Sunderland’s 20-year-old loanee striker Danny Welbeck became the latest player to win a senior England cap when he replaced Ashley Young for the final 10 minutes against Ghana two weeks ago. While he will have been proud to have made his bow for the Three Lions, he was greeted with boos by the Ghanaians that had turned out in their droves at Wembley. Problems commonly occur when players are forced to choose between split loyalties on the international scene.
“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Welbeck told the press. “I’ve got love for both countries. I can’t play for both. I can’t make everyone happy.” For Welbeck, having to choose between representing his parentage (Ghana) or where he was raised (England) will have been a genuine wrench at his heartstrings. He couldn’t choose more than one, unlike in the days of legendary striker Alfredo Di Stefano, who turned out for Argentina, Spain and Colombia.
The jeers of the Ghanaians were hardly malicious though, and it was a natural progression for the striker, who has turned out for England since under-17 level. Aston Villa defender Eric Lichaj was forced into a similar position recently – he was called up by both the USA and Poland when the countries were scheduled to face each other, eventually opting to side with the Americans.
Presently, players are allowed to represent any country where they hold nationality or naturalised citizenship – that becomes complicated though, because each country has its own laws regarding the criteria which people need to meet to become a passport-holder. The Home Nations hold an exceptional status in footballing terms because despite each nation having its own FA, the United Kingdom is technically a single country. Therefore, an agreement was made in 1993 that a British passport holder could only represent a country where either they, a parent, or a grandparent was born – but that still leaves a lot of scope for manoeuvre.
Generally, the biggest bone of contention is why players choose to play for a particular country. The attitude behind the decision cannot be underestimated. Many English-born players with roots in other Home Nations know that they won’t break into a star-studded England squad, but see a route into international football with other countries which they qualify for. If they have no genuine affection or ties to the country, the fans don’t always take kindly to it.
“I’m not getting any younger and I want to play international football, whether it’s with England or Ireland,” said Stoke winger Jermaine Pennant recently. Liam Lawrence was the most outspoken critic of Pennant’s attitude, saying that he was trying to ‘juggle between Ireland and England’. Lawrence (who, like Pennant, is from Nottinghamshire) made a fair point: Pennant implied that he wanted to play for any international team that would take him, rather than it being an honour to represent the nation.
Unfortunately, players are often used as ringers. Shared culture and identity has been undermined by players’ desire to boost their own reputation.
This article was submitted for publication in Doncaster Rovers’ matchday programme for the npower Football League Championship match against Preston North End on Apr 12th 2011.