So states Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere in his sober reflection on who ought to qualify for the English national
soccer football team. I should ask him if ten years counts for anything?
The issue at hand is the national team status of Manchester United’s 18 year-old Belgian / Serbian / Turkish / Albanian (yes, he qualifies for all four) midfielder Adnan Januzaj, and that the English national team manager is “monitoring his progress”. There’s several potential soccer topics here, such as the bit where Januzaj has thus far made only three first team appearances for United; England, while generally desperate for quality players, aren’t yet Scotland desperate. Or his observation on what distinguishes true “Englishness” from teams that, you know, win major tournaments:
“We are English. We tackle hard, are tough on the pitch and are hard to beat. We have great characters.”
So, to translate, the English are rough, like to fight, yet are laid back enough to enjoy a bit of a laugh. Unlike the Spanish, as when “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.” “The only people who should play for England are English people.”
I don’t know. When I think of Spain, I think of fluid, flowing football that’s lovely to watch. And winning stuff. As for the rest, he’s describing his own club 25 years in the past; he only left out the binge drinking.
For my more immediate purposes, Wilshere’s ill-advised commentary on both football and nationalism is splendidly timed. I have a run on BBC Radio Devon seven straight mornings from Monday. I did this last year immediately before the American election, and might have discussed it on LGM. The format is different from a five minute interview. Instead of responding to questions that I’ve hopefully anticipated in advance [*], I have around three minutes of clear airtime to opine on a topic of my choice. Last year’s topics and scripts were easy to arrive at — given the immediacy of the US election, they were all political sciency oriented (yet pitched to the audience in question vaguely within the model of the segment). This year’s different, and my ideas are more eclectic. Hence, Wilshere to the rescue.
This very English midfielder, ironically of that most cosmopolitan of English clubs, serves as a launching pad of sorts to briefly explore notions of nationality and identity. It fits in well thematically with one script I’ve already written and another I’ve outlined (one on immigration, one on muddled expatriate identity) while subtly calling Wilshere out on the bullshit, all wrapped up in an approachable package of soccer. Two of the past four managers of the English national team weren’t, you know, English. If there is a distinctly English cultural approach to soccer, shouldn’t one who understands that culture on a genetic level manage the side? How is it that every nation-state on the planet is allowed only one national side under FIFA rules, but the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland get four? Had Ryan Giggs been eligible to play for England (he wasn’t), would you have cheered him on as England somehow managed to win Euro 1996? And what about the composition of the Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, or Republic national sides? Over the years all four have had many players who weren’t born in those “countries”. Then there’s the USMNT. We wisely have a policy that disregards Wilshere’s progressive viewpoint on nationality. Hell, our national team manager once played for Spurs, and yet we still embraced his appointment.
I’ll also slip in a reference to Wilshere in the already written piece on immigration, where I make the risky suggestion that it might be easier to “become American” than it is to “become British” (or many European countries) for several reasons of equal speculative veracity.
And I’ll briefly discuss my seven year-old daughter. She’s quite proud of being “half English and half American”. Should she ever show an interest in playing soccer competitively, and possess both the incredible levels of talent, skill and drive required to qualify for an international side, does she follow Wilshere’s preference for brave, hard tacklers who are characters and play for England, or will she follow her father’s sage advice to play for the United States, because winning things like World Cups and the Olympics trumps “tough on the pitch”.
I can guess that Wenger is unimpressed with Wilshere’s past couple of weeks and might have another chat with the lad. In addition to the above, last Tuesday night he was pictured outside of a nightclub with a cigarette following Arsenal’s defeat of Napoli. He claims to not be a smoker, it was only a mistake.
Before I go sit on my balcony overlooking Plymouth Sound not being a smoker, I’ll let Wilshere have the last word on the matter:
“If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I’m not going to play for Spain.”
[*] I was interviewed live on the local BBC on Monday or Tuesday evening last week, about the shutdown. I was ready with polling data, comparative explanations of co-equal branches of government vs. unitary systems, etc. I didn’t anticipate the obvious question, however: how long will this last? I might have said no more than a few days, because the debt ceiling is the bigger stick Congressional Republicans will use. This is only a dress rehearsal. Man, did I get that one wrong.