Matt Ritchie: Scottish Thistle or English Rose

English born winger, Matt Ritchie was a surprise call up by Scotland manager, Gordon Strachan for the matches against Northern Ireland and Gibraltar, in March. He retained his place for the friendly against Qatar and the crunch match in Dublin against the Irish.

The Bournemouth attacker, whose 15 goals helped the Cherries to the Championship title is eligible through his father Alex, who hails from Edinburgh but was born in Gosport, Hampshire. The town situated on the south coast is 443.5 miles away, by car from Hampden Park, Glasgow.

The case has to be made in these circumstances should a player qualify to play for the national team be included because of where their parents or grandparents were born.

If you are unaware, FIFA, in articles six and seven states: if, in addition to having the relevant nationality, he fulfils at least one of the following conditions: a) He was born on the territory of the relevant Association; b) His biological mother or biological father was born on the territory of the relevant Association; c) His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant Association.

Matt, who had never stepped foot in Scotland before his selection was asked two questions by Strachan before the manager made his mind up about his inclusion. The first being “Are you Scottish?” The second being “Do you feel Scottish?” Ritchie answered both with a simple “yes” thus the matter was settled.

Others have skirted around the same questions that the European Super Cup winner asked and missed their chance to turn out for the tartan army. He is a firm believer that…

“You have to feel Scottish.”

There is no doubting that he was in form, his league-leading 17 assists helped the Cherries to an unlikely promotion to the Premier League. In the end if it is good enough for Strachan, who am I disagree. However, it must be asked should players of other nationalities that have no strong links to the country be elevated above those that are unequivocally 100% Scots.

In the past, we have seen the likes of Chris Martin, Graeme Murty and Nigel Quashie to name but a few all earn caps. None of who at any point in their career were better than what the natives had to offer. Picking those that were playing in the highest-level or sometimes even the second tier in England. It was a trap that previous managers such as Walter Smith and Alex McLeish have fallen foul of, though Strachan has been caught out as well.

However, it is not for me or anybody else apart from the individual to decide what nationality they have an allegiance too. If Matt Ritchie does feel Scottish and he helps improve the national team, I see no problem with it. Although if he does not translate his domestic performances to those on the international scene, he should not be picked on the basis he plays in a big league.

His parallel could be Kris Commons, who like Ritchie qualified through his ancestral lineage and plays in a similar position to the Premier League forward. Granted Commons never did perform in a Scotland shirt, with his lackadaisical work rate that is synonymous with him.

It is not just Scotland that use the rules to their advantage, even with the best national sides, foreign-born players become eligible through certain loopholes and criteria. In 2014, it was the reigning world champions that were finding ways to improve their side outside of their country. They looked to Diego Costa, who was born in Brazil and even played twice for his home country in friendlies. Due to FIFA rulings that did not mean he could only play for the Seleção. A year later he turned out for Spain in the World Cup as he had received dual nationality as he met the conditions to apply for this status.

Even historically, the Iberians courted foreign strikers. The legend that is Ferenc Puskás, who was part of the conquering Hungarian team in the 40s and 50s, switched allegiances. The former Real Madrid striker ended up playing for La Furia Roja, five years after his Mighty Magyars side were no longer capable of playing due to the Hungarian Revolution.

In more recent times, the 1998 French World Cup squad contained some that were born in other countries, such as Marcel Desailly (Ghana) and Patrick Viera (Senegal). They also had people with a diverse ethnic background. Youri Djorkaeff (Armenian/Polish) and Zinedine Zidane (Algerian) just to name a couple of the more high profile examples.

In a broad sense, national identity is one that is flimsy in the game. Heading back to these shores, English born players would jump at the chance to play for “them” as Craig Brown used to call our southern neighbours. If the choice was between their country of birth and where their ancestry was rooted. This is because they know they are bettering their chances of winning something with England rather than Scotland, who have not qualified for a major tournament since 1998.

I do not however believe these players do not try as hard as the captain, Scott Brown, just to name an example. Whether “foreign-born” or lived on Letherby Drive and seen Queen’s Park’s home ground outside the bedroom window. As a professional I am sure these players value the opportunity that has been awarded to them. Especially under a manager that has a right to be respected, with the ability that the squad possess and with something to prove that he belongs in that team.

In an ideal world, I would like players to represent the country that have a true identity with. However, Football has turned into a business and the case of turning up for whatever team has the criteria allowing you to wear the strip has been prevalent for years now.

While this is the case it, Scotland may as well give themselves the best opportunity to succeed and enter major tournaments, especially when major nations such as the French, Germans and Italians continue to do so, unfortunately.

A collection of Matt Ritchie’s assists and goals this season:

You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.


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