England's Wilshere speaks during a news conference at the St George's Park training complex near Burton upon Trent

Jack Wilshere, Kevin Pietersen, and national identity: Some issues just aren’t in an athlete’s domain


Like the rest of the athletic world, professional soccer’s culture remains one rife with latent sexism and homophobia. The casual language of this male-dominated world persists with identifying weakness as a feminine quality (don’t be such a girl/women/[worse]). Casually, jokingly questioning another’s heterosexuality is still done for comedic effect. Soccer remains a reflection of a maturing society, one where the Robbie Rogers and Megan Rapinoes of the world are only now starting to influence people’s opinions. Though there are a lot of intelligent people in the game, the game itself is not a breeding ground for enlightened social thought.

In that context, it shouldn’t be surprising that one athlete’s view on an equally complex topic lacks nuance. Jack Wilshere’s view of national identity apparently does. England is for English players — a clumsily opined response to Adnan Januzaj’s status — but in a country with a long history of immigration (and a liberal attitude toward political refugees), it’s unclear what that definition means. Do you need to be born in England? What about the broader United Kingdom? Or is there an age threshold past which you can no longer be English? What’s necessary and what’s sufficient to make an English person English?

(If you’re unfamiliar with the Adnan Januzaj situation, the link below should help you:)

[MORE Jack Wilshere sparks debate: Should Adnan Januzaj be allowed to play for England?]

It’s difficult to blame Wilshere for his lack of nuance because there’s really no right answer to this question. Much more learned people than Wilshere (or myself) are still debating the issue, making professional footballers (and obscure bloggers) strange points of reference. In a world where globalization’s forcing us to reconsider identity — where so many political  refugees without any sense of nationalism are left seeking new countries to call home — who cares what the Jack Wilsheres of the world have to say?

Right now, one country’s loophole is another’s open door. Even within the same nation, the standards change; sometimes, conveniently so.

Take England’s cricket team, which has taken the open door approach, something that’s helped fuel their rise to second in the International Cricket Council’s Test ranking. Among the 34 players the team’s used in the last year, 13 of them were born outside of England. Eight are form South Africa, with Barbabos, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and Zimbabwe each contributing one player to the squad.

That diversity may explain why one of the South Africa cricketers, South African-born Kevin Pietersen (no stranger to his own controversy), took to Twitter to question Wilshere’s stance:

Wilshere ended his day with a few attempted clarifications:

[MORE: Jack Wilshere denies singling out Adnan Januzaj, insists ‘Engand should be pick English players’]

Wilshere’s third tweet of the sequence helps narrow down his view, but the most telling tweet of the exchange my have been Pietersen’s first response to Wilshere. From a man who moved to England as a 17-year-old (making his international debut at 24), the sentiment revealed the emotion many immigrants feel. How is Jack Wilshere to say whether Pietersen’s English or not? And how can any person tell someone without a national identity that they can never truly be a part of their adopted country?

At this point, much of the English sporting public have accepted what’s happened with the cricket team. Perhaps that’s a result of the squad’s success, but it may also reflect a more globalized view of what nationalism can be. Given Pietersen was actually one year older than Januzaj when the two came to England (Januzaj came to train at Manchester United at 16), Wilshere’s view looks even more precarious. Broader, national standards run contrary to the English midfielder’s stance.

England cricket star Kevin Pietersen is in his 10th year as an England international, holding records for fastest English century and fastest batsman to reach 1,000 and 2,000. On Wednesday on Twitter, the South Africa-born batsman question Jack Wilshere’s views on English identity.

There are two important differences between Pietersen and Januzaj, though. First, Pietersen has and English mother, something that made him immediately eligible for the national team. Januzaj was born in Belgium, is Albanian by ethnicity, is eligible to play for Serbia and, if Kosovo were every recognized by FIFA, would have a fourth country from which to choose. Without an English parent, his England claim would be based on residency alone.

All of which brings us back to identity. On a personal level, Januzaj may not feel Albanian, Belgian, Kosovar or Serbian, and having spent the most important years of his life in England, perhaps he would develop a national identity by the time he’s 22 – when he would be eligible to play for the Three Lions. Just as Pietersen felt more English in the face of South Africa’s politics, Januzaj by see himself as English for his own, personal reasons.

