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Pietersen takes ‘English only’ Wilshere to task

South African-born England batsman confronts Arsenal football star on Twitter, making case for non-English players representing England in international sport.

The South African-born Kevin Pietersen has represented England in 99 Tests so far. Phil Noble / Reuters
The South African-born Kevin Pietersen has represented England in 99 Tests so far. Phil Noble / Reuters

LONDON // Kevin Pietersen took to Twitter to question England footballer Jack Wilshere’s belief that only English 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 have 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 former England cricket captain], [Jonathan] Trott [the England batsman], [Matt] Prior [the England wicketkeeper], Justin Rose [the South Africa-born golfer], [Chris] Froome [the Kenya-born Tour de France champion], Mo Farah?”

Following a back and forth Twitter exchange Wilshere, who sparked a nationwide debate ahead of the England football team’s key World Cup qualifier against Montengero at Wembley on Friday, clarified his remarks late on Wednesday by saying: “To be clear, never said ‘born in England’ – I said English people should play for England.

“Great respect for people like KP [Kevin Pietersen], Mo Farah and Wilf Zaha – they make the country proud.

“My view on football – going to a new country when ur an adult, & because u can get a passport u play 4 that national team – I disagree.”

Earlier, the 21-year-old Wilshere insisted he had 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 did not satisfy Pietersen, with the 33-year-old former England captain, who replied: “Same difference.. It’s about representing your country! IN ANY SPORT!”

Wilshere’s initial remarks came against the backdrop of the English Football Association looking into the eligibility of Adnan Januzaj, the rising Manchester United winger.

The 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.

Wilshere’s view was backed by Alan Shearer, the former England football captain, 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, the English FA chairman Greg Dyke, 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 issue of player eligibility is not just one for English sport.

Fawad Ahmed, the Pakistan-born leg-spinner, became an Australian citizen this year, 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.

sports@thenational.ae