International football is still the pinnacle of the world game.
Obviously in terms of quality, elite club football surpassed it a while back, but when you ask players they all seem to confirm that there is nothing quite like representing your country, even if the route you take to get there can lead you through another, different country.
Players changing international allegiances has always been a thing in the game (just ask Alfredo di Stefano) but it is definitely more common and understood nowadays.
The most recent examples revolve around the England national team with Jamal Musiala switching to the country of his birth, Germany, having represented the Three Lions at youth level, and Michail Antonio, who has linked up with Jamaica in their bid to reach the 2022 World Cup (eligible through his parents). Antonio did not represent England at any level, but he was named in Three Lions squads twice, once for Sam Allardyce in which he was an unused sub, and again for Gareth Southgate before having to withdraw through injury in the 2016/17 season. There have also been rumours of Brighton superstar Evan Ferguson still having the chance of representing England, but that won’t be happening, with the 18-year-old confirming his decision to represent Ireland.
When asked about a potential swap, he said:
“That’s not gonna happen, no. My mam is English, so that’s where the tie comes in. But I’ve seen a few saying oh, will he? Will he? But I can tell you now it’s a no. I wouldn’t be allowed back by my dad.”
Evan Ferguson won’t be switching national sides, but who already has? We’ve come up with a list of active players who, having played for one nation, did change their allegiances to represent another and looked at what happened next.
From: Republic of Ireland
Grealish was born and raised in Birmingham, but qualified for Ireland through his grandparents. He played for Ireland up through U-21 level before declining a senior call-up as he wanted to represent England.
What Happened Next: After the switch, he helped England U-21s win the 2016 Toulon tournament before starting a now-legendary four-year wait for a senior call-up. That wait ended in 2020 and, after his impressive performances, Captain Jack is finally an established member of the England squad. He played the role of ‘super sub to perfection during England’s run to the Euro 2020 final, turning a number of games from the bench and scored the Three Lions’ final goal of their 6-2 thrashing of Iran at the 2022 World Cup.
Born in France to a Gabonese international and a Spanish mother, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had lots of choices growing up. He was initially emerging through the French youth system but switched to Gabon in 2009 and hasn’t looked back since.
What Happened Next: He helped his country reach an Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final (the furthest they’ve ever gone), captained the side before retiring with 30 goals in 72 international appearances.
Koulibaly was born in France to Senegalese immigrants, and after coming through the French youth system including representing Les Bleus at the U-20 World Cup he chose to represent Senegal, saying he wants to “write the story of the future of Senegal football.”
What Happened Next: As a world-class centre-back, Koulibaly was the pillar of the Senegalese defence as they were cruelly eliminated from the 2018 World Cup on the fair play rules and made it all the way to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final only to lose to Algeria as Koulibaly, suspended due to yellow card accumulation, watched on. Koulibaly has now taken over as captain, and through his leadership Senegal won the Afcon 2021 final, beating Egypt on penalties.
Ivan Rakitic was born and raised in Switzerland with Croatian parents. He emerged in Swiss football before moving to Germany and then settling in La Liga where he became a legend. Internationally he played for Switzerland through several youth groups before switching.
What Happened Next: After accepting Slaven Bilic’s call, Rakitic became an indispensable member of the first-team squad. The trans-Clásico partnership he formed with Luka Modric powered Croatia to much of their success, including their historic run all the way to the 2018 World Cup final. A run that saw Rakitic become the first player in World Cup history to score two shootout-winning penalties in the same tournament in addition to consistent excellence and stability in the middle. A switch well-made!
Diego Costa is a rare instance where a player changed nationality for a purely cynical reason. Costa had represented Brazil twice in 2013, but he wasn’t going to make their World Cup squad. So when world champions Spain, where he had lived and played since 2007, asked him to switch and be their striker, how could he say no?
What Happened Next: Costa’s Spanish career has been a nightmare. He came into the 2014 World Cup half-fit and was helpless to watch as Spain continued the curse of reigning champions crashing out in the group stages. He then basically disappeared for a while before showing up again at the 2018 World Cup. Here he played well, scoring three times in the first two games, but he tailed off badly and again watched Spain slump to a humiliating defeat against Russia.
