As appears to be the norm during the early stages of every season, it seems we have a new darling of the moment on the scene. Over the years, we’ve observed the emergence of some incredible and precious talent in players of such tender years – David Beckham, Glenn Hoddle and recently Jack Wilshire, have all burst into the game with a bang. I’m referring to Manchester United’s new wonder kid, the eighteen year old Adnan Januzaj. Standby for the stereotypical comparisons with United legends of the past in the tabloid press.
What interests me the most about Januzaj, is not his undoubted ability or future potential, but the clammer by several managers of international teams throughout Europe to gain his allegiance to their respective country. I’m having to think long and hard for a previous player who can have the pick of which country they wish to represent. Oh Yes - Owen Hargreaves. Hargreaves was born in Canada to English parents who had emigrated there, and then began his career at Bayern Munich. Due to living in Bavaria for over five years, he was eligible to represent Germany too, but as we all know he plumed for the Three Lions.
There’s much said in the press over Januzaj and his options on the world stage, and to be honest if he decides to wait the five years grace period then wear the England shirt with pride, I’m all for it. We welcome people of other nations into our international teams of other sports, yet there seems to be a problem when it comes to our football team. Which is quite silly, as we have had men born beyond our little island represent us. Besides Hargreaves, John Barnes (born in Jamaica), Michael Owen (born on the Welsh border near Chester), both became England greats and very loyal servants to the F.A, carrying our standard banner at all tournaments asked of them. I’d love to see this new ‘find’ in our colours at a future World Cup.
Back in the late eighties when the Republic of Ireland team became a force to be reckoned with under Jack Charlton, no-one cared – in fact mocked – their criteria in order to wear their green shirt with shamrock on chest. At their first appearance at an international tournament, only a handful of their squad were born on the Emerald Isle, the other’s claiming Irish heritage through their parents, grand-parents, or even their wife’s nationality!! Yes – some of the ‘claims’ were that tenuous. No wonder the running joke at the time was if your auntie owned an Irish wolfhound and had a few Val Doonican records hidden away at the back of her garage, you were a dead-cert to be picked. In reality, some of the links were stretching credibility to the limit be honest, but I can’t blame any of them. If you were over looked by the nation of your birth, and due to grandad being born in Cork, I’d have done same to play on the ultimate stage. I was born in Coventry, and if I’d became a reasonably useful player (stop laughing at the back), I’d have been honoured to represent England. However, my maternal grandfather was Scottish, plus my maternal grandmother’s own mother was French, so all I can gather is the Irish F.A had one very thorough and over-worked genealogy department.
And the thing that surprised everyone is, FIFA accepted this, and these men played for Ireland with pride, in a way you’d be convinced they grew up in Galway. Going by this rationale, it’s therefore possible to say Lionel Messi should be (said with tongue firmly in cheek) lining up in our midfield alongside Stevie G, as his father’s second cousin was a member of the Argentine army that invaded the Falklands in the early eighties. He was captured during the conflict, and became the responsibility of Britain under the Geneva Convention until being re-patriated. Thus, was an ‘English citizen’ for a while. If only.
Januzaj will most likely nail his colours to the mast of his parents, which will be a blow to England and Belgium, but Albanian’s gain. The F.A can try and persuade the young fellow as much as they like, but its family heritage and tradition that always wins. This is why in the past when the F.A tried to gain the services of players who had resided here for quite some time, but were of a different nationality, they very rarely succeed. The Liverpool attacking midfielder from the eighties – Australian Craig Johnston – springs to mind. Although capped by England Under 21s, he did not play for the full side. Possibly his playing style was ahead of it’s time, as it wasn’t until the emergence of Wayne Rooney a couple of decades later that England fielded a player of this type. Johnston did appear in a beer advertisement at the time, with him sighting his Australian background as his reasoning for not representing his adopted nation featuring heavily in the TV commercial.
Plus, if you do play for your country and decide to change which shirt you wear, remember that is possible too – Hungarian ace and Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas represented his homeland on numerous occasions during the fifties, but accepted the call of his adopted country (Spain) when it came. And FIFA accepted this too.