By Justin Palmer

WATFORD, England (Reuters) - Footballers who speak their mind should be welcomed, not frowned upon, England manager Roy Hodgson said on Thursday in backing under-fire midfielder Jack Wilshere.

The Arsenal and England player caused a furore when he waded into the debate over Manchester United teenager Adnan Januzaj's future eligibility for the England team by stating only English people should be selected.

Januzaj was born in Belgium to Kosovan-Albanian parents and has Turkish grandparents but could qualify for England under FIFA rules if he is resident in the country continuously for five years.

Wilshere's comments prompted a row over non-English-born players representing the country with England's South African-born cricketer Kevin Pietersen asking Wilshere on Twitter: "Interested to know how you define foreigner … ? Would that include me, Strauss, Trott, Prior, Justin Rose, Froome, Mo Farah?"

Hodgson said the subject matter was worthy of debate.

"We are consistently complaining that players don't ever have an opinion, when they are asked questions they never come out with anything worth listening to," Hodgson told a news conference ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Montenegro at Wembley on Friday.

"It's quite wrong to criticise someone for having an opinion in the first place and, secondly, the subject matter is worthy of debate.

"At the end of the day it's (Januzaj's eligibility) going to be a result of a policy decision which will be taken by the (English) FA."

Wilshere also found himself in hot water last week, earning a rebuke from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger after being photographed smoking on a night out.

England captain Steven Gerrard took a contrasting stance to Wilshere when asked about the Januzaj debate, saying: "If players become available through FIFA rules it's only right that the FA look into it. We need to try and gain every advantage we can to try and make the England team as string as possible."

But he supported Wilshere's right to comment and said the 21-year-old would become a stronger person.

"To be fair to Jack, he's tried to give a very patriotic answer. He loves England and I don't think he's meant to intentionally disrespect anyone in any other sport. Credit to him... he was very strong in his opinion," Gerrard told reporters.

"I think when you've had a couple of weeks that Jack's had they make you a better person. They make you stronger and improve you as a player - all the experience he's getting now as a young lad will help him to become a better person and a better player."

(Editing by Ed Osmond)