Cardiff defender Ben Turner has reportedly turned down an unofficial approach by Wales boss Chris Coleman to play for the Welsh national team, because quite simply he is not Welsh. The Birmingham born Englishman is qualified to play for Wales under the controversial Grandparent rule which allows any player, who has a grandparent of a different nationality, a chance to play for that country as well. Turner’s grandmother is from Wales which allows the player to choose between her country of birth and his own, England. Having represented England at Under 19 level and having not been capped yet at full level, Turner could have easily switched under FIFA rules. But the 24-year-old decided not to, as he felt it would be wrong:
“It would be like I was pretending to be a Welshman when I’m not. I’m English and that’s how it is. It was very flattering to be asked and I know Chris Coleman well from when we
were both at Coventry so i did consider it, It went through my head that ‘who am I to turn down playing for Wales? But I’m not doing it because of that, I’m doing it for my own reasons which are the right reasons.
Turner knows his chances of gaining a full cap for England are slim and Wales could be the only way to play international football but he is realistic to the end:
“I probably won’t have the chance to play for England but, in my head, that’s not the point. Would a Welsh guy asked to play for England, would he do that? There are lads who grow up dreaming about playing for Wales because they are Welsh and are born in Wales. Who would i be if i denied them the chance?”
Turner stance on this is rare as more footballer’s switch alliance from one country to another, just so that they can experience international football. FIFA have blurred the rules so much that there are now various ways to gain recognition for nationality than ever before. Birth place, birth parents or maternal grandparents nationality, even time spent in one specific country can allow a player to change to a new country. Brazilian born footballers Fábio César Montezine and Marcone Amaral Costa now play for Qatar having qualified after living in the country for 2 years. France won the 1996 World Cup thanks in part to the trio of Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Marcel Desailly despite the fact than none of them were born in France – Zidane (Algeria), Vieira (Senegal), Desailly (Ghana). Current Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi was born in the United States of America but chose to represent Italy due to his Italian father.
The home nations are guilty of this as well with several players representing the country without being born there. Tony Dorigo (Australia), Owen Hargreaves (Canada), John Barnes (Jamacia), Rob Jones (Wales) were all born in other countries but went on to play for England. Scotland, due to a smaller population and therefore pool of players to choose from have also used the rules to their advantage. Matt Elliott, Steven Fletcher, Dominic Matteo and Andy Goram are all english born but have played for the Scottish National team as have Swedish born Richard Gough and Malaysian born Shaun Maloney. These are just a few examples but the number is increasing as the pressure for success at international level grows.
So is this a bad thing? Well yes it is. There are three main problems attached with this relaxed regulation. Firstly it holds the ability to damage the long-term success of international football by creating dream teams of foreign players. Look at Germany as a good example. In the last European Championships, the Germany team fielded was built three Polish born players – Piotr Trochowski, Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose who have pledged their alliance to Germany. If they had played for the birth country, then perhaps Poland’s tournament may have finished differently. Secondly, younger talent will suffer as they compete not only with the talented other youngsters in the own country but also with foreign talent too. Finally it could affect national pride as the players have no real connection to the country apart from a grandparent or a short spell living there. The fans are passionate about their country and want the players selected to be as passionate as they are, singing the national anthem and giving everything they have for the country and cause.
FIFA have opened themselves up for a long-term headache which they will need to address sooner rather than later. It may result in them reverting back to the place of birth rule as the only factor considered for national recognition but country managers, FA’s and fans will argue that this will damage their teams. It may come down to the players to decide and if they act as Turner has done, then International football as we know it now may change for the better.