Unheard of by most people a few weeks ago, Adnan Januzaj has become a bit of a cause célèbre over the past week. The reason – his possible selection to play for England. This sparked off some intemperate comments from players and former managers. Mainly to the effect that only English players should play for England. This in turn has raised some interesting questions and shown a fair amount of ignorance on the part of players and commentators.
To start from the beginning, Adnan was born in Belgium in 1995. His parents though are described as Kosovar-Albanian and at that time Kosovo was part of Serbia. At least one of his grandparents was from Turkey. Thus when it comes to international honours, it appears that the 18 year old can choose from a host of suitors, including Belgium, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Turkey.
However it would also appear to be the case that one country he cannot represent is England, despite all the media frenzy. With so many footballers moving from one country to another and to avoid messy and perhaps litigation over who can play for which country, FIFA have established firm rules and regulations governing eligibility criteria for players who acquire a new nationality. The key criteria are that the player: a) was born in the country, or b) one of his parents was born in the country, or c) one of his grandparents was born in the country, or d) he has lived continuously for at least five years after reaching the age of 18 in the country.
As Adnan has no biological connection with England, it would appear that he could make use of the fourth criterion, residency. Though he would have to wait another five years before he meets this criterion. However it seems that even this option is not open to poor Adnan.
This is because there is a special agreement among the four British Associations governing eligibility for non UK citizens. The need for this special arrangement arises because, though England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all independent members of FIFA, they all share the same passport and nationality in terms of international law. Therefore there is nothing in law which would prevent a player from Wales, let us say, with no connection of any sort with England, from playing for England. Or for a player from Kenya, for example, coming to play for a Scottish team and live in Scotland for five years, take out UK citizenship and then play for England. To prevent this kind of anomaly, and thus preserve the integrity and independence of the four British Associations, they all signed up to the Home Nations Agreement. This maintains the first three criteria as in the FIFA rules, but has a different fourth criterion. This stipulates that the player must have engaged in a minimum of five years education under the age of 18 within the territory of the relevant association.
As poor Adnan has not had the benefit of any years of English education, let alone five, he cannot play for England, no matter how long he remains living in England. He could become a UK citizen, and this would make no difference. As the Home Nations Agreement has apparently been endorsed by FIFA, it is unlikely that the English FA would want to challenge it.
So it all appears to be a storm in a tea cup. But for the rather distasteful comments referred to at the beginning. Who is English and just what makes one English? This kind of talk can quickly descend into rather nasty racism and narrow nationalism. It is also relevant to point out that though we talk about the English football team or for that matter the Scottish football team, we are always referring to a team that represents the country as a whole and not an ethnicity. England is wonderfully, a multi-cultural country with people from all over the globe who have chosen to make their home there. The England football team should represent that reality and not some spurious notion of Englishness.
As for Adnan Januzaj, it seems that he wants to play for Albania, the land of his parents. Good luck to him and whatever country he chooses to play for.