Taking the Mikel?
As rumours of an imminent England call-up for the Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta continue to make headlines, Fleet Street hacks and a host of ‘expert’ ex-pros sharpen their knives in preparation for a no-holds barred attack on the beleaguered England coach Fabio Capello.
The once infallible Italian has certainly felt the wrath of the English media since England’s poor showing in South Africa, and his alleged pursuit of the San Sebastian born midfielder is sure to draw some more unfavourable headlines if Arteta accepts the invitation.
Despite the tactical flaws exposed during the ill-fated World Cup campaign, Capello remains a pragmatist, and by pursuing Arteta he is merely exploiting a ludicrous rule that allows players that have lived in a country for five years and acquired citizenship to switch allegiances from their country of birth for the benefit of the England team.
Before the howls of derision about the sorry state of English football are splashed across the tabloids and the blindly patriotic musings of Terry Butcher and Ian Wright pollute the airwaves, let’s get some perspective. Capello would not be the first, or the last coach to take advantage of this archaic rule that makes a mockery of international football. He is just trying to improve England’s chances of success with the resources at his disposal. If Arteta, who faces a near impossible task of breaking into a Spanish team with an embarrassment of riches in midfield, is open to the idea of representing England, then Capello must ignore the catcalls from the tabloids and radio phone-ins and call him up for the squad to face Bulgaria in September.
The irony is surely not lost on Capello that the young Germany side that so many of the same journalists were drooling over this summer were packed with naturalised players that neglected the countries of their birth to play for three-time World champions. Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose and Piotr Trochowski were all plucked from under the noses of the Polish FA in their youth and went on to play an integral part of Germany’s impressive run to the semi-finals in South Africa. Throw in Brazil-born striker Cacau, who along with Klose and Podolski was on the scoresheet in the 4-0 victory over Australia, and the much-vaunted production line of young German talent does not look so impressive.
Capello’s critics also might want to cast their mind back to Euro 2008, when Spain deservedly claimed their first trophy since 1964 with some scintillating attacking displays in Austria and Switzerland. At the heart of Spain’s triumph, and arguably their most effective player, was Villarreal’s Brazil-born enforcer Marcos Senna, who was only granted Spanish citizenship in 2006 in order to be fast tracked into the World Cup squad in Germany.
Spain’s wily old coach Luis Aragones recognised that Senna was the missing piece in La Roja’s jigsaw, providing much-needed steel at the heart of midfield to complement the creativity of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas, and his inclusion helped Spain shed their enduring reputation as the bridesmaids of international football. Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets took on the aging Senna’s role in South Africa, as Spain built on their European triumph to add the World Cup to their trophy collection, but that should not detract from the Brazilian’s pivotal role in the country’s breakthrough success in Austria and Switzerland.
There are countless more examples of international coaches turning to naturalized players to improve their fortunes, with former Brazil coach Dunga sarcastically referring to Portugal as ‘Brazil B’ during the World Cup due to their adoption of Brazil-born players Deco, Pepe and Liédson in recent years.
It would be preposterous to suggest that Arteta is the missing ingredient to turn England into world-beaters once again, but that is beside the point. As other nations exploit this absurd loophole to enhance their chances of success at international level, Capello must do the same.