Fifa last night indicated that Mikel Arteta will never be able to play for England having fallen foul of an obscure international rule that appears to have gone unnoticed by Fabio Capello and the Football Association.
The latest development in the Arteta saga suggests that Capello has endured the controversy that surrounded his informal approach to the player last month for nothing. Although the situation was "hypothetical" because the FA had made no move yet to naturalise Arteta, a Fifa source told The Independent last night that based "on the information we think we know it would appear unlikely he could play for England".
The problem relates to article 18 of the Fifa statutes governing the circumstances under which a "dual national" can switch countries. Article 18.1a stipulates that any player who wants to switch to the second of his dual nationalities must have held that second nationality at the time he represented his original country at junior or under-21 level.
In short, Arteta had to have been eligible to play for England at the same time that he played under-16 football for Spain. Without that qualification it is impossible for him to play for the England senior team now.
The 28-year-old played for Spain as a teenager in the 1999 Under-16 Uefa European Championships and the Fifa World Under-17 Championships of the same year. Under the guidelines for switching nationality in order to play for England now he would needed to have had English eligibility in 1999.
It is accepted that Arteta has never held a British passport and would only qualify for one now by virtue of the seven years he has spent in Britain with Rangers and Everton. It has always been known that Arteta played under-21 and junior football for Spain but – having never represented Spain at senior level – that was not thought to preclude him from playing for England. What Capello does not seem to have picked up on is the statute that dictates Arteta would have to have had dual nationality as far back as 1999.
Other high-profile switches of nationality in international football such as Kevin-Prince Boateng – who went from being a Germany under-21 player to a Ghana senior international – have fulfilled the criteria of holding dual nationality when they played at junior level for their "original" country.
The Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia would still be eligible for an England call-up. He has not played international football for Spain at junior level and would therefore not be disqualified by article 18. The same goes for the Brazilians Marcos Senna (who switched to Spain) and Cacau (to Germany), neither of whom are thought to have played for Brazil at junior level.
The Fifa ruling would appear to have drawn a line under the Arteta affair. Capello had raised the possibility of selecting Arteta at a meeting with the FA and had spoken informally to the player this month when Everton played Wolverhampton Wanderers. Arteta said that he was well disposed to the idea. The proposal has been developed no further than that until Fifa's ruling yesterday.
The issue had proved so contentious among the England players – who face Bulgaria tomorrow night in their first Euro 2012 qualifier – that they were unsure whether or not to endorse Arteta switching nationality. Gareth Barry described it as a "hard debate" and admitted he could not make his mind up where he stood on it.
Barry said: "A lot of other countries are doing it. The German team in the summer had a high percentage of players who weren't born in the country. It's such a tough debate. It's like anything, if rules are there, laws are there, then it can happen and if they can help make you better then you've got to try and use them. It's such a hard debate and I myself don't know where to stand on it.
"If you're next in and then you find Mikel Arteta taking your place and suddenly you're waiting for another three or four years for a chance, then of course it's going to be frustrating. There's been a debate over the number of foreign players in the Premier League for many years. It's the same sort of thing, the younger players are getting affected by it. I honestly don't know where I stand."
Peter Crouch withdrew from the England squad yesterday having conceded that the ripped muscles in his back sustained in the Wigan game on Saturday will not allow him to play tomorrow or against Switzerland on Tuesday. He will not be replaced. Capello is understood to be considering playing Rooney in a lone striker's role tomorrow.
Phil Jagielka missed training again yesterday with a sore ankle. A decision will be made today although the early signs are not good.
Barry said that a winter break would help England's performance at major tournaments. He said: "In my opinion, in South Africa, to be competing at our peak would have meant fresh players. If a winter break can help, that certainly needs to be looked at, in my personal opinion, that is a massive thing."
He added: "I am sure for fans and the players, it [the World Cup] was hard to take. We qualified with flying colours. Going forward and defensively, we looked very good. On the big stage it didn't happen, for whatever reason. There are all sorts of excuses out there and you don't want to be using them. It didn't happen for us."