The guidelines regarding eligibility have been stretched to the point that even those with the loosest of connections to a member state can pledge allegiance to the flag, pull on a shirt and claim with a straight face that it is the only country they ever wanted to play for.
The trend of dishing out caps of convenience to just about anyone who could kick a ball even persuaded the FIFA president Sepp Blatter to briefly put down his knife and fork to condemn the practise. "If we don't stop this farce, if we don't take care about the invaders from Brazil towards Europe, Asia and Africa then, in the 2014 or the 2018 World Cup, out of the 32 teams you will have 16 full of Brazilian players," he harrumphed. A subsequent tightening of the residency rule was a step in the right direction but multi-cultural national teams remain commonplace.
It was not always so. Aside from exceptional cases like that of Alfredo di Stefano, who represented three different nations, previous generations of players were restricted to playing for their country of birth and nobody else. There was no parent or grandfather rule, no residency clause or loophole linked to your education. There was little wriggle room for maneouvre and it denied the Scottish national team access to two players who would surely otherwise have gone on to collect dozens of caps.
Gerry and Joe Baker grew up in Motherwell, considered themselves locals and had the accents to prove it. When Joe signed for Hibs many of his Edinburgh-based team-mates struggled to understand his Lanarkshire drawl. Both had aspirations of playing for Scotland but from the first day of their lives that was never going to be possible. Gerry was born to an English father and a Scottish mother in upstate New York in April 1938.
He would spend less than two years in America before the family returned to the UK so father George could join the British Navy and help with the war effort. There, in Liverpool, Joe was born in July 1940. The Luftwaffe bombing blitz on the city, however, meant the family did not stay long on Merseyside. Before Joe was even two months old, mother Lizzie decided it was no longer safe to remain and took her two young sons to live with her in her native Scotland. Neither boy would remember anything about those early days but the significance of their birthplaces would be felt decades later when they became footballers.
Disappointment at not being able to represent the country to which they felt most aligned eventually gave way to a sense of pragmatism. Joe's talent and eligibility for England were quickly spotted by Billy Wright, then captain of the Three Lions, following a match between Wright's Wolverhampton Wanderers and Baker's Hibs in 1957. That set the wheels in motion. Aged just 19, Joe would become the first player to have never played in the English Football League to play for England. It would be some 40 years, when Bayern Munich's Owen Hargreaves made his debut, before it would happen again.
Joe, however, almost never made it that far. The taxi driver who picked him up at the airport became suspicious at this Scot's claims he was about to play for England and duly called the police. Only after pulling out his passport and a newspaper article about his impending debut was Baker finally taken to the team hotel. It still wasn't enough to satisfy the junior officer at the scene. "Jesus Christ, Sarge!" he exclaimed. "A Jock playing for England? Surely we ain't that bad, are we?" Joe, in fact, went on to be named in Alf Ramsey's original 40-man squad for the 1966 World Cup before missing out at the final cut. Gerry would enjoy international recognition later in his career when he became the first player from a top-flight European side to represent the USA. Scotland's loss would prove to be England and America's gain.
"Joe had represented Scottish Schoolboys, scoring twice against England in one game in front of 40,000 people at Goodison, and it was his burning ambition to play for Scotland," said Tom Maxwell, author of The Fabulous Baker Boys - The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had, a forthcoming book on the two brothers' lives and careers. "But he had that dream shattered by a school teacher who told him that could never happen because he had been born in England. Joe described that as like having the rug pulled from under his feet. But once he overcame that disappointment and became a professional footballer, he started telling newspapers he wanted to play for England. And against the odds he managed it."
Joe was effectively playing for Scotland every time he pulled on a white shirt for England. As the first player to be selected for the national team having never played in the country, his ability, or otherwise, would become shorthand for the merits of the Scottish league as a whole.
"Joe's manager at Hibs, Hugh Shaw, had told him he was in some way representing Scotland as well as he was showing that a 'Scottish' player was good enough to play for England," added Maxwell. "Joe thought of it like that as well. He loved playing for England but he never forgot his Scottish roots."
There is a lot more to the Baker brothers' story than international quirks, however. Both also enjoyed hugely successful club careers. Joe realised a childhood dream by following in the footsteps of hero Lawrie Reilly by signing for Hibs and went on to create his own legacy at Easter Road, scoring 141 goals from 160 appearances. That led to a short spell alongside Denis Law at Torino - where the pair survived a serious car crash - before a return to more successful times with Arsenal where he would score a century of goals quicker than Thierry Henry, Cliff Bastin and Robin van Persie. By the end of his career he had also represented Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, and Raith Rovers, and had a second stint at Hibs.
Gerry was on the books of Chelsea as a boy before joining Motherwell and then moving to St Mirren where he would score in every round as the Paisley club lifted the 1959 Scottish Cup. At Manchester City he, too, would play with Law, before replacing Joe at Easter Road. A successful stint with Ipswich Town was followed by time at Coventry City and a loan spell at Brentford. Between them the brothers notched up more than 500 goals.
"There's maybe this perception that Gerry lived in Joe's shadow a bit but Gerry had an amazing career as well," added Maxwell. "Both were very nomadic in that they didn't tend to stay at one club for very long but they had success almost everywhere they went. Gerry's record was a goal every two games and Joe's was even better. What they achieved was phenomenal."
It is perhaps surprising given their closeness in age, their intertwining careers, and the fact that they played the same position, that there was no serious rivalry between the boys. Instead they became each other's biggest ally, forever promoting the other's cause. When Gerry headed to London as a teenager to sign for Chelsea, it was Joe he asked to accompany him. When later in their careers Gerry spotted Ramsey on a train he plucked up the courage to badger him about Joe's chances of making the World Cup squad.
"They were really close, almost like twins," said Joe's son Colin. "When my dad passed away my uncle Gerry was devastated. They had a real bond. I don't think there was any real rivalry between them. When Gerry went to Hibs, people asked him if he was up against it trying to follow what my dad did but it wasn't like that at all. They always supported each other and were proud of what the other achieved."
Helping retell his and Joe's stories was one of the last things Gerry Baker ever did. He died late last month following a short illness, almost exactly 10 years since the passing of his younger brother. There is a sadness that neither man will be around to see the book launched but the hope is it will serve as a permanent legacy to their achievements, while also bringing their story to a younger audience.
"Gerry was telling people not so long ago that he would soon be signing copies of the book for them so it's really sad that he never got that chance," said Maxwell. "But he did read the finished draft and the words he said to me were: 'It's all true'."
n The Fabulous Baker Boys - The Greatest Strikers Scotland Never Had by Tom Maxwell is released on September 19, published by Birlinn, priced £14.99.