Do We Need a New Definition of Englishness?

17/10/2013 13:39 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

The Rt Hon Cecil Rhodes once claimed that "to be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life," which is debatable to say the least, much like Jack Wilshere's comments last week when the Arsenal midfielder's declaration that only "English players should play for England" led to him being portrayed as some sort of extremist demanding that we close the country's doors in some quarters.

While a stiff upper lip, politeness and a penchant for tea and crumpets can be either taught or inherited, there is far more to Englishness than the possession of these characteristics. Although our culture and beliefs have been exported around the globe during the years of Empire, we now find ourselves in a multicultural society with more languages spoken in Dear Old Blighty than any other nation on the continent. So, is a new view of what it means to be English needed?

If you have lived on these shores for a certain amount of time you can become a citizen and claim a passport, courtesy of her majesty. In theory, you are English. Although sport can transcend many boundaries and even modern citizenship rules, will the football following within our nation regard such a recipient as a true Englishman?

While Andros Townsend stole the show on Friday, the build up to two crucial World Cup qualifiers focused around a youngster born in Brussels. Adnan Januzaj is undoubtedly talented yet still unproven, despite scoring two well taken goals on his Manchester United debut. Exactly why the FA and Roy Hodgson decided to let the world know they had made an enquiry about the boy at such a crucial point in England's fixture list is beyond me.

Januzaj has several nations competing to secure his allegiance, but the fact England have decided to join the race confirms how far we have fallen from grace. We are constantly reminded of how the hugely successful Premier League model rakes in billions from a global audience at a detrimental cost to our national side. But if Greg Dyke's ambitious plan to win the World Cup revolves around drawing on players with weaker links than South London's tube connections, it is frankly embarrassing.

Scouring the talent pool of those who have flimsy links to these shores will send out an awful message to our younger players. England's youth face a struggle to win a place in the top league of their homeland, but could now face competition at a national level from abroad too.

Of course, England already has a multicultural team with several players with strong African roots turning out for the Three Lions including Ghanaian Danny Welbeck, the Ivory Coast born Wilfried Zaha and more recently, Burundian Saido Berahino. But others, such as Nigerian Victor Moses, have opted to turn their back on the chance to don the white shirt of England. However, while the country you should represent revolves around the nature versus nurture debate, it is not necessarily all about where you were born. Does the country that has provided a player with the natural talent and genes to succeed have more of a right than one who provided a footballing education and nurtured his ability?

England seems to have no problem embracing players who are deemed to have earned their Englishness through an upbringing or via a few generations of family in the country, but those who are perceived to have chosen our nation as it suits them or purely to further their own career presents a new dilemma.

However, one example springs to mind that divided opinion before uniting consensus. Owen Hargreaves was born in Canada to English immigrants and moved to Germany at the age of 16 to represent Bayern Munich before opting to represent England at senior level. With his foreign accent and hint of German-ness, the midfielder became the first player to play for England without ever having lived in the country. He had also not played a single minute in an English league. The public did not take well to Hargreaves's inclusion despite the fact that he qualified via his English and Welsh born parents.

Despite failing to cement a first team spot, Hargreaves won over 40 caps, but it took one game at the World Cup in 2006 for him to be accepted. England faced Portugal in the quarter final and Hargreaves put in an inspired performance, but could not prevent England slipping to defeat despite being the only player to score in the defining penalty shoot-out.

England were perceived as failures with many high profile players criticised for poor performances, but Hargreaves came out of the tournament with his reputation enhanced. Out of all the players on the pitch against Portugal, it was him, the unfancied 'foreigner', that exhibited the resilience in defeat and exact characteristics that define a typical English footballer. But if it had been Hargreaves who missed the crucial penalty, then things might have been very different.

One thing is certain, whether the FA decide to follow other nations' leads and attempt to engineer places for players with loose links to our nation, or whether they impose a blanket ban on foreigners, many events take place in modern football that do not sit well with fans, but disagreements and protests are often pushed aside once it is 11 against 11 and the ball is in motion. If players in a similar situation to Januzaj are indeed ever capped, there would be discontent and criticism of course, but once the Three Lions are on his chest and he smashes home a winner against Germany just watch the fans change their opinion in the blink of an eye and become proud to call him one of their own.

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