Those that got away: an investigation of England-eligible Foreign Internationals

My Could Have Played for England XI

My Could Have Played for England XI

I’m sure football fans everywhere has been extremely impressed by Leicester City’s fairytale run of the form to the upper echelons of the Premier League this season. While the likes of Vardy and Mahrez has understandably earned most the plaudits, it is clear that Leicester’s rise is a complete team effort: and it was the Leicester captain Wes Morgan that led me to this post.

Morgan used to be one of my favourite players on football manager and had in many saves became the defensive bedrock of England. So as Leicester marched on I was curious to see whether he would finally earn an England call-up in real life, only to realise that he had switched international allegiance to Jamaica in 2013 and since amassed 23 caps for them.

Switching international allegiance is not uncommon in football: one only has to look at the Algerian squad in the World Cup which among many others included the Paris-born Mahrez. Nevertheless, it seemed that this is rarely discussed in the English context, and it got me thinking…

In a desperate attempt to avoid real work during the holidays, I scoured through the internet (mostly Transfermarkt, the Premier League website and Wikipedia) and found at least 108 England-eligible players across the top 4 divisions who for whatever reason chose to play international football for another nation. It was procrastination in its finest and almost became an immigration study.

You can see the data here:

Inclusion Criteria:

  1. The player must at one point be eligible for England, that is

    1. Born in England

    2. Or would qualify under the education requirement (5 years of schooling in England before 18) n.b. I included everybody who qualified, even those who have likely never considered playing for England e.g. Kasper Schmeichel.

  2. The player now plays for another nation and has won at least 1 senior cap. Therefore anybody who is technically available for an England call-up, however remote the possibility, is not included (this rules out players like Nedum Onuoha, a some players who have only youth caps for a non-England nation)

  3. He must have made at least 1 league appearance in the top 4 division this year.

(n.b. : Many of these players switched allegiance through the grandfather rule. There are potentially tens of other Home Nations internationals who would be England-eligible, including one Gareth Bale. Unfortunately, digging into this requires who-do-you-think-you-are-level of investigations. Regardless, we do know that very few players other-UK born players opt for England. Wikipedia suggests there had only ever been two, fewer than those born in India)

Basic stats stuff (humanities graduate) and a few observations:

  • Of the (at least) 108 England-eligible players, almost half (47%) plays in the Championship.

  • There is something going on with the East Midlands (broadly speaking) when it comes to England-eligibles: Derby and MK Dons both have 5, Leicester has 4 (most in PL), so does Nottingham Forest.

  • As none of the Celtic nations made it to Brazil, only 1 of the listed players appeared in the last World Cup: London-born Albert Adomah for Ghana.

  • None of last year’s top 8 has any player listed; however half of the current top 8 does.

  • Unsurprisingly, the remaining nations of the British Isles were the main beneficiaries of England-eligible players, forming 4 of the top 5. With 20, Wales has a clear lead: you are as likely to find an England-born Welsh international as an England-eligible Premier League player (18.5%)

  • There can be many potential reasons as to why Wales are ahead despite a higher percentage of Irish and Scottish people in England. I speculate the reason to be a mixture of:

    • a more densely populated land border with England

    • lack of local services in Mid and North Wales: for many people in Wales the closest maternity ward is in England (see: Ryan Shawcross)

    • No professional league in Wales (some England-eligible Scottish and Irish players go to the SPL)

  • Of all players listed, Swansea’s Ashley Williams has obtained the most caps with 56. Another Welshman, Sam Ricketts, is second with 52. Third goes to Walsall’s Neil Etheridge who at 25 has already represented the Philippines 48 times.

  • Pub Quiz trivia: Which Englishman has the most international caps? Peter Shilton? No, the answer is Daniel Bennett. Born in Great Yarmouth, he moved to Singapore as a child and eventually obtained 128 caps for them, 3 more than Shilton.

  • Beyond UK nations, Jamaica and the Republic of Ireland both swayed 14 players; a pretty accurate reflection of immigration patterns in the post-war era?

  • Indeed, with the notable exception of British Asians (which is completely beyond the scope of this procrastination exercise), the numbers largely adheres to the size of immigrant communities and post-colonial immigration in England: rest of the British Isles first, then the West Indies, then also Nigeria and Australia/New Zealand.

  • The list is 15 years too early to show EU-related immigration patterns. Excluding the Republic, there have only been 2 players who play for an EU nation: Schmeichel and London-born Jason Demetriou for Cyprus.

    • Although there are another 2 currently in the Gibraltar set-up, making them the most popular “continental” UEFA nation.

  • The number of players for Australia and New Zealand is lower than I expect, and there are glaring omissions in South Africa, Canada and the USA. Again there are many reasons, but I reckon the popularity of other sports and that many of those emigrants are of Scottish and Irish descent may have something to do with it.

    • 2 near misses: Junior Hoilett just missed the education criteria and since declared for Canada; Bournemouth’s Andrew Surman was born in Johannesburg and can still switch after only gaining U21 caps with England.

    • There is 1 US-born player – but he declared for Wales (Adam Henley, Blackburn)

  • The players’ birthplace again reflect the immigration patterns: most in London and the South East, then North West. Yorkshire and the Humber do again have a lower-than-expected number.

  • Also, my “Could have played for England XI”: Schmeichel; Schulpp, Morgan, A. Williams, Anya; Moses, King, Morrison; Bolasie, Rhodes, Adomah. Good championship side?

  • You may wonder there are 109 players by national team count: this is because 1 England-born player has played for 2 nations, neither of which is England: Alex Bruce of Hull. He gained 2 friendly caps for the Republic before switching to Northern Ireland, gaining another 2 caps to date.

  • If I did this last year, there be an amazing story in Crystal Palace’s Kwesi Appiah: born in Thamesmead, he would be playing League Two football with Cambridge whilst playing and scoring in the African Cup of Nations for Ghana (he hasn’t made a league appearance this year).

  • Lastly, to bring this post back to Hong Kong: there are two current England-born Hong Kong internationals: Jack Sealy and Jaimes McKee.

Ultimately, looking at it again, there has not been an English version of Klose or Diego Costa, and it is probably fair to suggest that England has not missed out on any generational talent (OK there was Bale, but he had chosen Wales before moving to Tottenham). Of the 108 on the list, Ashley Williams would probably have been the only one to be called up regularly (bear in mind we took Martin Kelly to Euro 2012). Beyond Williams, Schmeichel may have gotten the third-choice treatment, and perhaps Moses, Bolasie and Morgan would have been within a shout given their performances in the recent years.

Oh and then there was Jermaine Beckford: remember those days when he was at Leeds, scoring for fun and people mooted about him for England? Well, he’s now at Preston and declared for Jamaica. How time flies, eh?