Contrary to what Wilshere implies in one of his tweets, the second major difference between Pietersen and Januzaj shouldn’t matter. That a person’s a footballer, not a cricketer, should be irrelevant. We may not yet know exactly how to define a person’s identity, but it certainly can’t be dependent on whether you play one sport instead of another. Let it come down to personal preference if need be (something that admittedly leaves potential to be abused for sporting reasons), but certainly don’t let sport decide who are you and who you are not.

When it comes to national identity, I don’t have the answers. Clearly, neither does Jack Wilshere. And nobody expects him to have them. So within reason, why do we care what he has to contribute to the conversation? Perhaps he has surprisingly enlightened things to say on other topics, at which time we can talk about them, but this clearly isn’t one of them. Is anybody’s view on English identity going to be influenced by what Jack Wilshere had to offer?

Let’s hope not. And let’s also hope that, in time, we can agree: Athletes may not be the best source for nuanced social commentary. There will always be except to that rule, but we need to get away from any standard that assumes an athlete’s view on such a complex issue is worth this level of consideration.

There are a lot of smart people in the world who may be able to identify what being English really means. Jack Wilshere’s not one of them. And nobody should have expected him to be.

French PM says Benzema has no place on national team

Karim Benzema, France
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PARIS (AP) The French prime minister joined in the criticism of Karim Benzema on Tuesday, saying the Real Madrid striker “has no place” on the France team at the European Championship in the wake of a blackmail scandal.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Benzema is one of France’s key players as it gets ready to host the Euro 2016 tournament, but the forward faces charges of conspiracy to blackmail relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape. He is suspected of having played an active role in pressuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena, a case that has badly damaged his reputation.

“A great athlete should be exemplary,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French radio Europe 1. “If he is not, he has no place within the France team.”

The investigation, centering on wiretap evidence, started when Valbuena took legal action after being contacted by a man claiming to possess an incriminating sex tape.

In a case that could drag on for months, Benzema’s involvement has not yet been fully determined. But investigators who charged him in October believe he was approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary and convince Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers.

“If a minister was handed preliminary charges, he would no longer be part of the government,” Valls said.

Benzema denies any wrongdoing but his arguments were undermined last week when Valbuena spoke directly about his attempts to pressure him in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.

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The French football federation has also joined the case as plaintiff.

“There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes,” Valls said. “They wear the blue jersey, the colors of France, which are so important in these moments.”

Preliminary charges under French law mean magistrates have strong reason to believe a crime was committed, and allow time for further investigation. The charges may later be dropped. In 2010, Benzema was handed preliminary charges for soliciting an underage prostitute but was acquitted in a case that lasted more than three years and tarnished his reputation.

Benzema’s image was further dented last month when he spat on the pitch after the national anthem was played at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium in a tribute to the 130 fatalities of the Paris attacks ahead of a match against Barcelona.

Benzema’s action ignited a wave of criticism on social media, prompting his lawyers to issue a statement in which they condemned “the scandalous interpretation” of the incident. Benzema, who has 27 international goals, had posted several messages in support of the victims in the days that followed the attacks.

League Cup preview: Man City, Liverpool, Everton look to make semis

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The Capital One Cup quarterfinals take place on Tuesday and Wednesday with five Premier League left among the last eight.

[ MORE: Follow League Cup scores live

Only one all-Premier League tie is set up with Southampton hosting Liverpool as Ronald Koeman pits his wits against Jurgen Klopp at St Mary’s in the tie of the round. Saints will be without captain Jose Fonte through injury, while Liverpool have Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge available but both may be used from the bench as they build up their match sharpness. Saints and Liverpool drew 1-1 at Anfield last month so expect another tight encounter down on the South Coast.

PL leaders Man City welcome Championship side Hull City to the Etihad Stadium with Manuel Pellegrini aiming to win the League Cup for the second time in three years. David Silva could make his first start in over two months for City, but Joe Hart remains out injured as Steve Bruce‘s Tigers come to town.

Everton also face second-tier opposition in Middlesbrough with a tricky trip to the Riverside awaiting the Toffees. Roberto Martinez’s team have to shore up at the back after drawing 3-3 at Bournemouth in the league last weekend, as they face Aitor Karanka’s flying-high Boro who are pushing for promotion from the Championship. This one seems like the biggest banana skin for PL clubs.

Talking of banana skins, Stoke City host Sheffield Wednesday at the Britannia and although the Potters will fancy their chances of making the final four after they knocked out Chelsea in the last round, Wednesday comprehensively beat Arsenal last time out and the Owls will provide a stern test for Geoff Cameron and Co.

