Sunday, 29 August 2010

For Club, Not Country

With Fabio Capello set to announce his squad for the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers on Sunday evening, there is much talk of whether Mikel Arteta might have a role to play in qualification. For this to realistically happen,  Fabio would need to make a firm commitment to Arteta to give him enough encouragement to apply for a British passport, which is not a speedy process in itself. Therefore even if intent is shown, it will take a while for anything to happen. Yet for my money, it's a process that should be rendered unnecessary anyway.

Arteta's quality is undeniable, but it is not enough to get him into the squad of the country of his birth, albeit one that is the best in the world. He should not be given a second international opportunity with England. Just because the rules in other sports such as Cricket or Rugby Union are happily exploited, it doesn't mean to say it's right. Football allowed plenty of leeway already with the grandparent rule. You can argue that the grandparent rule itself is a step too far in terms of eligibility, after all it left us with Irish international with Scottish, Lancastrian and , in the case of Mick McCarthy, broad Yorkshire accents.

The Arteta debate is nothing new. Just under two years ago, Manuel Almunia became potentially eligible to play for England under the same five year residency rule. At the time, with England's potential candidates in mixed form, he was viewed in some quarters as a potential solution to national goalkeeping woes. According to former FA head David Davies, Sven Goran Erikkson had also considered Carlo Cudicini as an alternative solution between the sticks years earlier. Whatever the concerns of handing a 31 year old keeper his international debut ahead of blooding younger homegrown talent, the fact remains he is Spanish. He was born in Spain and spent the first 27, of his now 33, years living there. That should not (but seemingly does) qualify you to play for England.

Surprisingly, the outcry in the media at the time of the Almunia debate wasn't overly vociferous and, even more surprisingly, the Daily Mail was willing to suggest other potential England players. Although how serious they were is questionable, given the article referred to the potential candidates as "Johnny Foreigners" and proposed such footballing luminaries as Noe Pamarot, Jeremy Aliadiere, Franck Quedrue and Antoine Sibierski. If England as a nation cannot provide footballers of an equivalent or better quality than those, then things are seriously worse than we might have envisaged.

Many countries have benefited from the residency rules. Spain effectively utilised the Brazilian workhorse Marco Senna in their Euro 2008 triumph. Fellow Brazilians, Deco and Liedson have represented Portugal, but without catapulting them to any great success and Cacau featured for Germany in the recent World Cup, scoring against Australia. However, just because they are willing to exploit these rules, doesn't mean England should. Maybe it's a bit of an old-fashioned view, but it is just not right. I'd say it's just not cricket, but it clearly is!

Sadly my view is not shared by the players. Perhaps with one eye on success and the personal gains that would provide, Steven Gerrard said this week; "I'd certainly love nothing better than to see Mikel Arteta available for England. You want to play with the best players, and if it makes the England squad better, of course I'd like to see it. I think it happens to most national teams [that they pick non-nationals], but it's up to him if he wants to make himself available.You want to play with the best players, and if it makes the England squad better, of course I'd like to see it." Perhaps he wouldn't share that view if he felt his starting place would be challenged?

Rightly there are concerns regarding the dearth of quality English talent in key positions and the fact that younger players struggle to get the opportunity to develop in the bigger Premier League clubs when experienced foreign players are available. The latter could well contribute to the lack of players who progress from England u-18 and u-19 teams, as promising youngsters are stockpiled at the big clubs, stifling their developments. Michael Mancienne is a prime example, now in his 3rd loan spell from Chelsea to Wolves. Ten of his under-21 squad colleagues struggle to make the matchday squads at their respective clubs and three others have gone on loan to gain first team experience.

Closer to home for me, Spurs paid a reported £10m to secure the signing of Kyle Naughton and Kyle Walker, two of the most exciting talents seen at my club (Sheffield United) for a long time. Neither is making the matchday squad of 18 and will potentially be sent out on loan next week. Jacob Mellis, an England u-16 international, joined Chelsea from United for an undisclosed, but assumed significant, sum in 2007. Since then he has made it only as far as Southampton on loan. There are many other examples at other clubs.

