The Rafael Benitez Column: English players for England? That's more complex than it sounds

It’s not about how many players you have, but rather how good they are

It was good to see Jack Wilshere talking about nationality this week and how he believes that only English players should play for England. Everyone loves to talk about football and every follower of the game is an armchair manager or player but perhaps sometimes we don’t hear the players’ ideas enough.

They are proud of their profession but some of them are reticent because the media is not always good at putting across the subtlety of what they say. Players wonder what the headlines will look like! So it is good that Wilshere, an intelligent player with ideas about the game, put his points well.

I’m not English, of course, though you know the affection I have for your country, so I’m reluctant to be giving big opinions always on what England should be doing and how they should be working. But I do think we can look at the history of people born outside of England playing for the country. The England white shirt has been worn over the years by players born in over 20 countries outside the United Kingdom. The pattern of those countries seems to reflect the way the British Empire looked but it also shows how young people have been travelling to settle in England from a young age for a very long time.

I was reading about John Barnes first settling in England as a young boy, aged about 12 years. That great goal John scored in the Estadio do Maracana for England in 1984 had a lot of Jamaica in it but Barnes was in no doubt about the country he wanted to play for.

It is more than 30 years since Barnes started playing for English teams and in that time the world has changed a lot. It is a global world we live in now and the mobility of people, settling in new places to find work and bring up children, is getting greater all the time. You can’t stop that.

It means that the idea of nationality has become more complex and the idea of what it means to be Spanish, Italian or English has changed a lot. We are all going through the change and England is not the only place where there has been a little bit of controversy. Diego Costa of Atletico de Madrid has decided he wants to play for Spain, if my old friend Vicente del Bosque selects him, rather than for Brazil, where he was born. There has been a debate about this in Spain. Some people say “OK, great”. Other people say that the world champions only need Spanish players. The situation has been complicated because Costa played for Brazil recently in a friendly game. But though the Costa situation is not resolved yet, on the whole there has been less worry in Spain about whether the international team should be allowed to select him.

The concern about this question is tied to the one about whether foreign players in the Premier League are affecting England’s chances, by reducing the number of players the manager has to choose from. I’ve seen from Italy that the debate has still been continuing very strongly since we last discussed it here in the column, a month ago. Again, I don’t want to be saying “this is right” or “that is right”, so let us deal with a few facts.

The BBC’s State of the Game report caught my eye this week. It showed that English players make up 32.26 per cent of all the minutes of football played in the Premier League so far this season – a figure which is down from 35.43 per cent in 2007-08. But in Spain, Spaniards make up 59 per cent of minutes played in La Liga and Germans make up 50 per cent of minutes played in the Bundesliga.

But does this tell us why the number is low? Figures can show a lot of things, without always finding the right answers. There were more British players in the Premier League in 1994, for example, but England didn’t qualify for the US World Cup that year. The problem finding enough international-quality English players is not a new one, either. I was reading about Sir Walter Winterbottom – the England manager after the Second World War. In 1950, he said: “I have only five players out of 22 to look at in a game.” He was talking about the problem with the numbers of Scottish and Irish players. England won the World Cup 16 years later.

So the facts tell different stories and it is not as simple as “too many foreign players”. It’s the quality of the players, not the number. To know that, just look at the population of Croatia (about four million) and another great “new” football nation, Belgium – 11 million. England has 53 million.

By now, you know my views on how in England it is necessary to work on the coaching aspect and on coaching the coaches and how I think that there are a lot of young players here who have the potential to be great England players, if they are developed. Playing alongside great players from other countries can help. At Liverpool, we had not won a Premier League title for 14 years when I arrived in 2004. We could protect the English players and win nothing or bring in players like Luis Garcia, Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso, Fernando Torres and have them playing alongside Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher or Glen Johnson. You know it was not a choice to make.

These are some of the numbers and the facts and, as I have said, I want to open the debate on who should play for England and who should play for England’s Premier League clubs. Let us know what you think and let us get the debate going further for next time.

But on the question of nationality, I have two good reasons to say that it is more complex than we might think. I only have to look at my daughters. They were both born in Spain but after almost 10 years on Merseyside think themselves English as much as Spanish.

Arsenal lesson can help us progress in Serie A

It was disappointing for our Napoli team to have lost in London to Arsenal in the Champions League. Arsène Wenger has a strong side, with pace. They were as good as I had said they would be beforehand and the 2-0 win for them showed us that. We are developing as a team at Napoli. We learnt things about how we must deal with sides of Arsenal’s quality and speed. It has been encouraging to see how we can recover from that. We enjoyed a good 4-0 win over Livorno four days after leaving London, despite not having Gonzalo Higuaín with us because of a small injury. Next, we look to our big game against Roma, the only side above us in Serie A, which has been brought forward to Friday because of public demonstrations. It will be a test for us. A lot of people are talking about it. But the spirit among us is good.

Naples and Liverpool share the same passion

Because of the international break, I am now enjoying some days back on Merseyside. I returned here on Thursday afternoon and will be back to Italy next week to begin preparing for the Roma match. There are so many similarities between Liverpool and Naples and the passion for football is one of them. Now, they are two cities who find their local teams riding high again in the league. When people stop me here, wanting to talk football, I tell them that the road through the season is a long one – but it is hard for them to look at it that way. Football is like that for all of us. It is a great creator of hopes and dreams!

Send your thoughts and questions to Rafa: Sport@independent.co.uk with ‘Ask Rafa’ in the subject box

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform