Jack Wilshere and Kevin Pietersen were involved in an extraordinary exchange on Twitter last night over what makes a sportsman eligible to represent England, with the South Africa-born former England captain asking whether Wilshere would categorise him, Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott, Chris Froome and Mo Farah as foreign.
The debate on whether England should look to recruit players born abroad intensified in the wake of claims the Football Association was exploring when Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj, the Belgium-born 18-year-old, might qualify. Greg Dyke, chairman of the FA, suggested Wilshere's views were "extreme" and that the FA should explore the area of eligibility in case England were being left at a "competitive disadvantage by not doing it."
Wilshere first sought to row back on the views he expressed on Tuesday during an England press conference ahead of tomorrow's pivotal World Cup qualifier against Montenegro. The Arsenal midfielder said that "the only people who should play for England are English people. If you live in England for five years it doesn't make you English."
Wilshere claimed the media had exaggerated his views but then tweeted "the question was should foreign players be allowed to play for England, in my opinion I don't think they should."
That sparked a response from Pietersen, born in Pietermaritzburg to an English mother and now with 99 Tests for England to his name. "Interested to know how you define foreigner?" Pietersen tweeted. "Would that include me, Strauss, Trott, Prior, Justin Rose, Froome, Mo Farah?"
Wilshere replied: "With all due respect Mr Pietersen the question was about Football! Cricket, cycling, Athletics is not my field!" To which Pietersen wrote: "Same difference.. It's about representing your country! IN ANY SPORT!" Wilshere ended the exchange by replying "I agree that's exactly what I was saying."
Later on Wilshere returned to the subject and tried to clarify his position. "To be clear, never said 'born in England' – I said English people should play for England," he tweeted. "Great respect for people like KP [Pietersen], Mo Farah and Wilf Zaha - they make the country proud.
"My view on football – going to a new country when ur an adult, & because u can get a passport u play 4 that national team – I disagree."
Dyke dismissed suggestions he was delivering a contradictory message in highlighting the issue of young English players struggling to get game time in the Premier League and then looking to import players for the national side. Januzaj would qualify for England in 2018 if he remains in the country.
"My view is that we should be looking for talent and then look at what the rules actually say, then ask if we can actually do this," said Dyke. "We live in a world where all sorts of people live in all sorts of places – let's see if he qualifies to play for England. You have to look at what's happened in cricket, what's happened in other sports and in other countries and see if we can do the same thing in football. We haven't taken that decision yet.
"We need to look at the rules. We need to look at what other countries are doing and whether we are putting ourselves at a competitive disadvantage by not doing it."
David Bernstein, Dyke's predecessor at the FA, also disagreed with Wilshere's stance. He said: "As long as we play within the rules I think we should be inclusive, and get the best team we can on to the pitch. Society is much more complicated than it was. We must not be too narrow in our thinking."
Wilshere may have left himself open to disciplinary action under the FA code of conduct which includes guidelines for Twitter use on England duty.
Twitter: #whocanplay forengland
Jack Wilshere The question was should foreign players be allowed to play for England, and in my opinion I don't think they should! He is a great player...
Kevin Pietersen @JackWilshere - interested to know how you define foreigner...? Would that include me, Strauss, Trott, Prior, Justin Rose, Froome, Mo Farah?
Jack Wilshere @KP24 With all due respect Mr Pietersen the question was about Football! Cricket, cycling, Athletics is not my field!
Kevin Pietersen @JackWilshere same difference.. It's about representing your country! IN ANY SPORT!
Jack Wilshere @KP24 I agree thats exactly what i was saying....