues, rarely, if at all benefit from international success and until the structure is improved and modified from grassroots right through to professional level in the country then it will always be a national academy feeding English clubs when the real beneficiaries should be domestic based.
On the same note, the fact that English football is so infrastructurally advanced makes the FA’s fascination with Adnan Janusaj all the more alarming and unpatriotic. As Jack Wilshere quite rightly stated, “the only people who should play for England are English people….if you live in England for five years, it doesn’t make you English, you should not play”. In an industry plagued by disloyalty, let’s now preserve the prestige of international football and tighten the belt on the requirements necessary for national representation. In the case of Adnan Janusaj, let’s hope, for the future of international football that common sense and patriotism prevail, for in countries,like England, where domestic leagues are well represented by foreign imports who knows where it could lead.