Friday 1 May ~

Following Wednesday's Champions League games there was such a flurry of positive coverage about Arsenal that you would be forgiven for thinking they had beaten Man Utd. What they did do was restrain Alex Ferguson's team to scoring only one goal, mostly due to a series of outstanding saves made by Manuel Almunia. This performance has reignited a debate that feeds two of England's greatest national psychoses: immigration and the national team's goalkeeper.

On July 14 Almunia will have been at Arsenal for five years, making him eligible for a British passport and selection for a national football team. The player has said before that he would consider playing for England. At the moment however he is remaining fairly coy: "Maybe I will get a passport, then after, if I get the call-up, I will think about this." This morning it was reported that Fabio Capello would consider picking the Arsenal goalkeeper if he were eligible.

But while player and manager leave the decision to each other, the English national goalkeeper situation is causing as much worry as ever. Several hopefuls have come and gone. Younger players are regarded as not yet ready – Joe Hart has not been helped by Shay Given's arrival at Eastlands; current incumbent David James is approaching 40. So a regular goalkeeper for a top-four Premier League team with the possibility of a British passport is causing much soul-searching.

It is a fairly new situation for England. The other home nations have often used the cases of grandparent lineage to call up players for the national squad. This has not always been simple. Tony Cascarino found out 11 years after his Ireland debut there was no actual blood relation to his Irish grandfather, and in his autobiography he stated: "I didn't qualify for Ireland. I was a fraud. A fake Irishman." Until now there has been a rather arrogant English presumption that “this sort of thing" is for smaller countries only.

The other difference in Almunia's case, of course, is that the claim of nationality is based on citizenship rather than heritage, however dubious. This is not a new idea at FA level. According to former FA chief executive David Davies “very serious consideration” was given to Sven Göran-Eriksson's plan of looking into switching the nationality of four Premier League players (Carlo Cudicini, Louis Saha, Steed Malbranque and Edu) in order to play for England in 2004. This went no further following concerns expressed by goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence.

Yet with Almunia's Wednesday performance still fresh in the collective memory the debate has reappeared. Today in the Sun, Harry Redknapp stated that: "If it came to a choice between England winning the World Cup with a Spanish keeper or not winning it, I’d rather not win." But Redknapp goes on to say: "You’re English if you were born here or your mum and dad were born here. In that case, I don’t care if your family comes from India, Australia, Pakistan or Jamaica — you’re English in my mind." Moving swiftly on from the slightly dubious colonial basis of Redknapp's argument, this is all very simple as long as the "birth" rule is applied. But how long will it be before desperation kicks in?

Comments (6)
Comment by Rojinegro 2009-05-01 17:26:53

This same debate goes on in other places as well. Incidentally, in Sven's brief spell as Mexican national team coach, the "seleccion" actually ran on to the field with three non-Mexican born players and there was another on the bench (2 argentines and 2 brazilians). Just like Redknapp, there's been a variety of ex-players and coaches decrying the practice. In the last 15 years the Mexican league has become a major economic force attracting pretty good South American talent. Therefore, the temptation to call them up in our squad after they gain Naturalization is great.

In contrast to England though, we are set for the goalkeeper position what we desperately lack is strikers and creative midfielders. However, it is easy to see why we lack them since our club teams' whole attacking set up is generally foreign (Mexican clubs are allowed 5 foreign players in their roster).

Comment by Duncan Gardner 2009-05-01 20:49:08

"Until now there has been a rather arrogant English presumption that “this sort of thing" is for smaller countries only"

Not quite. Remember Canada's (or Wales, or Germany's) finest Owen Hargreaves? Did he ever actually live in England before signing for ManU?

"this is all very simple as long as the "birth" rule is applied"

A player's birthplace is more relevant than his granny's in qualifying to play international football. But it shouldn't be the main criterion.

By all means give the bloke a passport if he's that bothered (or if he has an English partner and children, maybe). But not a cap.

Comment by Portmuthian_Blue 2009-05-02 00:02:16

Seeing as the best England batsman is South African and the most creative England back is a New Zealander, it's only a matter of time, surely?

Good point on Hargreaves.

Comment by fbrazolin 2009-05-02 15:56:52

And let's not forget Camoranesi (Argentinian), and Taddei (Brazilian) and Amauri (Brazilians, already offered a place in the squad) in Italy.

Comment by Johanista 2009-05-03 16:26:53

I wonder what Redknapp thought of the Jamaican-born John Barnes playing for England? Was he amongst the "fans" chanting "1-0" after England's 2-0 victory over Brazil that time?

Comment by CarsmileSteve 2009-05-05 12:55:47

Is the main issue not that Almunia would have a BRITISH passport, not an English one, and that the home nations have a "gentleman's" agreement that they won't use naturalised players because it could lead to more calls from FIFA for Team GB?

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