I have neither the time nor the energy to check the role calls of all 49 clubs that have played in the Premier League, but I will warrant that very few, if any, could challenge Arsenal for the title of the United Nations club of English football.
Armenia is the latest and perhaps Gabon will soon follow to the impressive list that our club hs built up in the Premier League era. Those who are old enough to remember the early days of the Premier League and then the arrival of the then unknown Arsene Wenger will recall that the majority of pundits on television, radio, print and the nascent Worldwide Web were highly unimpressed with this influx. The general feeling was that English football was ‘heading for hell in a handcart`.
Fast forward to Boxing Day 1999 and the land of pundits went almost apoplectic when Gianluca Vialli feilded the following starting 11 away at Southampton:
Ed De Goey; Albert Ferrer, Celestine Babayaro, Emerson Thome, Frank Leboeuf; Dan Petrescu, Didier Deschamps, Gus Poyet, Robert Di Matteo; Gabrielle Ambrosetti, Tore Andre Flo.
You may not need me to tell you exactly who came from where, but the countries represented were The Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, France, Nigeria, Italy, Romani, Uruguay and Norway.
But there was a further wait of over five years until St Valentine`s Day 2005 before we finally put out the first ever full match day squad with not a single UK player. The squad below sent Palace back South of the River with an impressive 5-1 hammering:
The squad consisted of Jens Lehmann (Germany), Lauren (Cameroon), Kolo Toure (Ivory Coast), Pascal Cygan (France), Gael Clichy (France), Robert Pires (France), Patrick Vieira (France), Edu (Brazil), Jose-Antonio Reyes (Spain), Dennis Bergkamp (Netherlands), Thierry Henry (France). Subs: Manuel Almunia (Spain), Philippe Senderos (Switzerland), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Mathieu Flamini (France), Robin Van Persie (Netherlands).
One thing that really strikes me here is the make up of the countries represented; only three non-Europeans and all the Europeans were from Western Europe. Even then you couldn`t have imagined an Armenian or Gabonese pulling on our famous shirt. Today we still haven`t got even halfway through the possibilities and I for one can`t wait for a Fijian or a Samoan to be signed – it will come, believe me!
I am with Arsene on this, when you sign a player you look at his ability not his passport. And before you start about the English national team, look at the 1970s when there was hardly a single overseas player in the top flight and we failed to qualify for four international tournaments in a row!
Let`s hope that our latest crop of recruits will propel us back up into title contention and let`s ensure that we continue to welcome all comers from all corners with our traditional open arms. We may not currently be the best on the pitch, but no club in the land can compete with our openness to everyone. Long may it continue.