Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail wants to “abolish the crazy rules that allow Jack Grealish to play for the Republic of Ireland”. Samuel might be the Daily Mail‘s chief sportswriter and, indeed, a “sportswriter of the year“, but I fear he knows not what he’s talking about. His rant over Grealish‘s eligibility to play for Ireland contains a staggering amount of rubbish; elements of the piece range from careless to poorly-considered, to disingenuous, to unfounded, to contradictory, to speculative and to downright ignorant. It’s a load of lazy, sanctimonious codswallop that perfectly encapsulates the absolutely awful misinforming rag from the gutter that is the Daily Mail. There are hints of xenophobia and cultural pompousness thrown in for healthy measure, of course, for what good would a Daily Mail rant be without them?… Typically and mainly, you’ll find those sentiments feature in the paper’s front half (most often reserved for immigrants, Muslims, the “politically correct” or whatever other maligned minority group is perceived to be doing harm to the “Great British way of life” at the minute), but the editor clearly saw potential in Jack Grealish’s story for preying on the fears and absolute worst of emotions in English sports fans in the run-up to the June 7th friendly game between Ireland and England in Dublin.
Solihull-born Grealish qualifies, by virtue of his Ireland-born grandparents, to play for Ireland under littera (c) of article 7 of FIFA’s Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes (although, having already represented Ireland competitively at under-age level, he remains entitled before being capped competitively at senior level to switch association once, under article 8, to England, for whom he is eligible by birth, in accordance with article 5). Article 7(c) is popularly referred to as “the granny rule” and the Football Association of Ireland’s perfectly legal use of it in order to facilitate members of the Irish diaspora in Britain has long been mocked by figures within British football as well as contemptuous voices, like Samuel, in the English media. Of course, unlike Irish nationality law, which is heavily influenced by the jus sanguinis principle, and the nationality law of other states, like Italy and those of continental Europe, that similarly have significant, identifiable and celebrated diasporas, British nationality law does not feature any provision for the inheritance of British citizenship beyond parentage or through grandparentage, so the Irish way perhaps seems a little alien to the British. Nevertheless, using the “granny rule” as a stick of ridicule with which to beat the Irish has been a means of asserting a distasteful and imperious sense of English superiority; since Jack Charlton in the 1980s first started selecting en masse England-born players for Ireland who were eligible on account of their Ireland-born parents and grandparents, Ireland have been derisively dubbed the “England ‘B’ team“. The term remains in use today given the still-frequent presence of a handful of England-born Irish nationals in Ireland international squads.
On account of the elevated prominence that Martin Samuel enjoys at the Daily Mail and the lofty level of esteem in which he is held by many football followers throughout Britain, I feel it would be constructive to dissect his rant on Grealish’s eligibility line-by-line in order to demonstrate the serious faults and deficiencies therein. I will take it from the very start. Samuel begins:
Birmingham-born Jack Grealish qualifies for Ireland through grandparents.
That would be three out of his four grandparents. Grealish has a maternal grandparent from Dublin, whilst his paternal grandparents come from Mayo and Kerry.
Ireland, who have a scout to find qualified players, came in for him at 17.
Grealish, now 19-years-old, has been playing for Ireland since the age of 14 (as is later stated correctly in the article, oddly). He first played for Ireland at under-15 level.
UEFA should have a panel to consider the status of players who are not representing the country of their birth.
FIFA/UEFA already have a panel in place for that purpose; it is called the Players’ Status Committee. The committee immediately oversees eligibility matters and ensures the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes are applied correctly and are being complied with. If the regulations are found to be overbearing or overly restrictive in their application, the committee may even grant exemptions. England have two members on the committee at present.
Not many people had seen Jack Grealish play before Sunday, so even fewer had heard him speak.
The ignorance and bias of Samuel is evident here. Jack Grealish has been representing Ireland competitively at various youth levels since the age of 14. He has also featured in 13 senior games for his Premier League club, Aston Villa, to date, whilst played 37 times for Notts County in League One during a spell on loan there last season. Whilst it is true to say he has suddenly entered the consciousness of the English media due to his stand-out performance in his side’s 2-1 FA Cup semi-final victory over Liverpool at Wembley last weekend, it simply isn’t accurate to claim “not many” people had seen him prior to this. Grealish has been making headlines in the Irish sports news pages for the past half a year or more.
