Adnan Januzaj is the latest youth sensation to sweep the Premier League, and his two goals against Sunderland made everyone take notice, even the English FA. They have been in contact with David Moyes about Januzaj’s potential eligibility when he qualifies for residency in 2 years. However, he’s not going to play for England.
Jack Wilshere, established England international that he is, doesn’t seem to be too keen. He said this about Januzaj possibly playing for England:
“For me, if you are English, you are English and you play for England. The only people who should play for England are English people. If you live in England for 5 years, it doesn’t make you English. You shouldn’t play.”
He immediately received blowback for those comments, but that’s not where the story is. The story lies in the many cases of dual-nationality taking over world soccer, and blurring what were clear international lines. Your humble scribe is no anthropologist, but being English can mean a lot of things. Being American can mean a lot of things. Even being Chinese can mean tons of things. Even with little indication that Januzaj has even thought about playing for England, this has boiled into a national debate. So, does playing for a national team these days need to retain the qualifiers of “being born in the country” and/or “being reared in the country”? Or, “So what if Adnan Januzaj sings God Save the Queen?”
As a United States National Team fan, this question has been around ever since the Yanks returned to prominence, but has become even more important to us recently. Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Terrence Boyd, John Brooks, and recently Aron Johannsson are all dual-nationals that have chosen to play for the US over either Germany or Iceland, despite limited interactions with the country growing up. The first 5 players are all sons of German mothers and (black) American servicemen, who spent the majority of their lives growing up in Germany. Does that make them any less American than Clint Dempsey, who grew up in Texas, or Michael Bradley, who grew up in an American soccer family? Nope. Even Aron Johannsson, who is the son of Icelandic parents but born in Alabama and played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton for a few years, can claim to be American under FIFA rules. Is he any less American than Tim Howard? (Hint: No, since his nickname is Aron Bacon, and how can you get more American than that?) Dual-nationals are just part of the modern game of soccer, especially with the media available to look into player heritages with a bigger microscope.
These stories are not exclusive to just the United States. Germany has players like Ilkay Gundogan on their squad, who was the son of Turkish immigrants but born in Germany. He could have played for either of the two nations but chose to play for Germany. Does that make him instantly not Turkish? No. Nuri Sahin, he of similar background, decided to play for Turkey. This has become a commonality of life in countries like Germany, Belgium, the United States, even Canada, where immigrants form a part of the soccer playing base. Even Italy has played Argentines as part of the Azzurri such as Pablo Osvaldo, and Spain is currently in the process of calling up Brazilian born Diego Costa. So even countries with such national pride and renowned youth development as Italy and Spain are willing to call up dual-nationals if they qualify, and why shouldn’t they? It’s not an indictment of their youth system to call up players like this if they feel compelled to, and it doesn’t (usually) make them seem desperate. It means they are exploring all possible options, and every country needs to do that in order to be the best. And no England, you’re not out of the woods on this.