Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Lure of Three Lions too much for Africa's displaced pride

Home is where the heart is but it seems Victor Moses is also using his head before deciding whether to represent England or Nigeria.

The Wigan Athletic player was conspicuous by his absence from the Super Eagles squad that assembled to play friendlies against Botswana and Zambia last week, despite being given clearance by Fifa to be included by coach Stephen Keshi.

Born in Nigeria but having moved to London at the age of 11 and represented England at every junior level, his no-show had been predicted by his agent Tony Finnigan when I spoke to him on the day the squad was announced.

“I don’t know what Victor will do but if I was a betting man I wouldn’t bet he will be going to Nigeria,” he told me.

“We’ll discuss it but I know he is still hoping to get a call-up for England in the future. Because we’re at delicate stage in his career, he has to maintain the form that he is showing and there is no way I would encourage him to go and play for Nigeria. He could get badly injured and end up not playing for six months so he has to think carefully about what to do.”

Unfortunately for me, no one at the UK nationals wanted the story at the time but, 10 days later, Finnigan has now repeated his views and admitted that Moses is stillharbouring hopes of a call-up from Fabio Capello. As he acknowledges, that is an unlikely scenario given Wigan's perilous position in the Premier League at present but the possibility remains a tantalising one given the exposure playing for England would give his career.

Moses knows that a single appearance for his adopted country would draw the attention of some of the Premier League's bigger clubs and perhaps earn him a move up the ladder, whereas committing his future to Nigeria at this stage would do nothing for his status in the UK. The situation might have been different had his homeland qualified for the African Nations Cup in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea in a couple of months but their failure means he now has until World Cup qualification begins next June to decide.

Should he eventually appear for England, Moses would become only the second Nigerian-born player to represent the Three Lions after John Salako - another alumni from Crystal Palace. But while other countries have embraced the naturalisation of players in recent years (think Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose for Germany or Marcel Desailly and Patrick Vieira for France), England's national team has not been so quick to follow suit.

That could be set to change with a number of African-born players currently involved in the youth set-up, including Crystal Palace's Ivorian born Wilfried Zaha and West Brom's highly-rated striker Saido Berahino, who arrived in Birmingham as a 12-year-old asylum seeker from war-torn Burundi. Meanwhile, Feruz Islam will join Chelsea in the summer having been groomed by Celtic's youth academy and the Somalian-born midfielder is expected to become the first African-born player to represent Scotland.

So while his decision to turn his back on the country of his birth for now was a risky one, Moses may end up being the trail-blazer for a new generation of immigrant footballers.

Follow me on Twitter @ed_aarons

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