Saturday 3 December 2016

English journalist calls for granny rule to be abolished after Jack Grealish saga, is he right?

Published 22/04/2015 | 11:36

Aston Villa starlet Jack Grealish is wanted both by the FAI and the English FA
Aston Villa starlet Jack Grealish is wanted both by the FAI and the English FA

The Daily Mail's Martin Samuel agrees that Ireland haven't broken any rules but they are making the most of them, is he right to question the need for the Granny Rule.

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He argues that the rule was brought in for players who were not good enough to play for their country of birth but good enough to play for the country of their ancestors, so they could play international football.

Players like Andy Townsend, Ray Houghton and John Aldridge were overlooked at home but were welcomed with open arms by Jack Charlton.

Samuel argues: "The rules were intended to help those without a choice — unable to play for their country of birth, but good enough to represent that of their ancestors. Andy Townsend, born in Maidstone, wasn't regarded highly by those in charge of England but was considered good enough to play for Ireland 70 times, through his Irish grandmother. Good luck to him — England's loss was Ireland's gain.

"But Grealish's situation isn't like that. The rules as applied in his case do not combat the absence of choice, they offer more choice, where none is necessary.

"Grealish would have long been around the England age group teams by now. He would certainly be in next season's Under 21 team, if he wasn't already heading to the European Under 21 Championship in the summer or to the Toulon Under 20 tournament.

"So while Ireland haven't broken any rules, they are certainly making the most of them. Their last Under 21 squad — which did not include Grealish — was made up of 21 players, 11 of whom were not born in Ireland. That cannot be right. It is not fair on those within Ireland's club youth system. It is time for change."

Grealish has been playing for Ireland since he was 14, he was called up by England at 15 (but missed out through illness), he was called into an under-17 squad but by that time he was already playing for Ireland.

Samuel is heavily critical of the FAI's use of scout Mark O'Toole and claims his job is to "sweep up the best young players qualified to play for Ireland. That's not the same as sweeping up the best young Irish players."

"Is it right that O'Toole should be able to act as a club scout in the international game, exploiting outdated regulations around nationality to sign up teenage schoolchildren for Ireland?," he adds.

He argues that if bigger and wealthier association adopted a similar approach that Ireland could suffer in the future.

"For who will benefit, long term, if not the wealthiest associations? Ireland may win over Grealish but imagine the howls if the positions were reversed: if the FA stepped in to entice a young Irish footballer, with a Brummie grandfather, to switch sides?

"It only requires an unscrupulous regime seeking victory at all costs. This is what happens if we take the nationalism out of national sport, if we make it too easy to pick up or abandon allegiance. It should be resolved at confederation level.

"UEFA should have a panel that sits to consider the status of any player who is not representing the country of his birth. Some cases would go on the tick, taking seconds. Nobody thought Singapore had much claim to Terry Butcher, for instance, just because his father was a signalman in the Royal Navy and he spent the first two years of his life there.

"And there would be little objection to a player such as Townsend, who was 25 when he got his first Ireland call-up, at a time when it was obvious he was unwanted by England.

"It is different for players like Grealish, who turned his back on England before he was old enough to sit a GCSE. This wasn't opportunity; it was opportunism. Unnecessary and wrong and all too predictably destined to end in this unsightly tug of war."

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