Thursday, February 10, 2011

It used to be so much simpler. As a footballer, you knew you were Scottish, English or Irish and who you'd play for internationally.

Then came all the grandparent loopholes and residency rules and countries like the Republic of Ireland exploited them to the full. Owen Coyle - Irish internationalist. Gtf.

Obviously Scotland has benefitted too. Two of the star performers in last night's win over Northern Ireland, Kris Commons and Phil Bardsley, were both born in England and you'd not mistake them for Scottish in any shape or form if you just heard them talk.

On the flip side, there's not really any top players who we've missed out on because they turned their back on Scotland to play for one of our Celtic neighbours. It's countries like Canada who seem to miss out on players for this reason. It's almost treason as far as I'm concerned.

Now for those of you reading this who are not in Canada, you may be surprised to know that English international Owen Hargreaves is a Canuck. He chose to play for England and not Canada. I know, can you imagine?! Another lesser known player, Teal Bunbury, chose to play for the US and not Canada. That would be like someone choosing England over Scotland. The plus side for Canadian fans is that he has a fucking ridiculous name to be one of your star players.

The reason we're talking about all of this today of course is due to the situation that arose this week with Wigan Athletic's James McCarthy.

McCarthy was born in Glasgow. He promised his Irish born grandfather, not long before he passed, that he would play internationally for the Republic of Ireland if the opportunity arose. It did.

He's been capped at under 17, 18, 19 and 21 levels for Ireland, as well as earning a friendly cap as a sub for the full squad against Brazil last February.

McCarthy was selected for the Republic's Nations Cup squad this week and was likely to play against Wales on Tuesday night. He pulled out of the squad before the game and this has led to intense media speculation that he will be changing his allegiance and waiting for a call up to play for the country of his birth, Scotland.

Now, I know Scotland are set to benefit from getting a young, talented and highly thought of fully fledged Scottish player in their international ranks, but the situation is farcical. If it had happened in reverse, I'd be fuming.

Under FIFA rules, youth team and friendly appearances don't count. Only competitive games. It's ridiculous. Once a player makes his mind up who he's playing for (sigh) and once he's been selected for that country, especially at under 21 or full level, then that should be the country he represents. Don't go changing because you've had second thoughts.

McCarthy should have been playing for Scotland from the start. That said, you can't fault a young lad for wanting to keep a promise to his granddad. I respect him for that decision but once made it's one that he has to stick to.

The countries that are going to get most shafted by these rules are the smaller ones. If you're picked for say Andorra and then Spain or Portugal come a calling and you can change, then most players will take that option.

McCarthy is saying that he won't be rushed into his decision. The easy way to get round it is for the SFA to just come out and say they won't select him.

At a time where the Scottish national team is in full re-build, that would be a brave decision to make. But the right one.


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