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Why Mikel Arteta Shouldn’t and Won’t Be Called Up For England

August 23, 2010 3 comments

“If one day the opportunity comes obviously I would have to consider it very seriously”

Even with six goal thrashings, transfer deadline day looming and the vacant managerial position at Aston Villa, the England team never seems to stray too far from the headlines these days. The World Cup post-mortem continues with the future a hot topic for discussion.

Despite the fallings of Italian coach Fabio Capello, it seems the latest answer will also come from abroad. England are not just hoping to acquire inspiration from world champions Spain, they are also hoping to acquire their unwanted personnel.

Spanish-born midfielder Mikel Arteta has announced he would seriously consider representing England should they choose to select him. Arteta qualifies for England due to this FIFA ruling which states you can acquire a new nationality if:

“He has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 on the territory of the relevant Association”

Arteta would contemplate playing for England

After arriving in 2005, Arteta ticks that box and his name is now firmly in discussions regarding the next England squad.

The concept of nationality is a murky one. In the ever-growing, multi-cultural society we live in, nationality boundaries are blurred. I have no problem with a player representing a country if he has a biological link or if he has spent five years living on the territory BEFORE the age of 18, but the current ruling which Arteta may utilise throws up some serious issues.

The English don’t need to look far to see the benefits of acquiring ‘international’ talent. Anyone who has ever consumed a Sunday roast, performed a morris dance or listened intently to the queen’s speech has been considered for selection by the England Cricket Board. Kevin Pietersen, Michael Lumb, Craig Kieswetter, Matt Prior, Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott and Eoin Morgan were all born outside the country. Though the key difference here is they all have direct English relations (excluding Kieswetter who has a Scottish father), usually parents and in some cases grandparents. Mikel Arteta does not.

The football team itself have fielded players not born in England before. But they at least have an affiliation with the country, be it through blood (Owen Hargreaves) or through a move during childhood (John Barnes, Terry Butcher). Again, Arteta matches neither criterion.

Other countries do expose this FIFA naturalisation ruling but not as many as believed. Brazilians Deco, Pepe and Liédson elected to play for Portugal after they had moved there to play club football.

France’s successful campaign in 1998 had its fair share of questionable cases but they didn’t expose the same rule Arteta may do. Patrick Vieira, born in Senegal moved to France at eight, Ghanaian-born Marcel Desailly moved when he was four, Lilian Thuram and Christian Karembeu were born in French-ruled territories Guadeloupe and New Caledonia.  The rest were born in France.

Indeed the Germans are frequently cited as an example of acquiring talent which isn’t strictly their own. However Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski have strong German ties through their families, Sami Khedira, Mesut Özil and Jérôme Boateng were all born in Germany and Marko Marin has been in Germany since he was two. Only Brazilian-born Cacau’s situation is similar to Arteta’s.  

Germany and France possess players with different ethnic identities, but the country they represent has been a part of their lives for many years either through blood or residency.

Arteta’s proposed inclusion has many supporters. Dejected with England’s World Cup showing, Arteta is a clear upgrade on what England already have. He is technically sound, adept at preserving possession and has a good understanding of the Premier League. But he simply ISN’T English. In fact, he isn’t even English based on FIFA’s rulings, he is British.

Desailly moved to France at the age of four

There are also wider ramifications should Arteta choose to ‘become’ English. Arteta has UK citizenship meaning he is also eligible for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If these countries elect to choose anyone who has a UK passport, Scotland and Wales could soon become England’s ‘B’ team. It is this conundrum which is also likely to be the sticking point in any call-up for Arteta. Nacho Novo found this out when he declared he would opt to play for Scotland should they so desire his services. SFA chief Gordon Smith said at the time:

“We have had discussions with the other associations in the past couple of days and I’ve found out that everyone is adhering to our agreement, and that, subsequently, we’re all going down the line that we will use bloodline as the basis for eligibility.”

You only need to look at the debacle that is Great Britain’s 2012 team to see how important the distinction between the four countries is to these associations. England’s loyalty to the gentlemen’s agreement will be tested this time and Arteta would be a precedent-setting pick which would break down the barriers between the individual British countries.

