There has been a bit of talk lately about the possibility of Manuel Almunia in particular, but also Mikel Arteta, donning the three lions of England. This has sparked a bit of debate amongst the football community, as while I’m sure many people would love to see that extra bit of quality injected into the England set up, some say that it would devalue the idea of our national team, and indeed, all national teams.
This is, I think, a fair point. Almunia and Arteta were both born and raised in Spain, Spanish is their first language and no doubt, Spain is where they truly call home, they live here to make a living. In that sense then they certainly do not qualify as being English, and so, some say, should not be allowed to represent our great country.
But when we ask the question of just what it takes to gain nationality, I think the distinction becomes blurred. I myself was born in England, and raised there, living the first 16 years of my life there. The last three years I’ve spent in New Zealand, and already I have been asked countless times why I don’t support New Zealand ahead of England. Some people expect your home country to be your national allegiance. In my case, that is not so, I am English all the way, very patriotically.
But also in New Zealand are many, many people who are direct descendants of British people. It is a very young country, and so many of my friends have Grandparents or even parents who were born in Britain, then made the move across the world and had kids. So are they Kiwis or are they English? Just the other day I had a conversation with my girlfriend’s flat mate who has Scottish parents but was born here, and she decided that she was Kiwi, only because she had never experienced the Scottish culture.
But Almunia and Arteta, though Spanish, and born and raised there, are now long time residents of England. Both will soon be eligible for Citizenship and have therefore been a part of English culture for a long time now. They will be fully settled and integrated within English society, this is their home, at least temporarily, and so one could just as easily argue that they are English in all the essential areas. It seems to be stated in a legal sense that one can become English once one has aboded in England long enough to be a citizen. While that doesn’t make you ‘truly’ English, if it is good enough for the law, why not for football fans.
So there are compelling arguments either way really, and I guess up to this point it depends where you stand. But for me there is one more argument that is the strongest of all. And that is that Almunia and Arteta are top, top players. They have never been capped at full level for Spain only because Spain are incredibly blessed in the goalkeeping and midfield departments; and if they had been born in almost any other country both players would surely be well capped by now. Therefore if they are eligible and willing to play for us, I say, why not?
Both players are talented enough that they deserve to be recognised at an international level, so why should they not be allowed to have that chance, if they qualify through legal means. Plenty of players have done it before, with Deco being the most obvious example (though I bet Brazil wished they’d given him a go in retrospect). I think that the most important thing is that if they were included, they should be welcomed as part of the setup. They would need to have the passion to play for our country, their adopted country, and that is the only question mark, would they be driven enough when it came to the crunch.
The thing that really seals the deal for me though, is that both players seem to fit into the England lineup so perfectly. They both solve long standing problems. Not since David Seaman have England had a truly convincing goalkeeper, and though we have Joe Hart who looks to have a bright future, he isn’t ready yet, while Almunia is better than any other English ‘keepers in my opinion.
Then of course there is the great England left-sided problem. But Arteta is naturally two footed and is usually deployed on either wing for Everton. He is not an out-and-out winger but he certainly has the skill and trickery to beat players easily and deliver a cross. Indeed his range of passing and crossing, and especially set pieces are his real strength. He would bring that extra technical ability to the England setup that we don’t seem to produce naturally. I find my mouth watering at the prospect of a midfield containing Arteta, Gerrard, Lampard and Walcott (if Capello can solve the Gerrard/Lampard conundrum of course).
So at the end of the day, I think it comes down to personal opinion. Whether you believe that Arteta and Almunia could truly be inducted into the England team will depend on how you interpret the idea of ‘nationality’, is it something you are born with, or something that you gain through exposure, or both? In the end though, I think we should welcome them with open arms if they are willing to play, Spain have enough talent, why should these two players’ great talent go to waste? I see it as less of a Spanish invasion than a Spanish influence, and if they can help take English football to Spain’s current highs, I don’t think many Englishmen will complain, no matter how staunchly English they are.