Is Adnan Januzaj the future savior of England? Not if Arsenal's Jack Wilshere has a say. (Scott Heppell/AP)
First, Adnan Januzaj started a hysteria. Now he's sparking conversation. The 18-year-old scored two goals in his first start in the Premier League for Manchester United this past weekend, helping his team to a 2-1 victory over Sunderland. But even aside from the goals, Januzaj looked impressive -- speedy, skillful and possessing a wonderful technical touch. Quickly, the question changed from "Who the heck is this kid?" to "Is this kid United's savior?" Which is, of course, ridiculous.
But the usually-pragmatic Red Devils manager David Moyes did a pretty terrible job of keeping said ridiculousness under control post-match, when he revealed the English FA has inquired as to Janzuaj's international availability.
That's right, his international availability. Now in the span of 90 minutes he'd gone from no name to not just United's savior but England's savior, too. Nevermind that Januzaj, born in Belgium to Albanian/Kosovar parents, is currently at least two and a half years away from even being able to apply for a UK passport. Nevermind that there's a good chance he won't even be in the country for those two and a half years anyway -- his contract at Manchester United expires after this season and several clubs from around Europe are pursuing him. And, yeah, let's just completely ignore that even if he were to stick around in the UK for that long, the four home nations that make up the United Kingdom would literally have to re-write their own rules to allow him to play.
ABNOS: Adnan Januzaj says 'hello' to EPL with two goals against Sunderland
So, no, Januzaj will not play for England. But apparently even the suggestion that he might has Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere very worried about the true Englishness of of the national squad: (via Sky Sports):
"If you live in England for five years it doesn't make you English. If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I am not going to play for Spain.
"We have to remember what we are. We are English. We tackle hard, are tough on the pitch and are hard to beat.
"We have great characters. You think of Spain and you think technical, but you think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. We have to remember that."
There's a lot to be said for national pride and playing style when it comes to soccer. There's also a lot to be said for the benefits of increased internationalization of a county's team -- especially as it reflects the very real trend of globalization going on in pretty much every other aspect of life. There will be no settling the tension between those ideas anytime soon.
But the manner of Wilshere's comments leaves one wondering whether he even looked around at his fellow Arsenal midfielders before making them.
At the very least, I'm curious what Wilshere's Arsenal teammate Mikel Arteta thinks of Wilshere's little bit of soccer isolationism. Arteta, frozen out of the Spanish national team due to its midfield's historically great depth, flirted with the possibility of playing for England in 2010 before FIFA statutes determined he couldn't do so. Arteta has no familial connection to the U.K., but he had been residing there for eight years at the time he considered the switch. In that time, he matured into one of the Premier League's finest midfielders -- a tough, savvy talent as adept at hitting the killer pass as any single English player in his generation. Not inconsequentially, it's a skill England could have used in that period. Does Arteta's Spanish nationality negate his ability? Or his obvious affinity for the English game?
Jack Wilshere (10) wants his national squad teammates to be pure Englishmen, whatever it is that exactly means. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)
I also wonder what Arsenal midfield maestro Aaron Ramsey thinks of that hard tackling that Wilshere loves so much. Ramsey's promising career was de-railed because of one such tackle made by Stoke City's Ryan Shawcross -- a player that exactly typifies the English caricature Wilshere paints. The leg-breaking tackle happened nearly three years ago, and Ramsey is only now starting to look like the player he was before the incident (and even that is sort of miraculous). Here's a video of Shawcross' tackle, if you want. Don't watch if you're squeamish.
Was Shawcross a terrible villain? No. He was doing his job, playing the game as he best knew how to play it, his knowledge molded by years upon years of coaching by people who also believe in that destructive "get stuck in" ideal masquerading as a national style.
I also wonder how Wilshere's comments sound to young England hopefuls who could eventually lineup alongside him. Players like Saide Berahino, the West Brom striker who escaped with his parents from Burundi at the age of 10, and now finds himself in England's U-21 team a decade later. Do those extra five years in England qualify him as a "great character" to Wilshere?
Of course, it's important to remember that Wilshere is only 21 himself. Were he more mature, he may not have said such a foolish thing. And if he were older, he might have a fresher memory of all the naturalized players in international soccer that came to truly represent their country's teams and styles of play. Marcos Senna was Spain's best player at Euro 2008, starting the nation on its run of dominance, and he was born and raised in Brazil. Deco helped Portugal stay among the elite through much of the 2000s, and he too was born in Brazil. Wilshere probably has no idea who David Regis is (nor should he), but the native Frenchman and naturalized American made the U.S. squad for two World Cups.
And then there's Januzaj, who has rejected multiple invites from the Belgian association to join their setup -- even at the youth level, where he would not be cap-tied if he appeared. He also qualifies for Albania, Turkey, Serbia and Kosovo (though FIFA doesn't yet recognize them as a soccer nation).
Something tells me that no matter which he chooses, he will be greeted with open arms. As he should be.
BERLIN: Januzaj adds to youth movement in EPL's early days; more thoughts