There are other dilemmas with this current rule. English clubs already take foreign players in at a young age, for example Manchester United have just signed Dutch teenager Gyliano van Velzen from Ajax. There is nothing to stop England effectively buying in and nurturing their future international team. Suddenly international football would develop a transfer system where the major countries could simply inherit the best young talent as they do at club level.

Players should have to reach one of two criteria to represent a country at international level. One would be that the player has a biological relation from that country, mother, father or grandparent. The second would be that the player had resided in the country for five years before the age of 18 to avoid countries farming in the top international talent to call their own when they mature. This rule would include Marcel Desailly, a child who immersed himself in French culture and was brought up in the French football system. However it would exclude Mikel Arteta, Manuel Almunia and Carlo Cudicini, players who were born and raised outside of England and whose only relation to the country is their current adult residency here.

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Fabio Capello Must Change in Order to Succeed with England


“The key to success is often the ability to adapt”

This weekend provided an intriguing insight into the possible future of the England team under Fabio Capello. The retirements of Paul Robinson and Wes Brown were both bizarre and untimely. They may have little impact on Capello’s team selection but they were further examples of the communication problems emanating from the England camp. Capello’s face will have turned a shade of scarlet after these premature retirements but he would have been even more frustrated at the Wembley snubs from both Ashley Cole and Michael Carrick.

When facing the music this afternoon, Capello admitted that he needed to improve the mindsets of the players. The withdrawals of Robinson and Brown, coupled with the chilly receptions from Cole and Carrick have simply reaffirmed this. The problem is, Capello stated he simply doesn’t know how to. It is a massive admission from a man who commands £6 million a year to concede that he sees no way to improve the attitudes of his own players.

Terry's World Cup press conference undermined Capello

He should begin by looking squarely in the mirror. What was painstakingly obvious from this summer’s debacle was that Capello had lost his own dressing room. When he accepted the England manager’s job we were led to believe he was a disciplinarian. He would command the respect of this country’s elite and was supposedly a breath of fresh air after Steve McClaren who was more of a mate than a manager.

The initial signs were positive. A highly successful qualifying campaign brought back the lofty expectations that come around every two years. But as soon as the squad came together in South Africa things started to turn sour. The players were isolated, bored and unhappy; this manifested itself onto the pitch where England embarrassed themselves continually. The most poignant moment was a John Terry press conference where he called for immediate changes; Capello was being undermined.

For the record, I don’t believe Capello is to blame for England’s pitiful showing in South Africa. Any post-mortem should focus on the absence of a winter break. It was not just England’s players but the majority of the Premier League’s finest who toiled away in South Africa. The entire England squad faced a rigorous year in the Premier League whilst the majority of their counterparts enjoyed lengthy breaks midway through the year.

For now Capello can do nothing but lament the current schedule and hope a change comes soon enough. In hindsight, he should have lobbied harder for a mid-season break when he signed his initial deal. No doubt the large sums on offer were enough to dissuade him from pushing the issue further.

Capello should take note of the situation in France

Aside from the scheduling concerns, Capello must address the internal problems. In this situation, if he wants his students to change, the teacher himself must adapt also. Players like Terry enjoy far more leverage at club level and more than likely they had more sway under McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson too. The laid-back style of these two previous English coaches may have failed but it appears Capello’s head teacher-like style isn’t paying dividends either. Capello needs to discover a happy medium.

If he doesn’t, expect another repeat of this summer’s abysmal showing because if the players don’t want to play for their manager there is no chance success will come. Although it is certainly a more extreme case, one can’t help but look at the mess that erupted on the other side of the Channel. France’s Raymond Domenech didn’t command an ounce of respect from his players and the effects were mortifying. The French team is stacked with talent but without any motivation, they were merely a laughing stock. Brian Clough is another case in point. Clough remains one of the finest to have ever managed but even he was primed for nothing but disaster the moment he walked into that Leeds United dressing room back in 1974.

Capello’s relationship with his players is not as strained as these examples but it is also far from perfect. The man who was once held in such high regard has become an outcast. Unless he changes his ways and regains that respect, Capello will continue to fail with this group of players.