James Lawton: Cohen warns Capello: call up Arteta and the national game will suffer
'It would be an admission of defeat, like saying, "We can't make our own players anymore so let's pick guys who are not good enough for their own countries"'
Wednesday 25 August 2010
If Mikel Arteta was much more than the superior craftsman he is for Everton, even if he operated at the level of the great Argentine-born Alfredo di Stefano, who played for his homeland, Colombia, and Spain, it would still be utterly wrong-headed to hand him an England cap.
The view is unequivocal and comes down from English football's equivalent of Mount Olympus, the heart of the World Cup-winning side of 1966.
"Somewhere you have to draw a line on what still matters in football," says George Cohen, the former Fulham right-back who played 37 times for England and was an automatic selection by Sir Alf Ramsey until he sustained a career-shattering injury a year after the Wembley triumph.
"This lad Arteta is someone I admire very much but if you pick him you create a very worrying precedent indeed.
"One of the biggest concerns in English football is surely that we are just not bringing on enough of our players equipped to play in the international game or even, when you look at the make-up of the leading clubs, in Premier League football.
"Arteta, the ways things are, would simply be the thin edge of the wedge. More and more players in his category, which is to say good but not good enough for countries like Spain and France, Italy and Germany, would qualify through residency, and where would that leave the home-grown product? Suffering even more neglect than he does now.
"I know it has happened elsewhere in the world, with Marcos Senna playing for Spain and Deco for Portugal, but that doesn't make it right. Maybe the time has gone when you can confidently believe there are a few things in football more important than money, but it would be nice to think that playing for your country is one of them.
"Sometimes the issue can be blurred a bit if a lad has, say, an English father and a Welsh mother, and then you can say that maybe the player is entitled to follow his heart.
"It is different with coaches. Coaches are there to provide knowledge and experience; they don't cross the white line and get involved in the passion of a game in the same way.
"I guess I'm old-fashioned but I still can't imagine any greater motivation than pulling on your country's shirt and going out to play for your own people."
With the England coach Fabio Capello apparently unconvinced that Arteta's contribution to his team would be big enough to justify the inevitable convulsion that would come with his selection, Cohen's fears will probably not be realised on this occasion. However, the Wembley hero still pinpoints the dangers inherent in the possibility of an English foreign legion.
"With all the pressures created by club football these days, there is maybe a bigger question," adds Cohen. "Picking foreign players would, in my opinion, be another blow aimed at international football.
"It's one thing to see Chelsea and Arsenal stuffed with foreign players, but very soon we could have the situation with the national team, and that would make the whole exercise pretty meaningless. Some players already wonder about the value of playing for their national teams.
"The answer surely is to commit more time – and money – to developing our own players. Picking someone like Mikel Arteta would only be an admission of defeat. It would be saying, 'We just can't make our own players anymore so let's pick the guys who are not quite good enough to play for their own countries.'
"Alf Ramsey always used to say that we should never forget who we were representing when we went out on the field. It was all the people of England. I reckon the old boy would be aghast right now."
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