My advice to Mikel Arteta would be to make his announcement without delay. Do it swiftly and decisively and leave no room for debate lest he finds himself playing in a team with no hope in front of an ungrateful nation. There is simply nothing else for it: he has to retire from playing international football for England as soon as possible.
OK, so Arteta has never actually been picked in a squad, much less been named in the team. He does not actually have a British passport yet. But you can never be too careful. Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher, Wes Brown, Emile Heskey, Paul Robinson, Wayne Bridge and Luke Young have all already retired. Why should Arteta have to help out? He is, after all, not even English.
Sadly, the issue of Arteta and his eligibility to play for England looks like it has the potential to turn into an uncomfortable experience for the man himself whether he ever plays for England or not. He has become the test case for a new frontier in the England national team – the naturalising of foreign nationals – and as is often the way in these landmark cases, while the principle is debated the individual tends to get forgotten.
For example, Jean-Marc Bosman's successful legal battle for contract freedom in 1995 was the precedent that launched a thousand free transfers. The Bosman ruling was the basis for the lucrative deals enjoyed by the likes of Sol Campbell, Steve McManaman and Joe Cole when they cashed in on their free-agent status. But for Bosman himself, an average Belgian footballer, there were not the rewards enjoyed by those famous players who benefited from his tenacity in the European courts.
For his troubles, Bosman suffered from depression and alcoholism – not helped by the fact that during the case he was so poor that he lived in a garage. No one would expect Arteta, having played five years at Everton on a Premier League wage, to end up sleeping in his car. But he must be wondering if being the guinea pig for a controversial new chapter in the life of the England team is worth the hassle.
The conversation about playing for England that Fabio Capello had with Arteta, 28, at Goodison Park after the Wolves game on 21 August has the potential to change English football for ever. Capello may not be worried about what happens beyond qualifying for Euro 2012. But for the England team and Arteta the implications are huge.
It goes without saying that an individual who is qualified to do a job, and has the necessary immigration status, should never be prevented from doing so on the basis of their place of birth or background. That is how it works in the real world. International football, however, is, by its very nature, completely different.
International football is, by necessity, an exclusive business. Our best against their best. The whole point of it – what makes it interesting – is the simplicity of the international dividing line. Once you blur that, then international football becomes no different to the club football we watch the rest of the time.
It would be too simple to say a player can only represent the country of his or his parents' birth. Patrick Vieira was born in Senegal of Senegalese parents but, having moved to France at the age of eight, he felt French. Fabrice Muamba was born in what is now DR Congo, came to England as a child and has played for the England Under-21s. Luol Deng, the star of the Great Britain basketball team, was born Sudanese but grew up in south London.
It is to be applauded that Fifa's rules – which allow a player to represent a country provided he has been resident there for five years before the age of 18 – reflect the reality that immigration from the developing world to Europe is so commonplace. When assessing a player's nationality it is too simple to consult family trees and birthplaces. The question of identity and nationality runs much deeper than that.
Which brings us back to Arteta. Had his family moved to England when he was a child; if he had that cultural and social association with England that pre-dated his career as a professional footballer then his case might be different. But whatever way you look at him, Arteta is Spanish. It was not England (or Scotland, where he played for Rangers) that made him a footballer. It was England where he came to earn his living as a footballer.
Of course, the England team currently have an Italian manager which has, as with the previous appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson, rather diluted the international brand. But to say that, on the basis of having given the manager's job to two foreign coaches, the Football Association may as well now naturalise every half-decent foreign footballer rejected by his own country is absurd.
English football needs a strong England team. That England team needs crowds like the 72,024 that turned up recently at Wembley for the Hungary game in spite of having seen those dismal World Cup performances. And the crowd needs to know they are watching players with whom they share a common nationality – that being the whole point of international football.
Let's not inflict on Arteta the ignominy of being the first foreign player in an England shirt. Let's not send him out there to face the inevitable booing and controversy. If Capello feels there is no midfielder capable of fulfilling Arteta's role then that is England's problem. It should not be a problem for Arteta.
West Ham might perform better as the Brady bunch
One of my favourite stories of the weekend was Karren Brady's revelation in her newspaper column that when Victor Obinna turned up to sign for West Ham last week he asked her earnestly whether he could take the penalties for his new club.
Brady explained to him that those matters were not her jurisdiction. Undeterred, Obinna also asked her whether she could guarantee him a place in the first XI every week. Brady said that was not her area of expertise and that Avram Grant picked the team. Having seen West Ham's three opening defeats, I am beginning to wonder if Brady might be better off taking Obinna's suggestion and picking the team herself.
Grown-up way for the League to end club squabbles
First there was Fulham's determination to sue Sir Dave Richards, the Premier League and everyone else involved in what they believe is the conspiracy to force Peter Crouch to sign for Spurs last year, the club that he, er, always wanted to join.
Now the Premier League has to take receipt of Tony Pulis's complaint about Arsène Wenger labelling Stoke City's approach as "rugby" tactics. What exactly does he expect the Premier League to do?
It could start by telling these grown-ups that if they continue acting like children they will just have to spend some time on the naughty step before going to bed early without supper.Reuse content