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England Need to Naturalize Players Or Forget About World Cup Glory

england England Need to Naturalize Players Or Forget About World Cup Glory

The debate this week about the potential use of naturalized players of non-English descent in the England national team has flared up once again. For me, it is partly an ugly debate that has elements of xenophobia in it but also a glorious debate demonstrating a nation and people determined to maintain standards of fair play and homogeneity in their football side. English clubs are looking to the continent regularly in this era to replenish their youth ranks, meaning youngsters who are uncapped as internationals at the senior level will be eligible for England duty in some cases by the time they turn 21 under current FIFA statutes.

Meanwhile, the Diego Costa saga roles on with World and European champions Spain proactively trying to improve their side by poaching a player who was capped for Brazil as recently as March. After obtaining Spanish citizenship this summer, Costa and the Spanish Federations have applied for a one-time nationality change. When Costa’s change is approved, this could be a major boost to the dominant team in international soccer who continue to work hard to continue their hegemony over the global game.

Let’s take the fair play argument first. If one believes that national teams in association football should be made up entirely of domestic born players, that is fair. However it’s perhaps an unrealistic argument. England has previously featured John Barnes, who moved to England in his teen years, and Canadian born and raised Owen Hargreaves who had never lived in England when he was first capped in 2001 (he played for FC Bayern at the time). But both had a certain “Englishness” about them critics would argue.

While other nations shamelessly exaggerate ties to players through grandparents, aunts and whatever, England believes in keeping a team full of Englishmen representing England. Winning the World Cup is not worth compromising one’s national identity and ethnic purity. This is what those advocating England stay “English” essentially are saying.

The players that have previously been eligible to be naturalized and play for England through the years have been less English than the likes of Barnes and Hargreaves. For example, when the thought of Mikel Arteta suiting up for the Three Lions was raised in 2010, fans throughout the country were irate saying that it would no longer be an English team if Arteta was capped. As it turned out, Arteta was ineligible for England duty, but the debate over his potential inclusion in the national team crystalized the discussion.

In recent years, notoriously ethno-centric countries (as so characterized by the British press) such as Italy, Poland, Greece and Czech Republic have naturalized and capped foreign players after playing the required number of years in their respective domestic leagues.

England has arguably the best domestic league in the world and yet a large contingent of English fans seems unwilling to take advantage of this. Many foreign players come to the Premier League and, like Arteta, do not feature for the national team of their nation of birth. Yet, while other nations take advantage of the strength of their domestic leagues, in England it is seen as a hindrance to international progress by a large amount of fans.

The United States has been particularly shameless in courting players in recent years that are eligible to play for other nations while a great number of American fans consider those who switched from the US to other nations as “traitors”.

Speaking from an American perspective, having gone from almost a purely “American” team in 2006 to a squad with a number of German-Americans raised in Germany today, the transition can be difficult. But at the same time, the United States has deepened its player pool and made up for the glaring deficiencies in domestic player development (similar problems that England has) by employing this policy. But many here look back at the American teams of the early 1990s and felt the number of naturalized players in that era was more down to being an adolescent in international football and that two decades later the USA would be past this.

But international soccer has changed in the two decades since USA’s CONCACAF Gold Cup triumph in 1991 where many foreign born players featured. Even the top nations such as Spain, Italy, Germany and others are naturalizing players and featuring them at the highest level of international competition.

England on the other hand seems wed to rigid ideology rather than pragmatism. It being a national team, I would leave it to the English to decide how to proceed but it is important to note that unilateral disarmament, which the English attitude amounts to, will make it more and more difficult to replicate the glory of 1966 anytime soon.

