Pietersen takes ‘English only’ Wilshere to task
South African-born England batsman slams Arsenal midfielder for views that only home-grown players should play for national side
Kevin Pietersen took to Twitter to question England footballer Jack Wilshere’s belief that only English-born players should represent the national side.
Pietersen, born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa to an English mother and South African father, has become a mainstay of the England cricket team and is just one match away from appearing in 100 Tests.
He is one of a number of players across several sports, including Jamaica-born footballer John Barnes, who’ve represented England without being born in the country, a legacy of the country’s imperial past, ‘mixed’ marriages and, more recently, greater global migration.
But Wilshere said on Tuesday: “The only people who should play for England are English people. If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English.”
However, Pietersen pointing to his own case and that of several other South Africa-born England cricketers as well as Somali-born double Olympic champion Mo Farah, said: “Jack Wilshere - interested to know how you define foreigner...?
“Would that include me, [Andrew] Strauss [the ex-England cricket captain], [Jonathan] Trott [England batsman], [Matt] Prior [England wicketkeeper], Justin Rose [South Africa-born golfer], [Chris] Froome [Kenya-born Tour de France champion], Mo Farah?”
England international Wilshere, 21, insisted he’d only been talking about his own sport.
“With all due respect Mr Pietersen the question was about Football! Cricket, cycling, Athletics is not my field!”
That didn’t satisfy the Pietersen, with the 33-year-old former England captain replying: “Same difference.. It’s about representing your country! IN ANY SPORT!”
Wilshere’s initial remarks, made ahead of England’s key next year World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland, came against the backdrop of the Football Association looking into the eligibility of rising Manchester United star Adnan Januzaj.
Belgium-born winger Januzaj can play for the country of his birth, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Turkey and the 18-year-old could also one day represent England on residency grounds.
Wilshere said having foreign-born players in the team risked diluting the essential character of the side.
“You think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. We have to remember that,” he said.
‘To be English you should be born in England’
Wilshere’s view was backed by former England football captain Alan Shearer, who told the BBC: “I am of the opinion that to be English you should be born in England...Adnan Januzaj looks a fantastic young talent.
“But just because you’ve lived in England for five years that doesn’t mean you can play for the national team.”
However, FA chairman Greg Dyke, speaking earlier on Wednesday, said Wilshere had gone too far and that were his view to be enforced Farah would have never have run for Great Britain at last year’s London Olympics.
“The idea that somebody who is not born in this country cannot play here is not real, but how long should they be here?,” said Dyke.
“But then you’ve got to look at what Fifa say, what are the Fifa rules on it?
“The FA are looking at what we think is appropriate and that is now what we are going through the process of.”
Many overseas-born sportsmen and women representing British teams are sensitive to suggestions they are not as committed as their ‘local’ colleagues and are flying a ‘flag of convenience’.
The topic is a particularly touchy one for Pietersen who by his own admission left South Africa believing his progress had been hindered by a quota system designed to assist non-white players who’d been banned from playing first-class or representative cricket during the apartheid era.
This led to accusations Pietersen was a mercenary, given the better financial rewards on offer in England compared to South Africa.
However, given he’d yet to make any sort of significant reputation as a batsman when he initially arrived in England in the 1990s, it was by no means guaranteed Pietersen would become the successful Test cricketer he is today.
The issue of player eligibility is not just one for English sport.
Earlier this year Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed became an Australian citizen, having previously been an asylum-seeker, and in August he made his international debut for his adopted country.
Meanwhile, Germany’s squad at the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa contained several players born outside the country.