It is a question that occurred to me this weekend as the predictable accusations were levelled at Jamie Carragher for once admitting his ambivalence towards the England team to which he will now return. How patriotic would the critics like him to be?
Are we talking a Union Jack waistcoat? Or an interest in commemorative Royal Family tableware? Perhaps he could atone by raising a novelty sized St George's Cross in his front garden, just to reassure everyone how much he loves the Three Lions and all that.
Carragher's return to the England World Cup squad which Fabio Capello names tomorrow is a relief. England do not have enough good players to be able to spare the likes of Carragher to early retirement – and there is an argument for saying that, were he available, Paul Scholes might still make the current squad. To reject these players on the charge of insufficient patriotism is frankly ludicrous.
The charge against Carragher was his autobiography confession that playing for England was not as important to him as playing for Liverpool. In chapter seven of "Carra, My Autobiography" he is at no point is he dismissive of England; he simply admits that they come second to Liverpool. "I wasn't uncaring or indifferent," Carragher wrote. "I simply didn't put England's fortunes at the top of my priority list."
It touches a nerve in the psyche of the English; the psyche that makes the absurd assumption that every player should value playing for their country above their clubs. But why should they?
International football is a cherished aspect of our game. It is an intriguing stage on which we measure our best against their best. It is an opportunity to test the quality of our national game and the footballers we produce against different football cultures. But for lots of players and supporters, it is an interesting diversion from club football rather than the absolute pinnacle of the game.
Not everyone would agree with that. Some still believe that international football is the ultimate honour. Some think that, in a World Cup year, anything short of painting your face with a St George's Cross, boycotting French cheese and voting UKIP amounts to gross disloyalty. That's fine – but not everyone feels the same.
Carragher's fairly mild assertion that he valued Liverpool more than England is not even a new phenomenon. In his autobiography the friend he texts in the after-math of his penalty miss against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup finals is Kenny Dalglish and Dalglish would know all about having mixed feelings over playing for his country.
In the days when Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen would get the train north from Liverpool for international weeks, they were under no illusions about how the Hampden Park crowd felt about them. There was even a debate in Scotland about whether "Anglo-Scots" – those who played outside the Scottish league – should be permitted to play for the national team.
Hansen once said that for Scotland internationals, "I used to warm up alongside Graeme because he was the only player the crowd disliked more than me." Could any of those players have been blamed for feeling a greater loyalty to their club than to their country?
Football is full of stories of players who treated their national team as a flag of convenience and others who must have nurtured much graver private doubts about the country they represented. The great France striker Just Fontaine scored a record 13 goals at the 1958 World Cup, but as a French-Moroccan he must have had misgivings about representing a country that had only just relinquished control of Morocco amid great violence.
When Roy Keane was taunted by Patrick Vieira for turning his back on the Republic of Ireland, the former succinctly pointed out that Vieira had done exactly the same to his native Senegal. The Manchester United midfielder Darron Gibson was born in Northern Ireland but plays for the Republic – presumably because he feels it offers him the best chance of playing at a major tournament.
And everyone knows that this summer's World Cup will include plenty of players whose chief connection to the country they play for is their passport – such as Deco and Liedson, two Brazilians naturalised by Portugal. The Switzerland squad will in all likelihood include players born in Cape Verde, DR Congo and Kosovo. Capello, lest we forget, is still Italian.
Playing for the country that they represent in international football will mean something different to all these players. For some, perhaps the North Koreans, it will be a duty undertaken with some trepidation. For others, like the Trinidad and Tobago players or many of the Togo squad at the last World Cup, it will begin as a patriotic mission and end in recriminations over unpaid bonuses and corrupt officials.
Carragher was only being honest about his feelings for England; something that most of the current squad are reluctant to do. In private, many of them would admit they like the prestige of playing for England but they could do without the mid-season friendlies in Qatar or the booing they are sometimes subjected to at Wembley.
You can complain ceaselessly about most aspects of English life: the politicians, the house prices, the weather but woe betide any footballer who says that playing for the national football team is not the greatest honour he could conceive of. We send our players into every tournament with an extraordinary burden of pressure; they should not have to pretend that they love every minute of it.
Seven could turn out to be Fulham's unlucky number
No one would wish to rain on Fulham's parade this week but the fact that they have seven of their Europa League final players out of contract at the end of next season, including Danny Murphy, Mark Schwarzer, Paul Konchesky and Zoltan Gera, makes you wonder if they have thought the strategy through.
With their manager such a hot property and the expectations likely to be much higher next season it demonstrates a great deal of confidence on the club's behalf. If more than half the first team are potentially leaving they must have a good Plan B.
Now this is just the little earner tired footballers need
You might have heard of the A:3K Football event scheduled at the O2 Arena in July; a multimillion-pound sponsors' wet-dream with big names like Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and Steven Gerrard being paid a fortune to compete in school sports day-style challenges against one another.
With the music and the "futuristic set" it sounds like the kind of thing an eight-year-old might dream up after one too many sugary drinks. Without wishing to sound like a misery, is this really the best pre-season for a lot of very well-paid men who will just have played in a World Cup finals?Reuse content