Sunday, 29 August 2010

For Club, Not Country

With Fabio Capello set to announce his squad for the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers on Sunday evening, there is much talk of whether Mikel Arteta might have a role to play in qualification. For this to realistically happen,  Fabio would need to make a firm commitment to Arteta to give him enough encouragement to apply for a British passport, which is not a speedy process in itself. Therefore even if intent is shown, it will take a while for anything to happen. Yet for my money, it's a process that should be rendered unnecessary anyway.

Arteta's quality is undeniable, but it is not enough to get him into the squad of the country of his birth, albeit one that is the best in the world. He should not be given a second international opportunity with England. Just because the rules in other sports such as Cricket or Rugby Union are happily exploited, it doesn't mean to say it's right. Football allowed plenty of leeway already with the grandparent rule. You can argue that the grandparent rule itself is a step too far in terms of eligibility, after all it left us with Irish international with Scottish, Lancastrian and , in the case of Mick McCarthy, broad Yorkshire accents.

The Arteta debate is nothing new. Just under two years ago, Manuel Almunia became potentially eligible to play for England under the same five year residency rule. At the time, with England's potential candidates in mixed form, he was viewed in some quarters as a potential solution to national goalkeeping woes. According to former FA head David Davies, Sven Goran Erikkson had also considered Carlo Cudicini as an alternative solution between the sticks years earlier. Whatever the concerns of handing a 31 year old keeper his international debut ahead of blooding younger homegrown talent, the fact remains he is Spanish. He was born in Spain and spent the first 27, of his now 33, years living there. That should not (but seemingly does) qualify you to play for England.

Surprisingly, the outcry in the media at the time of the Almunia debate wasn't overly vociferous and, even more surprisingly, the Daily Mail was willing to suggest other potential England players. Although how serious they were is questionable, given the article referred to the potential candidates as "Johnny Foreigners" and proposed such footballing luminaries as Noe Pamarot, Jeremy Aliadiere, Franck Quedrue and Antoine Sibierski. If England as a nation cannot provide footballers of an equivalent or better quality than those, then things are seriously worse than we might have envisaged.

Many countries have benefited from the residency rules. Spain effectively utilised the Brazilian workhorse Marco Senna in their Euro 2008 triumph. Fellow Brazilians, Deco and Liedson have represented Portugal, but without catapulting them to any great success and Cacau featured for Germany in the recent World Cup, scoring against Australia. However, just because they are willing to exploit these rules, doesn't mean England should. Maybe it's a bit of an old-fashioned view, but it is just not right. I'd say it's just not cricket, but it clearly is!

Sadly my view is not shared by the players. Perhaps with one eye on success and the personal gains that would provide, Steven Gerrard said this week; "I'd certainly love nothing better than to see Mikel Arteta available for England. You want to play with the best players, and if it makes the England squad better, of course I'd like to see it. I think it happens to most national teams [that they pick non-nationals], but it's up to him if he wants to make himself available.You want to play with the best players, and if it makes the England squad better, of course I'd like to see it." Perhaps he wouldn't share that view if he felt his starting place would be challenged?

Rightly there are concerns regarding the dearth of quality English talent in key positions and the fact that younger players struggle to get the opportunity to develop in the bigger Premier League clubs when experienced foreign players are available. The latter could well contribute to the lack of players who progress from England u-18 and u-19 teams, as promising youngsters are stockpiled at the big clubs, stifling their developments. Michael Mancienne is a prime example, now in his 3rd loan spell from Chelsea to Wolves. Ten of his under-21 squad colleagues struggle to make the matchday squads at their respective clubs and three others have gone on loan to gain first team experience.

Closer to home for me, Spurs paid a reported £10m to secure the signing of Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker, two of the most exciting talents seen at my club (Sheffield United) for a long time. Neither is making the matchday squad of 18 and will potentially be sent out on loan next week. Jacob Mellis, an England u-16 international, joined Chelsea from United for an undisclosed, but assumed significant, sum in 2007. Since then he has made it only as far as Southampton on loan. There are many other examples at other clubs.

The new homegrown rules do little to help, as the big clubs will have a large proportion of promising youngsters brought into academies from overseas at a young age. These can form part of the homegrown element of Premier League squads and so any English players are squeezed further down the list.

I am hoping that the FA show some bottle and block any move for players qualifying by residency. They appear unable to do little to affect the Premier League clubs behaviours in terms of youth development, but here they can make a small, but important contribution.

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