To: Ivory Coast
Zaha was born in the Ivory Coast but moved to London at the age of four, so was eligible for both nations. He came through the England system and even played for the first team. However, Ivory Coast convinced him to switch allegiances in 2017.
What Happened Next: Much to Gareth Southgate’s chagrin, Zaha became an Ivorian international and a fixture in the first XI. He’s not managed to guide them to much success yet, despite scoring twice at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and one more time at the 2021 edition.
From: United States
Subotic’s family fled Yugoslavia in the early 90s and he lived in Germany for a while before moving to the USA. There he came through their youth system playing for the U-17 and U-20 sides before a bizarre attack from then-U-21 coach Thomas Rongen, who claimed Subotic hadn’t developed. Suffice to say, this more than likely had an impact on Subotic’s decision to switch allegiances.
What Happened Next: After changing to Serbia, Subotic had a rocky time. Inconsistent displays led to him getting dropped for the 2010 World Cup. He played just once, albeit starring as Serbia beat Germany 1-0. Subotic’s impact post-2010 was limited both by injuries and a constant changing of coaches at Serbia. He hasn’t played for the national team since 2013.
Amorebieta was born in Venezuela to Basque parents. The no-nonsense centre-back was raised in the Basque Country and became an Athletic Bilbao legend but, despite playing a few times for Spain U-19, the closest he got to the senior side was one game as an unused substitute in 2008. So, in 2011 he switched to the nation of his birth.
What Happened Next: Amorebieta became a fixture in the Venezuelan defence and scored the winning goal in the nation’s first-ever victory over Argentina in World Cup qualifying. He played for Venezuela in the 2015 Copa América but got sent off against Peru before retiring from international football later that year.
Kevin-Prince and Jerome grew up in Germany, the sons of a Ghanaian and a German, the pair came through the German youth system and represented the country at varying levels. However, on the eve of the 2009 U-21 Euros, a tournament Germany won, Kevin-Prince Boateng was thrown out of the squad after visiting a nightclub. He then decided he’d rather represent Ghana.
What Happened Next: As a member of the Black Stars, Boateng went all the way to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup including a stunning goal against the USA in the round-of-16. He then retired from international football only to return in 2014 for the next World Cup, however, once again his attitude proved a problem. After two games he was sent home for alleged abusive behaviour. He hasn’t played for Ghana since.
Granit and Taulant Xhaka grew up in Switzerland and came through the youth teams together. But where Granit became an established Swiss international, the older Taulant wasn’t as lucky and decided to represent Albania – the nation of his parents.
What Happened Next: Taulant went on to become a key member of the Albanian side and represented them at Euro 2016 as they were eliminated in the groups. After this he voluntarily stepped away from the squad, saying he wouldn’t play for Albania whilst Gianni De Biasi was in charge. Sure enough, he didn’t return until October 2017 and has since scored his first goal for his country.
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From: Northern Ireland
To: Republic of Ireland
James McClean was born in Northern Ireland and came through their youth system, however, he rejected a call-up to the senior side in order to represent the Republic of Ireland. He finally got his chance in 2012.
What Happened Next: McClean has been one of the key players for almost a decade of Irish football. McClean helped the Republic of Ireland qualify for and play well at Euro 2012 and 2016 and is still a regular for the side to this day.
To: Central African Republic
Geoffrey Kondogbia’s parents are from Central African Republic, but the midfielder was born and raised in France. He played for France through every youth level and even represented the senior side, albeit only in friendlies. Since then Kondogbia made it clear he never wanted to play for France but only did so to further his career. What he really wanted to do was play for Central African Republic. So he did.
What Happened Next: Kondogbia made his debut in 2018 as captain, and it was a 4-0 loss to Ivory Coast. Central African Republic are not a strong nation, and have won just twice since Kondogbia’s debut, although the midfielder did score a stoppage-time equaliser against Rwanda.
Born and raised in Belgium, Chadli was called up to Morocco thanks to his father. He was named man of the match on his debut in a friendly, but declared that he wanted to represent Belgium.