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About Kartik Krishnaiyer

A lifelong lover of soccer, the beautiful game, he served from January 2010 until May 2013 as the Director of Communications and Public Relations for the North American Soccer League (NASL). Raised on the Fort Lauderdale Strikers of the old NASL, Krishnaiyer previously hosted the American Soccer Show on the Champions Soccer Radio Network, the Major League Soccer Talk podcast and the EPL Talk Podcast. His soccer writing has been featured by several media outlets including The Guardian and The Telegraph. He is the author of the book Blue With Envy about Manchester City FC.
View all posts by Kartik Krishnaiyer →

11 Responses to England Need to Naturalize Players Or Forget About World Cup Glory

  1. sas says:

    Media for years has been talking about foreign players have affected young English players places in Premiere League clubs.If nnationalizing a foreign player would sort England trophy drought shouldn’t it be done years ago? It would also ‘kill’ young players’ future wouldn’t it?I don’t want to go on who deserves to play but if media and some English alike were pointing their fingers to foreign players on everything bad they should be thinking of acquiring them shouldn’t they? But it’s just me.

  2. john marzan says:

    i think it’s better if england, scotland, ireland, wales, and northern ireland form a superteam and play as one (Team UK). Remember how dominant USSR was? Imagine a Yugoslavian Basketball team today instead of having separate teams (slovenia, croatia, serbia, macedonia)

  3. john marzan says:

    The United States has been particularly shameless in courting players in recent years that are eligible to play for other nations while a great number of American fans consider those who switched from the US to other nations as “traitors”.

    Speaking from an American perspective, having gone from almost a purely “American” team in 2006 to a squad with a number of German-Americans raised in Germany today, the transition can be difficult. But at the same time, the United States has deepened its player pool and made up for the glaring deficiencies in domestic player development (similar problems that England has) by employing this policy. But many here look back at the American teams of the early 1990s and felt the number of naturalized players in that era was more down to being an adolescent in international football and that two decades later the USA would be past this.

    there’s no need for “naturalization” when these german players have at least one american parent. jus sanguinis applies.

    the problem is when your team is made up mostly of “naturalized” players who neither have american parents nor were born in the USA. 1 or 2 foreign mercenaries is fine, but a whole bunch of them? then you should stop calling yourselves a “national” team. this has nothing to do with “xenophobia”

  4. john marzan says:

    FIBA allows one naturalized player per country.

    Serge Ibaka plays for Spain. Russia regularly employs naturalized african american players in the Point guard position.

    my feeling is it’s okay to have these naturalized mercenaries as long as they are not of the superstar caliber players like Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi. (We shouldnt cheat to win.) Just Role players to fill gaps in your team’s lineup.

  5. john marzan says:

    compared to other foreigners, canadian Owen Hargreaves “englishness” stems from having english parents.

  6. Bergkamp_10 says:

    Whether Jack Wilshere or people like him, like it or not, England will have no choice but to play foreign born players. The more England refrain from this kind of petty mentality the better. This is doing no good. if you are a better player, you will get your chance. Stop spewing rubbish, Jack. England will never win with this level of thinking.

    I mean, he doesn’t have to look any further than Germany and see how cosmopolitan it has become. I never hear any German footballers complaining about this. Why? Because they know if they are good, they will get their chance.

    And then what’s this rubbish about English players tackling hard and bla bla bla. No wonder English football has declined.

  7. john marzan says:

    “Whether Jack Wilshere or people like him, like it or not, England will have no choice but to play foreign born players. The more England refrain from this kind of petty mentality the better. This is doing no good. if you are a better player, you will get your chance. Stop spewing rubbish, Jack. England will never win with this level of thinking.

    I mean, he doesn’t have to look any further than Germany and see how cosmopolitan it has become. I never hear any German footballers complaining about this. Why? Because they know if they are good, they will get their chance. ”

    ozil, sahin, khedira and gundogan are not “foreign born players”

    • Pakapala says:

      Thank you!
      Tired of people mistakenly talking about Germany’s current squad as a bunch of naturalized players. The “foreigners” on the German team as of the last World Cup were Klose and Podolski, if I remember correctly, even then they are as foreign to Germany as Zaha is to England.

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