In the immediate aftermath of the World Cup we, as fans, were inundated with sound bites from respective football pundits and experts of how the young German side was the example for England to follow. A team of young hungry players, playing with pride for their country, playing in an exciting brand of football, playing to win matches and perhaps most importantly playing without fear.
According to the experts the England team apparently has a lot to learn from this German side which swept aside Capello’s men so easily in South Africa.
We were told by everyone and anyone we needed to begin to develop our own players to compete with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Per Mertersacker and Thomas Mueller, who all contributed massively to the successful German world cup campaign and will all no doubt contribute even more at EURO 2012 and the World Cup in 2014. That a review of the entire system was needed.
England have to some extent began this process, with Capello naming youngsters such as Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Adam Johnson in his squad for the friendly against Hungary. With other youngsters such the promising Jack Rodwell and emerging Andy Carroll rumoured to not be far away from becoming a full international, perhaps the future is not as bleak as those still caught up in the post world cup depression might suggest.
Another way in which it is claimed England should mirror the German side is by renationalising some of the players in the Premier League. Arsenal’s Manuel Almunia and more recently Everton’s Mikel Arteta have been touted to play for England based upon them gaining British citizenship after playing in the country for five years.
The argument often used is that; if the German side are doing it, why can’t the English side?
The English cricket team for example is full of players who are of South African birth, the Captain Andrew Strauss himself was born in South Africa, so why should the football team be any different? Why shouldn’t Capello call up these two players who qualify to play when other countries, as well as other sports teams in this country are doing exactly the same thing?
The player who is currently at the centre of this argument is Mikel Arteta. Arteta is a Catalan by birth and has now played at the Merseyside club for five and a half years, gaining British citizenship earlier this year. Since joining the Toffee’s he has earned a reputation as one of the top midfielders playing in the Premier League.
Despite his undoubted quality, Arteta has never been capped by the Spanish national team, finding it difficult to get in the side in front of the plethora of world class talents available to Spain such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Francesc Fabregas.
Whilst he himself has admitted in the past that he may not be good enough for Spain, he could no doubt make an impact on the England side and whilst previously dismissing the idea of ever playing for anyone other than Spain, he has now seemingly left himself open to a call from Fabio Capello. Arteta said after being watched by Capello on Saturday against Wolves:
“I don’t know what [Fabio Capello’s] thoughts are. If one day the opportunity comes, obviously I would have to consider it very seriously.”
The apparent lack of a ball playing midfielder within the England squad, as well as the undoubted quality Arteta has at his disposal has split opinions within English football on whether or not a player who has no English ancestry should be allowed to wear the three lions. The current England captain, Steven Gerrard has himself said that he would welcome the idea of Arteta playing in the side.
For me this raises some major issues. Arteta is 28 years old, and would be 30 years old at the next major tournament and 32 at the next world cup. Whilst many are calling for the England side to be filled with more young players, at the same time we are calling for players with absolutely no ties to England to be brought into the squad who will realistically be able to play at the top level for another four years.
The FA have been criticized heavily for bringing in a foreign manager and coaching staff, but it is now suddenly acceptable to do that with the players at the expense of younger players who could feature in the England side for the next decade?
Arteta could feature at the next European Championships, maybe even at the next world cup, but at whose expense? Another young English midfielder, potentially his Everton team mate Jack Rodwell could be excluded from the squad and miss out on valuable experience at international level to accommodate Arteta. Is this really what we would describe as building for the future?
Whilst the example of the German side has been used recently as a reason, in some cases to validate peoples opinions on this subject, as to why re-nationalizing players is acceptable, I feel the example of Arteta and a lot of these German players is a different case all together. This is because in terms of nationality Arteta has absolutely no ties to the country of England whatsoever.
The examples of Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil are often cited as a Polish player and a Turkish player playing for Germany. That these players are ‘foreigners’ within the German side. What is often forgotten is that both of these players learnt their trade playing for German sides in German academies.
Podolski had German grandparents and Ozil was born in Gelsenkirchen and learnt his footballing trade through the academy at Schalke 04. If we contrast this with Arteta, he was born in the Basque region of Spain and came through the Barcelona youth academy, he only moved to England at the age of 24 when he was signed by David Moyes.
Arteta represented Spain at U17, U19 and U21 level, as did Ozil and Podolski in the German youth sides incidentally. When it comes to nationality, the fact that these players have represented the country since the age of 16 must have some bearing on the issue? Ozil has actually lived in Germany his whole life (there is a large population of German people who have Turkish backgrounds).
So despite him being born in Germany and living in the country his entire life, people still refer to him as a Turk playing for Germany? This, in my eyes is simply not the case. Again contrast the example of Ozil with Arteta, which many view as being a similar case.
Arteta was born in Spain, played for Spain at every level in youth football and only moved to Merseyside when he was 24. There is an inherent difference between the likes of Arteta and a lot of these German players who have been used as examples to try and validate the idea of a Spaniard playing for England.
From Arteta’s point of view, although he has seemingly left himself open for the call up, I think that he should look carefully at the circus that surrounds the England side and whether he really wants to be a part of that set up. Most notably he should look at the way the players in the England side are idolised by the fans, but are quickly made into villains as soon as they make one mistake (Ashley Cole’s mistake against Kazakhstan springs to mind in particular).
Other players such as John Terry, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard could all support this notion, but with Arteta being a foreigner, you’d imagine the criticism coming his way may be a bit more severe than any of his ‘English’ counterparts. He’d be under intense scrutiny from the media and the England fans, more so than any other player earning their fist call up.
If Arteta is to listen to someone from across Stanley Park about the England set up it shouldn’t be the pleas of the current England captain Steven Gerrard. He should take a look at the harsh words the recently retired Jamie Carragher had for the England fans in his autobiography and think very, very carefully about the decision he makes.