What Happened Next: Chadli made his debut for Belgium in 2011 and has played consistently pretty much ever since. He represented Belgium at the 2014 and 2018 World Cup, scoring a dramatic last-minute winner against Japan at the latter as the Red Devils powered to an impressive third-place finish. Chadli picked up another two caps at Euro 2020.
Born in France to Algerian parents, Feghouli came through the ranks of the French national side, representing Les Bleus at U-18 and U-21 level. He said his desire was to play for France, but after much persuading from Algeria’s coach and the president of their football federation, he decided to represent the country of his parents.
What Happened Next: Feghouli instantly became a star in the Algerian side, being voted Algerian player of the year in 2012. He’s played for Algeria at one World Cup, being part of the side that thrilled the world in 2014 and came perilously close to beating eventual champions Germany in the round-of-16. In that match Feghouli created his country’s goal with a stunning back-post cross. He remained a fixture and played a big role as Algeria won the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
Like so many others, Ghoulam was born in France to immigrant parents and after coming through the youth systems, he elected to represent the land of his parents, in this instance Algeria.
What Happened Next: Ghoulam became a regular for Algeria, representing them at the 2014 World Cup and in successive Africa Cup of Nations. He was voted Algerian Player of the Year in 2017, but injuries prevented him from playing in 2019 when they won the Cup of Nations by beating Senegal in the final.
Born and raised in Nigeria, Moses suffered tragedy in his life when his parents were killed. At the age of 11 he travelled to the UK and claimed asylum. Growing up in South London his talent was evident and he soon began to represent England at all youth levels. But as an England call-up was not forthcoming, Nigeria called him up instead.
What Happened Next: After some legal headaches he made his debut in 2012 and, in 2013, started in the Africa Cup of Nations final that Nigeria won. Their first title in 19 years and the boy who had to flee his homeland at 11 was one of the ones to deliver it. He’s represented them since, amassing 37 caps and 12 goals before retiring in 2018, but nothing will top 2013.
From: North Macedonia
Dejan Kulusevski was born in Stockholm to Macedonian parents and even represented the nation at U17 level, but the Tottenham winger also turned out for Sweden at every youth level and is now a full-fledged Blue and Yellow, representing the Scandinavians on 20 occasions.
What Happened Next: Kulusevski is a regular at senior level for Sweden and has largely been heralded, alongside Alexander Isak, as the future of the nation. He picked up 12 caps in 2021 alone and featured extensively in Euro 2020, where has nabbed two assists against Poland in a 3-2 win.
Despite being born in New York, Folarin Balogun moved to England at just two years old, where he grew up in London. He represented the Three Lions from the U18’s to the U21’s, where he scored seven goals in just 13 appearances at that age level. In May 2023, he switched to play for the country where he was born after several successful meetings with the USA set-up.
What Happened Next: The youngster, who became the first U21 player to score 20+ goals in Europe’s top five leagues in 2022/23, scored with his first shot on target for the USMNT, winning the CONCACAF Nations League in just his second appearance.
Born in Lyon, Houssem Aouar made 17 appearances for France U21s and one match for the senior side in 2020 before deciding to switch allegiances to the country of his birth parents, Algeria. The now Roma midfielder has since gone on to say how he regretted his original decision to play for Les Bleus, saying:
“It (the switch to play for Algeria) had been going through my head for a while but I didn’t want to make an approach myself because I was afraid of coming across as an opportunist. “The president held his hand out to me and it seemed like it was just meant to be. I had a second chance and I jumped on it.
“It represents a lot to me. In all honesty, after choosing to play for France I regretted it and then I felt for me personally I hadn’t made the best choice.”
What Happened Next: The 25-year-old made his Algeria debut in June this year against Uganda in an AFCON qualification match and has two caps at the time of writing. He will be hoping for many more caps in the years to come and live up to the praise he received from Pep Guardiola.
“Aouar is excellent. He’s always very calm with the ball at his feet, with an excellent technical quality. He is a very good player. He is incredible.” The Spaniard declared after facing him in the Champions League back in 2018.
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