[His appearance in Ireland squad’s] was partly through his grandparents on his father’s side and also because the Irish employ a scout called Mark O’Toole, whose job it is to sweep up the best young players qualified to play for Ireland. That’s not the same as sweeping up the best young Irish players.
He has an Irish grandparent on his mother’s side as well and, despite having been born in Birmingham, has had a strong Irish cultural upbringing. He even played Gaelic football for John Mitchels of Warwickshire.
And let’s not pretend the FA don’t have scouts and contacts around the world acting in their interests too. Those hypocrites at the Daily Mail would have been more than keen on FA scouts “sweeping up”, say, England-eligible Lewis Holtby from Germany. “How did England miss a boy with the Midas touch?“, they asked, before later lamenting, “We would know all about him if the FA and Fabio Capello hadn’t let him slip through the net.”
Ireland were into Grealish early, at 14, and since then he has represented them at Under 17, Under 18 and Under 21 levels. Recently there have been mixed messages. Receiving the award for Ireland’s Under 21 player of the year — despite making only two appearances — he said ‘hopefully’ he would be back in the green jersey next year.
This has all been Grealish’s own personal choice and he has been happy to represent Ireland. If he had wanted to act upon the FA’s interest, he has had plenty of opportunities to do so. In fact, he has turned down every one of England’s advances to date since joining the Irish set-up. It might suit Samuel’s narrative to pretend Grealish has no agency in all of this, but it insults a young player evidently proud of his heritage as well as other Ireland-eligible players born in England who have happily and voluntarily opted to play for Ireland over the years.
Whilst there has been “confusion” as to which country Grealish wishes to commit for good (which is completely fair enough, considering he is a dual national, after all), he has re-affirmed since the weekend a clear intention, previously expressed to the FAI a month ago after accepting his ‘Irish under-21 player of the year’ award in Dublin (see the video above), to return to playing in the green jersey by September.
The Football Association’s pursuit of Adnan Januzaj was unedifying, misguided and ended in rejection anyway. Better to have allowed the player to decide rather than make a sales pitch.
Just to be clear, Adnan Januzaj could never have become eligible to play for England due to the British associations having replaced littera (d) of article 6, a clause requiring two years of residency in the relevant association’s territory post the age of 18, with their own requirement for 5 years of education in the relevant association’s territory before the age of 18, as permitted by article 6.2.
Grealish has until now preferred to be with the group of teenagers who have accompanied him through his formative years in international football, and if that makes him feel more Irish than English culturally, that is his choice.
For some reason, I get the distinct impression Samuel isn’t too gone on the idea of respecting that choice if Jack happens to make the “wrong” one.
This is not about the player, then, but the process. Grealish can be Irish if he wants, the rules say so — but are the rules still relevant? Is it right that O’Toole should be able to act as a club scout in the international game, exploiting outdated regulations around nationality to sign up teenage schoolchildren for Ireland?
This is very much about the player. Grealish can be Irish because Irish nationality law entitles him to Irish citizenship. And of course the rules that permit him to play for Ireland are still relevant. How could they not be? Or are we to base international footballing eligibility on the biased whim of Samuel now? The regulations are anything but out-dated and the FAI (as well as Grealish) have simply been using them as FIFA have intended them to be used; FIFA’s intention is to enhance player choice. The rules as they exist are in recognition of the multicultural, globalised world in which we live. FIFA update and re-publish their statutes annually. They even have an Emergency Committee to introduce provisional or emergency legislation to swiftly deal with pressing unforeseen issues if necessary before the Congress has had a chance to formally evaluate matters. FIFA have never seen it fit to abolish the means of eligibility through grandparentage; in fact, it is something for which they have specifically legislated since 2004. Whilst the UK may not allow for the inheritance of British citizenship through grandparentage, this does not mean that a significant number of other states within the international community do not formally appreciate this familial bond for the purposes of extending citizenship. It is their sovereign right to officially acknowledge such a bond and FIFA evidently concur.
