Sam Wallace: 'Signing' young stars ruins rules of the game

 

In the modern era, football has been at the forefront of articulating the change in British society, beginning with the sons of the Caribbean immigrants who were the first high-profile black players in the 1970s and 1980s.

The West Bromwich striker Saido Berahino, whose family sought asylum in the UK from Burundi, is an England Under-21 international. Diego Poyet, born in Spain, was two when his father, the Uruguay international Gus, joined Chelsea in 1997. Growing up in England, Diego has captained England's junior sides.

These young men are a reflection of modern Britain's successes. Nationality is a very personal choice, but when it comes to international football there have to be some defining rules and the Adnan Januzaj case is a good test.

Januzaj came to England not because his parents' jobs changed, or for his family's safety, but because he was a 16-year-old prodigy signed by Manchester United. If the Football Association were to naturalise every good teenager brought from overseas into an English club's academy, it might as well give up on the notion of international football altogether.

The international game is intended to encompass rivalry, it is supposed to test one country's ability against another's to produce the best players. In that respect it has to be – by its very nature – different to the rules that ordinarily govern where individuals can work and live.

To select Januzaj for England in 2018, however pragmatic, defies the principle of international football. On a wider scale, it does no service to the players developed in the English system and nor does it help the smaller nations.

The counter argument will be that others, like the mighty Spain, are doing it, so England should follow suit. But naturalising foreign footballers is not the solution to the England team's problems – and in the long-term it could do a lot more damage.

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