Mikel Arteta, the Everton captain for Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers, has found himself at the centre of an international football storm after the Spaniard hinted he would be interested in playing for England.
The 28-year-old’s comments overshadowed another below-par Everton performance, one that has left the Blues with just a point from the first six on offer this season, although it should be noted that from Everton’s first two games of last season they had no points from games at home to Arsenal and away to Burnley, so this is at least a small improvement. Arteta was unable to take control of the game against Mick McCarthy’s team thanks to the visitors’ physical approach that often spilled over into unlawful territory – they conceded three free-kicks for sly fouls in the first few minutes – but neither Arteta nor his teammates were afforded much protection by referee Lee Mason. Mason’s decisions penalised both sides on a day to forget for the official, first waving away an Arteta penalty claim only to award a free-kick for an infringement that, if it was even a foul, was clearly inside the box, then later allowing Wolves to play on after Adlene Guedioura went over the ball on John Heitinga, leaving the Dutchman in a heap, when Wolves streaked away to equalise.
Refereeing blunders aside, Arteta and co had a substandard second-half but Fabio Capello’s presence in the Goodison Park stand, and Arteta’s continued absence from Vicente Del Bosque’s thoughts, raised the question of the midfielder pulling on the Three Lions. The Arteta for England link follows a similar train of thought regarding Manuel Almunia, a train that slows to the point of standstill with each fresh error from the Arsenal goalkeeper. Arteta would be wading into a position much more competitive than between the posts, however, with not only current midfield regulars Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry to dislodge, but also burgeoning talents such as Everton colleague Jack Rodwell. Arteta would have a better chance of international football with England than Spain, given the wealth of midfield options at the world champions’ disposal, and as Arteta said he would not make a decision until the opportunity to play for England presents itself, the verdict may well rest with Head Coach Capello.
That England are currently led by a non-Englishman, for the second time in recent memory, clouds the issue somewhat. There are no regulations preventing a foreign national coaching a national team – by appointing Capello the FA were simply finding who they felt was the best man for the job out of the eligible candidates. Capello may feel he has a similar responsibility when choosing an England XI – that he has a duty to select the best players available to him. It would be hypocritical of either Capello or the FA to reject Arteta – or any other foreign-born player that holds a British passport – when employing a Coach who cannot even claim that link to the country. The FA has already limited itself to English coaches when discussing Capello’s replacement but as long as FIFA allow international teams to select players born elsewhere provided they hold a valid passport, the door will remain open for Arteta and many others who have been overlooked by their country of birth.
Arteta’s native Spain are one of the most high-profile countries to have made full use of FIFA’s silence on the issue. Brazilian Marcos Senna moved to Villarreal in 2002 and six years later was a key player as his adopted country lifted the 2008 European Championship. Their Iberian neighbours Portugal called up Deco, another Brazilian, while Germany took a third Brazilian, Cacau, to this year’s World Cup. If England called up Arteta, they would simply be following a growing trend. To bar Arteta would see Capello forced to work under imaginary rules that the rest of the football world is free from. The passport issue is just an extension of the grandparent-clause that is already fully accepted and exploited by most every country – the hypocrisy of Lancashire-born Republic of Ireland international Mark Lawrenson, who qualified for Ireland through his mother’s birthplace, criticising the idea on Match of the Day shows how commonplace that sort of gerrymandering is. Arteta to England would just be another step down that road, but perhaps a step too far for some.