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Is European football losing its monopoly on talented players from the diaspora?

The Facts

Debate was sparked in recent weeks about whether or not European football is at risk of losing some of their best players to other national teams.

It comes after West Ham manager David Moyes commented on striker Michail Antonio, urging him to “not give up hope” of an England call-up, amidst the Jamaican national team being interested in his services.

Moyes, 57, said, “I am still holding out he has a chance to get picked for England. I wouldn’t say no to Jamaica but I haven’t spoken to him about it.

“If Mick can score another half dozen before the end of the season in the big games and help West Ham finish near the top of the league it is not to say that Gareth won’t look at him and say ‘hey he could give us something different in the Euros.”

David Moyes wants Michail Antonio to play for England.

Antonio, 30, is one of many high profile players who is reportedly in the process of obtaining a Jamaican passport.

The list of players who are considering switching allegiances from England to Jamaica to help them qualify for the 2022 World Cup includes, Everton’s Mason Holgate, Southampton’s Nathan Redmond, Bayer Leverkusen’s Demarai Gray and more.

Elsewhere, Manchester United’s starting right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka is toying with the idea of playing for his native DR Congo.

Everton forward Alex Iwobi has already chose to represent Nigeria at international level.

He made his debut with the Super Eagles in October 2015, and travelled with them to the 2018 World Cup (scoring against Zambia in the qualifiers) and two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Alex Iwobi scores for Nigeria against England in a 2-1 loss for the Super Eagles. (goal at 5:35) (Video credit: England national team)

Many people think this is a question of race and ethnicity. As society becomes more egalitarian, many people who are of an ethnic minority are trying to get back to their roots and relate to their country of origin.

Several conversations and debates about race and ethnicity are being had in recent times, amidst an ever-growing political tension in regards to the topic. However, it is entirely possible that players simply see national teams as ‘clubs’, but on an international stage.

The competition for international places is as fierce and unforgiving. If a player feels as if they aren’t wanted or needed for a country, then it would be in the best interest of their careers to look elsewhere.

Uruguay’s Luis Suarez single-handedly destroyed Ghana’s dream of becoming the first-ever African team to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup. Video credit: FIFATV

It’s simply a business move in some cases, and not due to any sort of personal feelings towards or against a particular country. Why spend time waiting to make a name for yourself at international level with one country when another would be happy to have you?

‘Smaller’ countries could use this as an opportunity to try and pry eligible players away from Europe. It would certainly improve the quality of the game, as so-called ‘bigger’ countries would no longer have a monopoly on the best talent and therefore would not be able to take them for granted.

The leverage that certain countries currently have would slowly disappear. This would be interesting to see, as the neglected countries would gradually provide more legitimate competition for the more established countries, as well as improve the quality of their own continental tournaments.

It would be unthinkable in today’s game, but exciting to dream about. Jamaica vs Portugal. Senegal vs England. Ukraine vs France. North Macedonia vs Portugal. Ghana vs Argentina.

A dream today, a reality tomorrow.

In short, yes and long may it continue. Too often European nations like England and France have benefited from their colonial connections back to Africa and the Caribbean, which does not just have political implications, but sport-related too.

For many years Europe has appeared as the holy grail to the creme of the crop for young talents trying to make it from the likes of Senegal or Ivory Coast trying to make it to Clairefontaine.

One of the many reasons why France’s 2018 win was dubbed as ‘Africa’s World Cup’ by some journalists outside of Africa and was supported by other known figures including Trevor Noah, despite it being in jest a lot of French people took offence to it.

Where are we now?

Fast forward to today, we see multiple players having Jamaican citizenship acquired for them including Mikhail Antonio, more young English players moving abroad for game time and youngsters like Jamal Musiala rejecting England

Less than three months away from the Euros opening, Gareth Southgate had an additional year to mull over decisions.

But equally, more players have been able to stake their claim, including Phil Foden, Mason Mount and maybe even Jadon Sancho all but cementing their places.

However, with few standout players and the selection dilemma ahead of next year, stalwarts like Kyle Walker risk losing out.

The Three Lions have a huge number of potential players who will miss out on both tournaments. If we’re being honest as well, the way English caps have been rendered meaningless over the past decade based on the players who have gained them over the years.

The future

What I’d love to see, is more players who are eligible for African and Caribbean nations, declaring for said teams, building those football-mad countries up, which post-retirement could lead to them taking on more executive roles.

In the long-term leading to a game of global competitiveness, not just a European/South American divide as has been since the inception of the World Cup.

Here’s to a globally competitive game and the ending of the European/South American duopoly…

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Aaron Fenton-Hewitt is an aspiring journalist and political commentator. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Film from London Metropolitan University, and a Master's in Writing for Creative and Professional Practice from Middlesex University. He wishes to continue his academic career, with a PhD in Politics or related field.

Aaron is also a freelance photographer, an avid foodie and an Arsenal supporter.

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Tyrone Chambers is a London-born, Kent-raised Project manager and aspiring Business owner. He holds a BA (Hons) in Global Business Management where he also spent some time studying in Denmark. He is a strongly opinionated sports fanatic who is also a musician. He works with multiple organisations that look to uplift & impact the wider society.

Aaron Fenton-Hewitt and Tyrone Chambers

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