THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

5 October ~ There’s a Scottish midfielder in the Premier League who’s been an ever-present for his side this season, and who’s been garnering high praise from his manager for his skills and his work rate. Thank goodness there’s a Scotsman in form just as the national team shapes up to play away in the Czech Republic, followed by a less than easy home game with the world and European champions. Meanwhile, an Englishman is being lionised for the passing abilities that have helped take FSV Mainz to the top of the Bundesliga with maximum points from seven games. An English midfielder with passing vision? Not before time given that we haven’t seen the like since the decline of Paul Gascoigne.

Except that Stuart Holden of Bolton Wanderers cannot play for Scotland. He was long since snapped up by the US. And Lewis Holtby of Mainz, despite having declared an ambition to one day play for Everton (the team supported by his English father), has also declared a preference to play for Germany (the land of his mother). It seems that when it comes to luring players of dual nationality the home nations have a tendency to lose out. Instead of scouting Aberdeen-born Holden, Scotland picked up Chris Iwelumo, squanderer of the worst miss in the history of international football. Instead of being alert to the rise of Holtby, England managed to pry the injury-wracked legs of Owen Hargreaves from the grasp of poor little Canada.

Of course the players make these decisions on their own, but it helps when they feel wanted. Given Scotland’s apparent inability to produce players of international quality, you’d think they’d be paying attention to potential recruits from abroad. Yet when former Scotland manager Alex McLeish was told of Holden’s potential in 2007, just as he was emerging very strongly with the Houston Dynamo in Major League Soccer, his reaction was to say that he’d heard the player was “a bit of a talent and we’ll definitely be taking a look. If Stuart continues to show up well we’d be delighted to consider him part of our future plans.” Just over half a year later, Holden was capped by the US for the first time. And I don’t want to second-guess the thought patterns of the Scottish FA and its employees, but it would be no surprise if snobbery about the perceived standards of MLS played a role in their clear lack of urgency to follow up on the player.

“Stuart has been magnificent for me since day one,” said Bolton manager Owen Coyle last week. “The energy he shows, the level of his play, fans are reacting to that. We think the world of him, and the way he's playing at the moment is terrific for the club.” At 25, he’s approaching the peak years of his career. Never mind the Czech Republic and Spain, Scotland could have used a player of his energy, industry and dead-ball skills against Lichtenstein. And on Saturday, Germany coach Joachim Löw watched the still uncapped Holtby set up three goals for Mainz, before being fouled to win a penalty that sealed their fourth. “The pass he made to set up the first goal was worth the entrance money alone,” said Löw. The Süddeutsche Zeitung quoted the "golden sunnyboy” as saying that his passing skills are “instinctive”. Oh England, an instinctive passer. Just imagine! I bet Wayne Rooney does.

When England and Scotland miss out like this, it’s not just sheer bad luck that the players opt for international careers away from the UK, even allowing for personal reasons. First, there’s the evidently weak scouting network. Second, there’s a fallacious complacency that if a player is lost, there are plenty of others to choose from. And within that is a more insidious parochialism hinting at a reluctance to bring on board players who haven’t grown up within “our system”. This links to a third factor. Namely, given the choice, what right-minded player would look at the current Scotland and England set-ups and not choose the US and Germany as preferable alternatives? The poor results, the drab performances, and a moribund culture riddled with insularity and misplaced arrogance would be enough to repel any talented prospect. As usual, we’re the architects of our own loss. Ian Plenderleith

Comments (12)
Comment by scofmann 2010-10-05 13:23:05

"An English midfielder with passing vision? Not before time given that we haven’t seen the like since the decline of Paul Gascoigne."

After some ridiculous early season plaudits at least we can now start glossing over Paul Scholes completely...

Comment by pashley 2010-10-05 16:39:52

Never mind "poor little Canada" Hargreaves had represented Wales at various levels and was all set to win his first cap before England pinched him!

Comment by Lincoln 2010-10-05 17:08:54

Holtby can still play for England. Also might be worth getting the quote as to why, despite this exciting game the German manager watched, Holtby didn't make it into the squad. Mainz are brilliantly drilled by their manager, as individual players they are not so good and Low probably realises that Holtby will struggle in a new style.

Comment by Broon 2010-10-06 00:24:52

I realise it's not convenient for the self-critical bent of the article, but the reason these players are not choosing Scotland or England is because they've lived most (or all) their lives in America and Germany. That's it. Some you win, some you lose.

What's of more concern to Scots is losing McCarthy and McGeady to Ireland, both lads who were born and raised entirely in Scotland, but I'm sure we're all by now sick of going over that old one...

Comment by ooh aah 2010-10-06 08:43:23

'Instead of being alert to the rise of Holtby, England managed to pry the injury-wracked legs of Owen Hargreaves from the grasp of poor little Canada.'

Come on, Hargreaves was picked up by England nearly 10 years ago (and he wasn't crocked then). At that time Holtby would have been a child.

Comment by Antepli Ejderha 2010-10-06 10:19:26

Hargreaves was courted by Wales for a number of years, Jimmy Shoulder did most of the work here but he never played in a game that would have tied him to Wales. He was not pinched by Englan as such but of the four countries he could have opted for England was the one with the weakest link to him, born in Canada, football learnt in Germany and junior international football with Wales. England popped on the scene with a World Cup ticket and he took that.

Comment by imp 2010-10-06 15:09:05

Holden was born in Aberdeen to Scottish parents and moved to the US when he was 10 - long enough to develop an affiliation for his homeland, and more than half his life before he was capped for the US youth teams. No one in Scotland made any effort to follow up on the tip. The US system nurtured him and so perhaps deserves him (if we were going to be moralistic about it), but at a time when the Scottish system is producing so few decent players, they should have fewer scruples about chasing up good players who qualify by birthright. Every other country does it. Though long term, a revolution in the methodology of Scottish youth football would be more welcome.

Lincoln - I imagine the reason Loew didn't pick Holtby just yet is because he doesn't necessarily need to. Germany's packed with midfield talent, and Holtby's already stated his preference, so he doesn't need to 'rush-cap' him.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-10-06 17:19:05

Very true on the midfield front but Holtby has kept a British passport so that he might play for England one day. If Capello called him, who knows what could happen?

Comment by Janik 2010-10-07 10:24:13

Hargreaves was an excellent player for a number of seasons for Bayern and England, before the injuries took hold. Going for him wasn't an irrational thing to do at all, even if his career he has been prematurely ended.

To summarise, England miss out on dual-nationality players, except when they don't.

Comment by imp 2010-10-07 13:29:52

Except, in the case of Hargreaves, he's not an exceptional player - and by that, I mean he's a very English player. Hard-working, but not an opener of quality defences. It wouldn't have made a huge difference to England's modest achievements whether he'd played or not.

Comment by Coral 2010-10-07 14:45:45

Is it a defensive midfielder's job to open a defence? Hargreaves was voted player of the tournament for England a few years back.

Comment by imp 2010-10-07 16:08:32

{takes deep breath) No, I'm saying that the dual-nationality players England may attract or make more of an effort to recruit are generally of the kind they already have. Thus, in the original piece (it seems so long ago), I suggest Holtby would prefer Germany over England (because Germany suits his style), while England would make less of an effort to chase him because he's not seen as one of the hard-working, fight-for-yer-country blah blah lads that they typically stack their midfield with.

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