If any of the Welsh 2016 European Championship squad are reading this and take issue, my editor can give you my details.
Ovie Ejeheri, Arsenal’s highly-rated young goalkeeper has three nations competing for his gloves: England, Nigeria and Uganda. Ovie himself was born in England, yet his father is Nigerian and his mother Ugandan. As a result, the question of national team representation rears its ugly head yet again.
The laws are fairly liberal regarding international eligibility; all you have to do is show a ‘clear connection’ to that country and far more often than not FIFA will grant you eligibility.
Take the Welsh team at Euro 2016. Of their squad of 23 players, 9 were born in England with 4 of the English-born playing in their semi-final defeat to Portugal.
You might wonder why I take issue with that. If their parents are Welsh and they just happened to be born in England, why can’t they play for Wales? Well that’s the thing. If those were the circumstances of the ‘Welsh’ players who defied the odds to reach the semi-finals at Euro 2016, then I would have absolutely no quandary with them whatsoever.
However, in reality, there is a strong correlation between the Welsh/English players whose eligibility comes through just one grandparent and those who switched to declaring themselves Welsh at an older age.
It is a bit of a leap to suggest that the reason these players selected to play for Wales was because they realised that they could not make the England team, but – with only Ashley Williams of this group having a realistic chance of representing the Three Lions – you can’t deny it’s a possibility.
This brings us to the main point here. Every footballer, indeed every fan and non-fan, wants to do what they love at the highest level, on the biggest stage that they can. For players, this usually means playing for a Real Madrid or a Barcelona.
Should that avenue not be open to them however, playing at a lower level often takes precedence over not playing at all. To put this into the context of international football, it is noteworthy that Aaron Wan-Bissaka seems to be flirting with playing for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rather than the England side that has thus far proved so elusive to him in his senior career.
It is complicated though; people may feel attached to both national identities and therefore find it impossible to make a decision that doesn’t hurt in some way. However, as stated earlier, eligibility requirements are lenient to say the least.
At the moment, if you have one Welsh grandparent, three English grandparents and two English parents, you can rather strangely declare yourself to be Welsh. To make this absurdity clearer, if, in the same way, we were to replace Welsh with Ugandan in that sentence, said individual would probably find it hard to describe themselves as Ugandan.
Ejeheri’s case is a tricky one; with such strong connections to each nation, he has every right to choose to represent that which he prefers. Still, there has to be a line somewhere.
Should your mother be from, for instance, Uganda and therefore you feel strong ties to the Cranes, I completely get it. Even if both of your grandparents are Ugandan but your mother was born and raised in, for instance, England. But just one grandparent? Surely there’s no debate there.