"Jack Wilshere does raise an interesting philosophical point" is a sentence that we had never anticipated would feature in this column, and given our reluctance to do so, we'll opt for a slightly different introduction by pointing out the following: Jack Wilshere has come out with comments yesterday which were at best dangerously ignorant and at worst dog-whistle racism.
"England for the English" is of course a phrase in England associated with various far-right groups in the country's fairly recent history, also with strong links to football via hooliganism and racism at matches. It's therefore obviously stupid to sail so close to the phrase. Wilshere, it should not be forgotten, also took to Twitter on St. George's Day two years ago to tweet the following:
"Through thick and thin until I die my ENGLISH PRIDE stands so high......happy st Georges day.
My ENGLISH pride I will not hide. The ENGLISH race I wont disgrace. My ENGLISH blood flows hot and true and ENGLISH people I’ll stand by you."
Now, obviously, 1000 internets to everybody who can defend the use of the phrase "English race", let alone posting a cringeworthy poem that wouldn't look out of place as a tattoo at an EDL demo. But any criticism of Wilshere's comments must sadly be negated by the terrible idiocy in the responses to them.
Firstly, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that England's bid to snare Adnan Januzaj was one of the most pathetic moves in football history - using players by residence is common, but asking them to reject all other advances for five years and remain in the country for that time so that the rule can be exploited is another thing altogether.
Really though, in the age of Mo Farah, many English commentators have lost sight of how the rule usually works, and for what reasons. Applying for citizenship in England or most other European countries carries one obvious advantage: an EU passport. Since Januzaj was born in Belgium, this is not a concern for him and he thus has basically no advantage to becoming a citizen of the United Kingdom.
Plenty of people come out saying Vive to France and Forza to Italy after acquiring their citizenship, although in Britain the national debate seems to assume the point that one would only ever do so for the UK because they had an innate adoration of Britain and the British way of life (probably the only country in the world who could make jingoistic exceptionalism out of an inferiority complex.)
Making myths about this sort of thing often ends up highly destructive in the end. France's World Cup-winning side had Zinedine Zidane as its talisman, who was a hero to some Algerians resident in France but left many others cold, choosing to play for France over Algeria despite being born just ten years after the brutal Algerian War of Independence. Many in France were quick to herald the team as a multi-racial ideal - ten years later, the failings of the national team were being blamed on too many immigrant players, with the French FA bringing in quotas to reduce the number of dual-passport holders in academies.
Of course, that doesn't suggest the multi-racial idea was wrong, but it's deluded and dangerous to try and second-guess the reason that people gain citizenship for other countries. Particularly in football, where "France Under-21s International" will get more interest when agents hawk their clients to prospective clubs than "Senegal Under-21s International." But when things start to go badly, newer models and ideals get turned on, and the 'too many immigrants' retort has been aired in several countries in Europe in recent years.
England, after all, is a country currently struggling with such a crisis as people desperately look for ways of fixing the team's problems. It's notable that Wilshere chose to make his comments at a time when some sort of radical change is desperately being sought for the national side. And when assimilation is decided as the ultimate ideal, then other groups in the team get turned on very quickly.
For the present, and for the foreseeable future, Belgium have a superior national team to that of England. That leaves Januzaj with absolutely no reason to choose to play for England, and the likelihood of it is so slim that it was never worth talking about in the first place. But out of nothing, Wilshere has launched a debate that nobody asked for. He's certainly pushed the boundaries of acceptable opinion, but in what direction? Well....