Below are the fixtures for the next few days, while you can click on the link above to follow all the last-eight games live.

League Cup quarterfinals


Manchester City vs. Hull City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Middlesbrough vs. Everton – 2:45 p.m. ET
Stoke City vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 2:45 p.m. ET


Southampton vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET

Arsenal still waiting on severity of Alexis Sanchez’s injury

NORWICH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  An injured Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (17) is given assistance during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Arsenal at Carrow Road on November 29, 2015 in Norwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Arsenal’s fans are sweating on news regarding Alexis Sanchez’s left hamstring injury and it seems as though the wait for a diagnosis will go on.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Arsene Wenger has come under plenty of criticism for playing Sanchez, 26, despite the Chilean star complaining of a hamstring injury before the Norwich game on Sunday, and when he pulled up clutching his left hamstring in the second half Wenger’s face was one of anger and disappointment.

Multiple reports claim that Sanchez’s injury is still being assessed by Arsenal’s medical staff as Wenger faces an anxious wait to see how long his star forward is out for.

Here’s what Wenger had to say directly after Arsenal’s draw at Norwich, as the media questioned why he would play Sanchez if he was already struggling with a hamstring complaint.

“Nobody is scientifically developed enough, not even the press, to predict exactly when a guy will be injured,” Wenger said. “I would have rested him but he felt perfectly alright before the game. We declared that he had no problem. Despite all the tests he looked alright. The players are there to play football not to be rested when the press decides that they need to be rested. He [Alexis] says it is a kick on his hamstring but I believe that is not really the reality.”

The reality is that Sanchez — who has scored nine times in 20 appearances this season — could miss some crucial games for the Gunners, including their UEFA Champions League Group F showdown with Olympiakos next Wednesday in Greece. Arsenal need a win by a two-goal margin or any win by scoring three or more goals to advance to the last 16 of the UCL, but with Sanchez out and plenty of others struggling, the dreaded injury plague struck the North London club in November, a month they always seem to falter in, once again.

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Santi Cazorla suffered a knee injury against Norwich and like Sanchez it’s unclear how long the Spanish midfielder will be out for. The only piece of good news to come from Sunday’s draw in Norfolk is that Laurent Koscielny should be available to play against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) after overcoming a hip injury which forced him off early last weekend.

However, with Francis Coquelin out long-term, plus Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs making their way back slowly and long-term absentees Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Tomas Rosicky out until January, Wenger’s squad is being stretched to the limit.

Report: Chelsea, Man United to battle for Muller

Telekom Cup 2015 - "Bayern Munich v FC Augsburg"

Chelsea are set to join Manchester United in bidding for Bayern Munich and Germany star Thomas Muller.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s new stadium plans ]

Muller, 26, has previously revealed he turned down a move to United but with Pep Guardiola’s future at Bayern unclear beyond the current season, the product of Bayern’s academy may feel now is the right time to move on even though he’s contracted to the German powerhouse until 2019.

If he does, Europe’s biggest teams will be lining up and according to a report in the Daily Mirror Chelsea want to sign Muller and will make an audacious move to make him their main striker as Jose Mourino and Diego Costa‘s fallout continued with the Spanish international left on the bench during the draw at Tottenham Hotspur last weekend.

With Costa sulking, Mourinho  has been linked with moves for a number of strikers in January and next summer with Jamie Vardy, Saido Berahino and Antoine Griezmann all mentioned in the gossip columns.

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In the past Muller has said that he turned down “astronomical offers” to join foreign clubs and United were his main suitors. With the man who gave him his debut at Bayern, Louis Van Gaal, now in charge at United and the Red Devils continuing to spend big, Muller has been constantly linked with a switch to Old Trafford but many Bayern greats are urging him to remain at the Allianz Arena to become a Bayern legend, or at the very least join the all-conquering Barcelona rather than head to England.

Muller’s predatory finishing alongside Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian certainly seems like a good fit at Chelsea and you can understand why they would want to break the bank to get him, but offloading Costa and others first must be the priority which is why any such deal for Muller seems unlikely to happen until next summer at the earliest.

If the man who has scored 141 goals in 325 games for Bayern is intent on leaving the Bundesliga after spending his entire career in Bavaria, then Chelsea and United will be falling over themselves to sign him.