It is also important to note that Jack Grealish’s father, Kevin Grealish, has been protecting his son and looking out for his best interests his whole life, so to suggest the FAI are ruthlessly exploiting or preying upon impressionable and vulnerable kids is simply nonsense. Mark O’Toole performs a worthy job in helping members of the Irish diaspora in England realise their dream or ambition to play for Ireland. Everything he does in his role as an FAI scout is completely above board.
The rules were intended to help those without a choice — unable to play for their country of birth, but good enough to represent that of their ancestors. Andy Townsend, born in Maidstone, wasn’t regarded highly by those in charge of England but was considered good enough to play for Ireland 70 times, through his Irish grandmother. Good luck to him — England’s loss was Ireland’s gain.
But Grealish’s situation isn’t like that. The rules as applied in his case do not combat the absence of choice, they offer more choice, where none is necessary.
Grealish would have long been around the England age group teams by now. He would certainly be in next season’s Under 21 team, if he wasn’t already heading to the European Under 21 Championship in the summer or to the Toulon Under 20 tournament.
Grealish has rejected numerous FA advances. He’d have been in those England teams if he really wanted to have been.
The rules are there to protect players and to ensure they have a choice based on their national identity; the concept upon which international football is founded. FIFA fully acknowledge that national identification is not necessarily confined or restrained by place of birth and that players can have multiple national identities at once, irrespective of where they were born. There is nothing wrong with this. National identity transcends territorial boundaries. Who is the myopic Samuel to declare what is and isn’t “necessary” for a proud Irish national born in England? Are we to assume the choice is unnecessary just because the English media have taken a selfish interest in Grealish all of a sudden?
Was Samuel just as agitated by Canada-born Owen Hargreaves being selected by England, or by Jamaica-born Raheem Sterling and Burundi-born Saido Barahino being selected by England at present? The aforementioned players’ respective countries of birth would have gladly selected them had it not been for this supposedly-unnecessary choice presented to them by England’s interest.
So while Ireland haven’t broken any rules, they are certainly making the most of them.
As is the FAI’s legal right. The rules are there to be used by both associations and players, after all.
[The FAI’s] last Under 21 squad — which did not include Grealish — was made up of 21 players, 11 of whom were not born in Ireland. That cannot be right. It is not fair on those within Ireland’s club youth system. It is time for change.
Samuel must lose some serious sleep worrying about those Ireland-born players not selected by the FAI…
Admittedly, the Irish youth football situation is not ideal in the sense that Ireland are unable to rely completely on the domestic system and national developmental infrastructure in place to ensure a competitive senior international side, but this failing of the FAI’s is a separate debate that should not be reason to abolish protected nationality rights. And it’s certainly not Martin Samuel’s place to get involved with faux-concern.
We live in an era of globalisation, of migration, foreign travel and employment abroad. As borders break down or blur, more young athletes will qualify for multiple nations.
FIFA are well aware of this. It is something that the more tolerant and acceptant are happy to embrace.
As the planet shrinks more players will have these options.
People having options in their lives; how awful…
So is it right that a national association operates as clubs do, recruiting the best young players in what is increasingly a free market. How long before there are secret inducements, promises, before agents are involved?
Is it right that national associations select the best young players that are eligible and willing to play for them? I would very much think so.
What if a sharp figure with good connections said he could ‘get’ Grealish for England, that he had the ear of the player and his family, but would want his expenses covered and maybe a bit extra? Far-fetched? Today’s era of the super-agents would also have seemed that way had it been described to those who fought for the abolition of the maximum wage in the 1960s.
This paragraph doesn’t really make sense to me – I’m not sure of what exactly Samuel is getting at here – but it sounds a lot like scaremongering rhetoric to me, despite the fact there hasn’t been any rule-change recently that would motivate or have the effect of causing changes in agent behaviour all of a sudden. Are we not already in a world where agents try to influence their player’s choices so that the players take the more “marketable” or financially-lucrative option? Parties, and that includes agents and associations (perhaps even working in tandem), are already free to attempt to convince and influence players so long as it is without manipulation or coercion. Players remain free in return to weigh up the merits of their options.
