Should Scotland call up players born in England?

Should Scotland call up players born in England?

By James Cairney

When the Scotland squad was announced earlier this week, there were a few players that shared one characteristic. Tom Cairney, Scott McTominay and Oli McBurnie were all called up by Alex McLeish and all three, amongst others, were born in England. This sends a strong message from the Scotland manager: if a player is good enough, eligible and willing to play for Scotland, then they’re often given a fair crack of the whip.


In recent years, it’s not been uncommon for Scotland bosses to look beyond our borders for footballers eligible to pull on the navy blue shirt. The likes of Andy Goram, Stuart McCall and Nigel Quashie have played for the national team without actually having been born in Scotland. In many cases a player (usually born in England) will trace a grandparent to Scotland and decide to opt for Hampden over Wembley.


Now, it’s important to point out that every person has a right to self-determination and that includes footballers choosing which country they would like to represent. This is something that successive Scotland bosses have rightly chosen to exploit, expanding the pool of players available for us to call on. A national team that’s so desperate for improvement like ours cannot afford to leave any stone unturned and that extends to our selection policy.



Since 2010, seventeen players have been called up to Scotland squads without having been born there. That figure seems a bit high initially, but not when compared to the amount of players called up overall this decade. Since Craig Levein replaced George Burley in 2010, 132 players have been called up to the national team. Of those 132, the vast majority were born in Scotland – 87% to be precise.


What this tells us is that one in every eight players called up to the Scotland team were born in another country – of course, this isn’t a hindrance in itself. But a look at other international teams shows that this approach is relatively uncommon.


Many of football’s international powerhouses have a couple of players in the squad that weren’t born in that country – think Diego Costa at Spain, Lukas Podolski for Germany or Italy’s Brazil-born Jorginho. All three chose to play for their respective countries after having spent time living there, experiencing the culture and choosing to identify as a Spaniard, or a German, or an Italian.


Look around most of international football’s top sides and you can normally spot one or two players in a squad of 23 that are there through their own decision, rather than the circumstances of the location of their birth. And this is where Scotland stands out. We don’t just have one or two – in Alex McLeish’s first squad, we have seven.



By having a significant portion of our playing squad born outside of Scotland, we’re bucking a larger trend in international football. In this regard, we stand out, yet on the pitch it seems to make no difference where our players come from. This is where it can get difficult. On the one hand, if none of football’s most successful nations aren’t doing something then perhaps it’s wise to follow in their footsteps. However, we’re still a country with a small population so we need all the help we can get, even if that help has no real prior connection to Scotland.


To be clear, this isn’t a criticism of those players. Shaun Maloney, James Morrison and Matt Ritchie have all excelled in recent years for Scotland and have undoubtedly positively influenced the national team, even though none of them were born in Scotland. McLeish needs to look beyond our borders for talent as we’re not blessed with a huge population – even if that means that some players are only playing for us because they can’t get into a superior national team. Some might complain, but it’s time for a reality check.

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