Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal midfielder, has reacted to the Football Association’s desire to secure the services of the Manchester United 18-year-old winger Adnan Januzaj by saying that, ”the only people who should play for England are English people”. For Wilshere, only players born in England should be allowed to play for England.
Januzaj was born in Belgium from Kosovan-Albanian parents and is therefore eligible to represent Belgium, Albania, Turkey, Serbia and Kosovo, who haven’t been recognized by FIFA yet. However, if he chooses to play for England, Januzaj would have to wait until he is 23. A player has to live continuously for five years in a country after the age of 18 to be eligible for that country. Wilshere also added, ”if you live in England for five years, for me, it doesn’t make you English”. How many years do you have to live in England to be English Jack?
I understand Wilshere’s pride to be English, but how do you define Englishness? Wilfried Zaha and Raheem Sterling were born respectively in Ivory Coast and Jamaica but are seen as two of the best English young players. They both moved to England at a very young age and have lived in England longer than in the country they were born.I wonder if Wilshere thinks that they are ”English enough” to play for England. Mo Farah, Somalian-born track and field athlete who moved to England at the age of 8 won two gold medals for Great Britain at the London Olympics. If we follow Wilshere’s logic, Farah shouldn’t have represented Great Britain despite the fact that he has lived 22 years in England.
Many African-born players (Patrick Vieira, Patrice Evra etc.) decided to play for France because that’s the country they grew up in and were more attached to France than to their parent’s country. The only issue with a foreign-born player would be if he has played for another country before like Victor Moses who played for England’s youth teams before choosing Nigeria. In Moses’ case, it’s clear that he played for Nigeria just because it was a better opportunity for him to play international soccer and not because he feels more Nigerian than English.
In today’s world, with so many people living away from their countries and having kids with people from different countries and cultures, it’s very difficult to define Britishness, Frenchness etc. Januzaj might never speak English with an English accent. But if he feels English enough to represent England, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that.