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The Toe Poke

Arteta call-up 'shouldn't happen'

If a shaken and traumatised England player, robbed of the ball on too many occasions, was to outline the key features of a criminally good international footballer to a sketch artist, it is likely that the photofit produced would bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain Everton midfielder.

He is authoritative in possession, treating the ball like a life partner, not a jilted WAG; he is an expert passer and set-piece master; he has an enviable temperament and is a model professional. But while Mikel Arteta may be all of those things, there is absolutely no justification for calls for the player to represent England, according to Everton legend Kevin Ratcliffe.

The issue of a possible call-up for Arteta is a controversial one, if not without precedent. Spain naturalised Marcos Senna and saw him play a key role in their victory at Euro 2008, Portugal have called on Deco and Pepe, Germany picked Cacau for the World Cup finals and Italy employ Brazilian striker Amauri. England and the rest of the Home Nations have pledged not to go down the same route, but that resolution could be tested to the full by the unassuming Spaniard.

In the wake of a World Cup campaign that ruthlessly exposed England's failings on the world stage, the need for a cultured and calm presence in midfield has been identified. It is natural, then, that some England fans are hoping to see their very own version of Xabi Alonso, Xavi or Andres Iniesta with Three Lions on his shirt. The problem comes in the fact that the man most qualified for the role grew up on the same San Sebastian streets as Alonso, and only qualifies for England having lived in the country for five years.

None other than Steven Gerrard - a man who, thanks to his position as Liverpool captain, is probably reticent to shower too much praise in the direction of Goodison - says he would "love nothing better" than to partner the Basque native in midfield. It is quite a statement coming from the current England captain, and one that has been warmly received by Arteta, who says he would think "very seriously" about any approach from Fabio Capello.

The national coach - Italian, of course - names his squad for the upcoming Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Switzerland on Sunday and while momentum has been palpably building behind an 'Arteta for England' campaign, for Ratcliffe - a former captain of Everton and proud owner of 58 caps for Wales - the entire debate is redundant.

"It shouldn't happen," Ratcliffe told Soccernet. "It shouldn't be allowed to happen - as simple as that. He is Spanish and should play for Spain. He shouldn't be playing for England.

"Obviously if you qualify through your parents or grandparents it is different, but if you have just been in the country for five years... no, I can't see that. Would he add something to the team? Yes, but for me I am a bit of a traditionalist and you play for the country you were born in."

Though Arteta looks unlikely to become a key component of the England midfield, he is undoubtedly the star turn at Goodison, having turned down reported interest from Manchester City to sign a new contract with the Toffees over the summer.

It remains to be seen if his admirable loyalty will be rewarded by palpable success though. With Manchester City accelerating their spending plans and Tottenham enjoying an elevated status under Harry Redknapp, the clutch of clubs with realistic hopes of winning a trophy or claiming Champions League football has noticeably swelled.

Though Everton reached the 2009 FA Cup final, before losing to Chelsea, their most recent piece of silverware came in the same competition in 1995. Ratcliffe, meanwhile, is a veteran of one of the most treasured periods in the club's history having won the league, FA Cup and Cup Winners' Cup in the mid-80s. Such success has been elusive for David Moyes and his side, and while Ratcliffe is realistic about the club's limitations at present, he hopes the Scot can bring a trophy to Goodison.

"Can they win some silverware? The way that things are, I think yes," Ratcliffe said. "They are pushing. They got to an FA Cup final two seasons ago, and it was nice to get to a final. I think if they can keep everybody fit they have got a squad that can compete and obviously I think that the best way to get a trophy would be the FA Cup.

"I am sure every manager would like to win a trophy, but it is never that easy. To compete with the big boys on an even keel you have got to have a lot of money, and Dave hasn't had a lot of money to compete. If anything, the players have overachieved at times. He has still got to battle away with not too much money to spend in the transfer market compared to other sides.

"If you have a look at how much money Dave has spent at Everton, compared to how much he has brought in, it probably comes to around £15 million, if that. It is not a great deal. The Chelseas and the Manchester Citys of this world will be spending that much on one player. Manchester United are a bit different because Ronaldo brought in somewhere in the region of £80 million, so they have balanced the books a bit, but even a club like Manchester United are looking to balance the books. When an offer like that came along they couldn't turn it down, and that was Manchester United."

Everton are inhibited by their financial restrictions and chairman Bill Kenwright has been open to offers from acceptable suitors for some time. The arrival of a Sheikh Mansour could transform the club's ambitions, as Manchester City fans have discovered, but Ratcliffe warns that the ongoing mission to improve the club's infrastructure should be the key priority at present.

Asked if a takeover would give Everton more clout, he said: "It depends how much is generated through the sale of the club. It has to be a rich person to do that, to actually throw money at it - someone like at Manchester City. Who is to say there aren't more people around who can do that? The thing with Everton is that they have to redevelop the ground, or they have to move. That is a big stumbling block for anybody who is going to put money into the football club."

For Everton, then, a new home is paramount. For Mikel Arteta, it could be a dream unrealised.

Kevin Ratcliffe was speaking at an ESPN FA Cup community event in Lancashire.


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