Two lovely strikes, one from each foot of a young starlet called Adnan Januzaj saved Manchester United’s blushes last weekend against Sunderland. Who could have predicted that those goals would cause the world to turn on its axis?
Adnan Januzaj’s performance rightly received much attention. After all, it isn’t often that an 18 year old has such an impact and great promise should be enjoyed and celebrated when it shows its face.
However, the spotlight shone much brighter than usual on the youngster due to an accidental collision of events and the questions posed about national identity.
- Manchester United’s very indifferent start to the season under their new manager. The misty air of depression amongst some fans, made much foggier by the supposed failings in the transfer window, dissipated a little with the exciting emergence of a new player.
- Yet another international break is upon us. What else is there to talk about, other than an underwhelming England side?
- The realisation that Adnan Januzaj is eligible for numerous countries, thanks to his parentage and birthplace—and he has not chosen one to represent, yet.
- The mooting of the idea that Januzaj could be naturalised and play for England, solving that left-sided problem that successive England managers have puzzled over.
The idea that a talented footballer would wait five years before he became involved with international football for a country that he has only recently resided in and has no previous links with is laughable, yet it was one that was run with and debated tirelessly all week. Why?
Because England’s shortcomings in the modern game are so apparent.
Everything has chains, absolutely nothing’s changed.
For years now, there has been talk of attempts at changing the “up and at ‘em” philosophy of the English game. However, for all the admiration of the Barcelona’s of the world, we still love the blood and thunder of a strong-tackling game.
“That is why our league is loved around the world” is a familiar refrain, it is so exciting. If so, why does that excitement never translate to the national side?
Nothing has changed, despite the desperation that the Januzaj story hints at. It would be nice to think that this could signal a turning point.
Mega-clubs dominate world football, trampling all those below them in their never-ending search for money and success. International football is supposedly the last refuge for the football purist, the great leveller, where all that money can’t actually buy you success.
Not strictly true.
Looking through the list of World Cup winners and the usual superpowers of football are very well represented. The facilities and infrastructure that breeds success need a large influx of finances, after all.
So, to witness the unseemly scramble of national football associations and media outlets staking claims (or “making enquiries”) on a player who has barely begun his career may be a bit surreal and a damning indictment on our own national game, but it is only a mirror image of what goes on elsewhere in the sport.
He looks to have talent, so everyone wants to have a piece.
It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.
Ex-England captain Alan Shearer backed Jack Wilshere’s comments earlier in the week stating on SportsDirectNews.com that “to be English, you should be born in England.”
Not so simple, Mr Shearer.
Where does that leave those born on holiday, in foreign airspace, refugees, those born in
countries where there parents were serving in the military, those who have moved around due to their parents’ work opportunities and spent little time where they were born?
My wife was born in Switzerland to a Spanish father and an English mother. At the age of five, the family moved to Spain, where they remained until she was fifteen years old. At fifteen, she arrived in England and has lived here ever since.
Is she Swiss? Spanish? English?
Originally a Spanish passport holder, she took British citizenship in 2007. Yet still it is difficult to say she truly belongs. Having taken citizenship, it is clear that she has chosen to be British—but this occurred at the age of 32 with a family all resident in England. She is still continually asked the question, “Where are you from?”
Janzaj has already turned down the opportunity to nail his colours to the mast by not accepting the invitation to join Belgium at youth levels and reportedly, his father would prefer him to choose Albania.
He is eighteen years of age, with a mixture of cultural influences. Although spending most of his formative years in Belgium, he may not actually be in a position to know exactly where his heart lies. He hasn’t even committed his future to Manchester United yet.
To my mind, the mid-season international breaks are unwanted disruptions to the flow of the league. At this early stage, Januzaj also needs to ignore the distraction and establish himself at club level. See if he can deliver on the promise he has already shown. He has already stated that is what he wants to do and that there is no rush. Having said that, I would not expect him to wait five years—after all, he almost literally has the world at his feet.
We all love the summer (or, ahem, winter) carnival that is the FIFA World Cup. But is its relevance being questioned by the transient nature of modern life and issues such as naturalisation raising their head?
Is international football a flawed concept and an outdated institution?
a version of this article by me also previously appeared on Bleacher Report