Let’s face it, international tournaments are nothing more than an exercise in flag-waving nationalism. So, it’s not exactly a surprise when a kid is asked for his opinion about his national team that he will say something nationalistic. That’s exactly what happened yesterday when Matt Hughes from the Times asked Jack Wilshere his opinion on whether the English FA should be recruiting players like Adnan Januzaj.
For those who don’t know, Januzaj is a Manchester United player who has had one good game in his life and so naturally, the English FA are trying to recruit him to play for England when he becomes eligible in… 2018.
I’m not making that part up about the FA recruiting Januzaj and it’s an important part of the story here. Apparently, the FA have been trying to convince Januzaj not to accept a call up from the Belgian national team where he qualifies to play and who have been recruiting him rather heavily. Januzaj’s father’s and mother’s gametes also qualify him to play for Turkey and Albania. Welcome to the wacky world of international football where the provenance of a father’s sperm is more important than how a player self-identifies.
Jack Wilshere, whose parents have full blooded English gametes, declared definitively:
For me, if you are English you are English and you play for England. The only people who should play for England are English people. If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English. You shouldn’t play. It doesn’t mean you can play for another country. If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I am not going to play for Spain.
“If you’re English you’re English” is exactly the kind of circular logic one has to apply these days to international football. That’s how a kid born and raised in Canada, who worshiped NBA star Michael Jordan, and who finished his youth football education in Germany, then played in Germany for several years, could be recruited by the English FA to ditch the Welsh team he was going to play for and come play for England. Because if you’re English, you’re English and Owen Hargreaves was English, because his dad’s sperm was (is?) English.
Or the other way you can become English is to be born in Jamaica and move to England when you’re 12, like John Barnes. Or be born in Somalia and move to England when you’re 8, like Mo Farrah.
The thing is here, I don’t think Jack Wilshere is saying anything all that controversial. In fact Oliver Kay tweeted that the majority of sports reporters agree with Jack’s view, which is the view that the English FA shouldn’t be shopping around for players like Januzaj and should instead focus on the English if you’re English players they already have.
What I think Oliver Kay is presaging here with the “flag of convenience” is what will happen to Qatar in about 10 years as suddenly loads of Brazilian, African, and German players become naturalized Qataris in order to play for their World Cup team. The fact is that all you have to do is have the right passport and not have played for some other national side and bang, you’re in. And the thing you hear over and over when this fact is brought up is “well, then, what’s the point of international football???”
Yes. What is the point?
It’s about national pride. And what is national pride? Why should someone feel proud of their heritage or the country they were born in, the country they live in, or really anything that has to do with borders and flags? As the great George Carlin once said
I could never understand ethnic or national pride. Because to me, pride should be reserved for something you achieve or attain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth. Being Irish isn’t a skill, it’s a f…ing genetic accident. You wouldn’t say “I’m proud to be 5’11”. I’m proud to have a predisposition for colon cancer.” So why the f… would you be proud to be Irish, or proud to be Italian, or American or anything?
The whole concept of international football is bankrupt. Most countries’ borders are permeable and malleable. They change with war, peace, migration, and sometimes even just voting. In fact, the history of humanity is one of migration, assimilation, and changing identities. And the faster humans have been able to move ideas and bodies around the world, the faster the old lines about what it means to be English or any culture really have dissolved before our very eyes. The idea that some culture would mold you into the person you are is losing ground quickly to the idea that the individual has the right to choose their own identity.
Which is exactly where I fall on this issue. Let the individual decide how they want to identify. If Januzaj loves England, and wants to become an English citizen, then why shouldn’t he play for England? Because of some tautology “if you’re English, you’re English?” Give me a single reason that isn’t self referential and doesn’t rely on nationalism.
But frankly, I’d throw the World Cup and all the international tournaments away. As far as I can see FIFA is only in the business of exploiting people’s national pride in order to enrich themselves — and they have done very well for themselves mind you. I find it highly troubling that Qatar has been accused of using slave labor and of killing their migrant workers to build the stadiums which will host the World Cup and people are up in arms about whether Januzaj is going to corrupt the sanctity of the English national team.
I guess people are just stupid or easily distracted from the real point, it’s about making money. Lots of money. So get out your flags and wave them around, folks.
USA USA USA.
So, the part that actually bothered me about the quotes that Wilshere gave is this bit about the way the English supposedly play football:
We have to remember what we are. We are English and we tackle hard and we are tough on the pitch and we are hard to beat. We have great characters. You think of Spain and you think technical, but you think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. We have to remember that.
This is just so much at odds with my own view of English football. When I think of the young players who are coming up in the England nationalism team I think of stylish players who are technically gifted like Jack Wilshere himself.
It’s also at odds with what I’ve seen of the German national team, they tackle hard and are brave (and they also have a lot of foreign imports) but they are also one of the most technically gifted teams on the planet. Same for Holland, Belguim, and a host of other teams I’ve seen play in these international games. Can someone explain this to me without using nationalism or tautologies?