Besides, articles 6 and 7 (formerly articles 16 and 17) of the Regulations Governing the Application of the Statutes contain protections to safeguard against the exploitation of naturalised citizens by associations and to ensure countries cannot naturalise minors simply in order to line them out for their football teams (see pages 30-31 of the Minutes of the 61st FIFA Congress for Ángel María Villar Llona‘s clarification). The rules exist to ensure a genuine, close and credible connection between player and country/association and, in principle, have the effect of preventing players who have acquired a new nationality (different from their birth nationality) from playing for an association representing their new nation until the age of 23 (after five years of residence post the age of 18), unless the player has a link to the territory of that association through birth, parentage or grandparentage.
For who will benefit, long term, if not the wealthiest associations? Ireland may win over Grealish but imagine the howls if the positions were reversed: if the FA stepped in to entice a young Irish footballer, with a Brummie grandfather, to switch sides?
Cork-born Shane O’Neill, a prospect with plenty of promise who could be very useful for Ireland if he did decide to declare, is in the US system at present but there’s been very little howling from Ireland fans. Shane Lowry, Alex Bruce, Éamon Zayed and Michael Keane are all players who have represented the FAI at one time but who have since opted for other associations, and without Samuel’s expected howls of outrage. It is fundamentally about respecting player choice, regardless of a player’s ability or whatever wishes and expectations associations, supporters or commentators might selfishly have for him.
And, anyway, isn’t Grealish exactly a case of the FA stepping in to entice the young legally-Irish footballer with a Brummie grandfather to switch sides? But Samuel purports to be looking out for the poorer associations…
It only requires an unscrupulous regime seeking victory at all costs. This is what happens if we take the nationalism out of national sport, if we make it too easy to pick up or abandon allegiance. It should be resolved at confederation level.
So, now utilising the rules as they are supposed to be utilised and seeking victory is potentially “unscrupulous”? Winning is already paramount for most, if not all, associations. All associations, including the FA, will use the rules as best they can, so pontificating on this is tiresome and of little merit. And God forbid international footballers weren’t nationally pure!…
UEFA should have a panel that sits to consider the status of any player who is not representing the country of his birth. Some cases would go on the tick, taking seconds. Nobody thought Singapore had much claim to Terry Butcher, for instance, just because his father was a signalman in the Royal Navy and he spent the first two years of his life there.
What of substance does Samuel propose as an alternative? Nothing. What ought the panel’s actual criteria be besides the clear rules that already exist at present? It is essential to have a standard and transparent set of universally-applying rules; there would be chaos and uncertainty otherwise, and, no doubt, accusations of abuse and corruption to follow.
And did Singapore actually ever attempt to claim Terry Butcher? If Butcher did indeed legally possess Singaporean citizenship, who is Samuel to dismiss it? If Butcher had ever lined out for Singapore, it would have been because that was what he had wanted to do; not because the Singaporean football association had taken advantage of him or coerced him into declaring for them. Besides, Samuel is only contradicting himself here; wasn’t he earlier approving of the limitation of player choice on the basis of the player’s place of birth if the association governing football in the territory concerned had an interest in said player? Why exactly should Singapore’s possible interest in Butcher have been so quickly dismissed despite his birth in Singapore, yet England afforded special privilege to select Grealish because of his birth in Solihull? Is it simply because Singapore’s “claim” would have been at odds with English interests? Surely, Samuel cannot be serious; where is his self-awareness? Whilst it is clear that insular English interests should rule supreme, as far as Samuel is concerned, thankfully, FIFA aim to ensure impartiality and universality in the global application of their regulations.
And there would be little objection to a player such as Townsend, who was 25 when he got his first Ireland call-up, at a time when it was obvious he was unwanted by England.
So, the rules as they are are actually fine, after all, but just so long as the FAI wait until Grealish is 25 and the FA first declare themselves uninterested in what he might have to offer, even if Grealish might want to actually play for Ireland?
It is different for players like Grealish, who turned his back on England before he was old enough to sit a GCSE. This wasn’t opportunity; it was opportunism. Unnecessary and wrong and all too predictably destined to end in this unsightly tug of war.
Of course, England don’t have to get involved if they’re above it all and would rather avoid the “unsightly”…
The above piece was also published on Backpage Football.