Lewis Holtby is not a typical name for a German international footballer. It sounds more like a provincial English solicitor of good stock or a fresh-faced prospective Parliamentary candidate for the Conservative Party. But, as of yesterday, Lewis Holtby is the next wunderkind to sign up to the future of the young Germany team that finished third at the last World Cup.
Holtby, 20, is the captain of Germany Under-21s and a highly-rated midfielder for Mainz, the small team currently leading the Bundesliga who earned a famous win away at Bayern Munich on Saturday. Holtby gets his Englishness from his father Chris, an Englishman who has spent most of his career in the British military based in Germany.
The case of Holtby, who was born in Germany to a German mother, became an issue last week when an enterprising bit of work by a British newspaper highlighted his legitimacy to play for England. In an interview, Holtby said that that he had "both countries" in his "heart" but did not want to be a "traitor" to Germany: "Germany have given me the honour of the captaincy at under-21 level and I have to give them back that respect."
What he had not said was that he had made his mind up. For England, this was not another Mikel Arteta wild goose chase, nor was it the latest sign-up-a-foreigner-fad. It was the real thing: a talented young footballer in Germany who, as yet uncapped by their senior team, was still, under Fifa rules, permitted to play for the country of his father's birth. A player with both English and German heritage: a bit like the Royal Family.
It became obvious last week that this was a race that the Football Association would have to enter quickly if they were to get to Holtby before Germany named him in their senior squad for the Sweden friendly in November in which Joachim Löw promised he would experiment with new players. The Germans were determined to get their man.
Unfortunately for English football, Holtby announced yesterday on German television that it was his choice to play senior international football for Germany. Hinting that his father Chris, an Everton fan, might have had a different opinion, Holtby also added somewhat grimly, "My father accepts this".
The question of nationality is a personal matter. There are no empirical rules for divining what country a person feels allegiance to, even in international football. Some, like the Brazilians Deco and Liedson who were naturalised Portuguese, chose to change because they were rejected by their home nation. Patrick Vieira and Marcel Desailly were born in Senegal and Ghana respectively but felt French. Fifa's rules on international eligibility are sufficiently sophisticated to take this into account. But what the case of Holtby tells English football is that international football is changing. Mass emigration from the developing world to Europe is one part of it, but there are also special cases like Holtby. It has become a competitive market place and no one has sharper elbows than the Germans.
The Germans moved quickly to shore up the international futures of players with immigrant parents such as Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira or Marko Marin, born in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina. But they are not the only ones. The Republic of Ireland have had a go at recruiting players from Northern Ireland, with their most notable success Darron Gibson.
Had Holtby not made his announcement yesterday, a personal view would have been that Fabio Capello should have named him in his next squad – due to be announced a week today – for the Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro next month and done his best to cap him. Holtby might not turn into the next Steven Gerrard but why risk it? It would have been an investment for the future.
Put it another way. If a talented young English footballer with a German father was playing for a small club at the top of the Premier League – and that player was still eligible to play for Germany – one would expect the men of the Deutscher Fussball-Bund to hatch a cunning plan to persuade the player to play for their country.
As for Holtby, who has been compared to Ozil as a player, he will have to go into the same category as Aaron Hunt, the Werder Bremen winger with an English mother who also chose Germany over England. Anyone would think that these young players must believe they have a better chance of winning something at international level with Germany. What is it about Germany's three World Cup triumphs and three European Championship successes that makes them think that?
Lewis. We can understand your decision. The England team must not seem like the most enticing prospect to someone steeped in the culture of the German team's relentless success.
The evidence of history says that, as an England international, you would have been doomed to repeat the cycle of failure. You would have unaccountably drawn games with teams like Algeria. You would have suffered duff refereeing decisions. You would have played in England teams full of good players playing badly.
You would never have won anything with England. But just think of how much it would have meant if you had.
Chelsea's kids will have learned lessons in defeat
Good on Carlo Ancelotti for playing some of his club's academy kids in the Carling Cup. This column has said for a long time Chelsea have to give their expensively assembled academy players a chance in the first team otherwise what is the point of Frank Arnesen spending all that money?
So they lost the game but what would have been the achievement in a strong Chelsea team beating the Newcastle United second string? Besides, in Josh McEachran we saw a player who will be an England international one day. That Ancelotti brought McEachran on as his team chased the game on Saturday spoke volumes.
Beckham bids for Warner support
You have to admire the persistence of England's 2018 World Cup bid with Jack Warner, the Fifa executive committee member with a chequered past who will be crucial in deciding whether they are awarded the tournament in December.
Warner, an insufferable egotist, has just had his second visit from David Beckham to his home nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Beckham was there with England in 2008 for a friendly and returned last week as part of an initiative with his eponymous academy. It is amazing what a Fifa ExCo vote can get you providing you make enough noise. Of course, there is no guarantee Warner will actually vote for England.Reuse content