The new homegrown rules do little to help, as the big clubs will have a large proportion of promising youngsters brought into academies from overseas at a young age. These can form part of the homegrown element of Premier League squads and so any English players are squeezed further down the list.

I am hoping that the FA show some bottle and block any move for players qualifying by residency. They appear unable to do little to affect the Premier League clubs behaviours in terms of youth development, but here they can make a small, but important contribution.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

On a level playing field?

Yesterday, Championship football teams and their fans must have been casting an eye towards South Wales with a touch of envy and a great deal of frustration as Cardiff unveiled their new signing, Craig Bellamy.

That is Craig Bellamy, reportedly on £90,000 per week when he joined Manchester City in January 2009, joining Cardiff, reportedly anywhere between £15-30m in debt, who since December have had 6 winding up orders, have allegedly failed to settle football debts and only 2 days before the start of the season managed to get a Football League transfer embargo lifted.

One factor that must rankle is that Manchester City and their money can seemingly play God not only over other Premiership clubs, but over the Championship as well. A player such as Bellamy should be playing Premiership football, but as soon as relations between Roberto Mancini and him were irrevocably soured, his club were more willing to subsidise his substantial wages than sell him to one of their rivals. The fact that Bellamy was eager to join his hometown club must have helped smooth the move (but let's not forget his claims of being a boyhood supporter of both Liverpool and Celtic when he joined them). How other chairmen and fans must wish that he had been born in Sheffield, Nottingham, Leeds or 20 other towns/cities. However, wherever he went, does it make it right and fair?

The other issue is the continuing financial situation at Cardiff. There is no doubt that football finances in general are not in rude health. It must be a matter of when, not if, a significant club goes to the wall. Cardiff survived the winding up orders over a period of 7 months, during which promises of imminent investment from a Malaysian investor repeatedly staved off HMRC advances, until the investment finally took place. It was of course in HMRC's interest to await investment rather than push through any winding up order, but with a hardening stance from HMRC, other clubs might not be so lucky in the future. Somebody might be made an example of and it will not be a Chester City or Farsley Celtic this time.

The original petition was discharged in June and a transfer embargo lifted, only for a further petition and embargo to be put in place over the Summer. That was then lifted following settlement of outstanding obligations just prior to the season starting. This allowed them to register 4 new signings, Jason Koumas from Wigan and two younger players from Manchester United, Tom Heaton and Danny Drinkwater and Seyi Olofinjana from Hull. Even then, their Chief Executive Gethin Jenkins told the BBC that  they faced "further challenges" and wouldn't rule out a further embargo.  The signing of Bellamy, less than 2 weeks later, has suddenly highlighted this as a possibility.

As the transfer was announced, Leeann Dempster Chief Executive of Motherwell went public with a claim that they were owed (what to them were significant) monies from the sale of Paul Quinn more than a year ago. Now it is common place in modern day football for transfer fees to be spread over the length of players contracts and with numerous additional clauses built in, tracking monies owed and due dates will not be straight forward. I don't suppose that is something that will ever change. However, Dempster claims that the debt is the full transfer fee of £175,000 and it is now 13 months old.  If that is found to be correct, then football needs to take a look at itself. Why was the embargo lifted, allowing players to be signed, when this money was owing? Should there not be rules for settling football debts, given the precedence they somehow still gain in administrations? If it is down to the selling club to lodge a claim, why have Motherwell waited until now?

In the last month we have already seen football teams playing the taxman at a dangerous game, with Sheffield Wednesday quickly building a strong League 1 squad prior to the taxman coming knocking for overdue tax. Wednesday somehow took the moral high ground in apparent disbelief at HMRC's actions yet I think I am right in saying that the debt has yet to be discharged in full. If the taxman is looking at toughening up their stance, then so should the footballing authorities. Tonight, Football League Chairman Greg Clarke has warned that the registration of Bellamy may not be accepted until Cardiff have provided certain assurances to the Football League. He also referred to "an abiding principle that people in business and their personal lives should always pay their debts."  BBC website article Now it is time for him to be a man of actions not words and abide by his principles. Not just with Cardiff (assuming they are found to have defaulted), but on all clubs who think being a football club allows them to operate in a manner which any other business in this country is unable to do and gives them a right to gain advantage over those who abide by more prudent principles.