Football Features

The Premier League’s one-nation wonders

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 13:57, 6 September 2021

Since its founding in 1992 no fewer than 113 of the 207 foreign FIFA-affiliated nations have been represented in the Premier League.

To date Scotland, France, the Republic of Ireland, Spain, Wales and the Netherlands are the biggest providers, with each accounting for 100 or more players. However, there’s a unique group of footballers, individuals who are their nation’s sole representatives.

As things currently stand that exclusive group houses 17 and we’ve listed them below.

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Nation: Armenia

Club(s): Manchester United, Arsenal

So much excitement followed the signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United in the summer of 2016, and for good reason. The languid Armenian forward had just enjoyed an insanely productive season in the Bundesliga which saw him create 15 goals across 31 appearances. He also chipped in with 11 goals. However, like another high-profile United signing from BVB (namely Shinji Kagawa), his time at Old Trafford wasn’t successful and he’d leave for Arsenal — whom he supported growing up — but Mkhitaryan couldn’t rekindle his old Dortmund form though, and has since moved to Roma, where he continues to ply his trade. The Yerevan native has only now started to recapture that Ruhr Valley magic.

Bertrand Traoré

Nation: Burkina Faso

Club(s): Chelsea, Aston Villa

It’s taken Bertrand Traoré a while but he can finally call himself a Premier League footballer. Having joined Chelsea’s youth set-up he’d make 10 league appearances for the Stamford Bridge giants between 2014 and 2017, during which time the Burkina Faso international enjoyed loan spells in the Netherlands with Vitesse and then Ajax; it was at the latter where he got the opportunity to play in a Europa League final. A permanent move to Lyon followed but the lure of English football proved tantalising as ever when he signed for Aston Villa in the summer of 2020, and since joining the Birmingham-based club, he’s found the net seven times across 37 Premier League matches.

Frédéric Nimani

Nation: Central African Republic

Club(s): Burnley

There are very few clubs where it’s better to start a professional career than Monaco and Frédéric Nimani needed to put that education to some use, considering the intense competition for places up front. When he did shine, the Marseille-born forward reportedly grabbed the attention of Arsenal and Real Madrid but they never moved for him, and instead Nimani would go out on loan five times while still representing the Ligue 1 outfit. Among those clubs he temporarily joined was Burnley in 2010, though he ultimately made two league appearances. After leaving the principality, the four-time Central African Republic international would embark on a journeyman career that saw him place in Greece, Norway and Switzerland before settling in Andorra.

Onel Hernández

Nation: Cuba

Club(s): Norwich City

After several years playing in Germany, most notably with Werder Bremen and VfL Wolfsburg’s respective second teams, Onel Hernández moved to England, linking up with Daniel Farke at Championship outfit Norwich and subsequently helping them achieve promotion. By coming off the bench on the road at Liverpool in August 2019 he would become the first Cuban to play Premier League football. He would end the 2019/20 season having featured in 26 games. Hernández is still contracted with the Canaries, though he recently joined second division side Middlesbrough on loan.

Gunnar Nielsen

Nation: Faroe Islands

Club(s): Manchester City

It took a while before Gunnar Nielsen enjoyed his first Premier League minutes. Having signed for Blackburn Rovers in 2007, and subsequently spending two seasons at Ewood Park, the Faroe Islands-born goalkeeper wouldn’t even make a single matchday squad before signing for Motherwell on loan. A reprieve in the shape of Manchester City followed and on April 24, 2010 he’d come off the bench to replace the injured Shay Given as City played out a goalless draw at the Emirates stadium. Those 17 minutes, which saw him keep a clean sheet, would be the only action Nielsen tasted in England’s top division.

Modou Barrow

Nation: Gambia

Club(s): Swansea City

A regular in Swedish footballing circles it was a surprise to some when Swansea City picked up Modou Barrow in 2014; not because he lacked quality, but rather the Gambia-born forward had enjoyed just one season in the Allsvenskan, where he made seven appearances for Norrköping and registered zero goals. He would go on to play 51 times for the Swans across three seasons, managing one goal in the process, before enjoying several loan spells in the Championship, until signing with Reading permanently. He’s since featured in Turkey’s top division and today you can find him at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea.

Danny Higginbotham

Nation: Gibraltar

Club(s): Manchester United, Derby County, Southampton, Sunderland, Stoke City

The most travelled in terms of Premier League clubs represented among the one-nation players. Danny Higginbotham broke through at Manchester United in 1997 but playing time was greatly restricted and he would leave Old Trafford with four league appearances made. His career in England’s top division nevertheless took flight as he represented Derby, Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke City between 2000 and 2013, before winning three caps with Gibraltar, whom he qualified to represent through his maternal grandmother.

Mesca

Nation: Guinea-Bissau

Club(s): Fulham

Another who spent time in Chelsea’s esteemed youth academy, Buomesca Tué Na Bangna (commonly known as Mesca) would turn professional at their West London neighbours Fulham, though across a four-year association he’d make only one league appearance, which incidentally came in a 2-0 defeat at the Blues in September 2013. Aside from a brief loan spell at Crewe, the 28-year-old has largely played his football outside of England, and today he’s turning out for Doxa Katokopias in Cyprus.

Victor Wanyama

Nation: Kenya

Club(s): Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur

The younger brother of McDonald Mariga, who made headlines when he joined Inter Milan at the turn of the last decade, it’s fair to say Victor Wanyama eclipsed his sibling. Celtic, who signed him from Belgian outfit Beerschot, were the first to experience and benefit from his midfield qualities on these shores. Southampton would snap him up and bring him to England, and it soon became clear for all to see that Wanyama was nothing less than a gifted modern midfielder. Tottenham needed to have him in their pursuit of silverware under Mauricio Pochettino but across three and a half seasons, the Kenyan and his teammates would fall short on several occasions. He’s since relocated to Canada by joining MLS club CF Montréal.

Dylan Kerr

Nation: Malta

Club(s): Leeds United

The inaugural Premier League season had Leeds United as the defending English champions. Among their ranks was Maltese defender Dylan Kerr who, between 1989 and 1993, would make 13 league appearances. After departing Elland Road he wouldn’t sign for another Premier League club and in his absence, neither would any of his compatriots.

Aboubakar Kamara

Nation: Mauritania

Club(s): Fulham

As touched upon, 113 of the 207 foreign FIFA-affiliated nations have been represented in the Premier League, and in March 2021 Mauritania became the most recent entry when Aboubakar Kamara made his international debut. The 26-year-old striker had been turning out for Fulham since 2017 and would make a grand total of 24 top-flight appearances, subsequently netting three goals, before leaving for Aris Thessaloniki this summer.

Ali Al-Habsi

Nation: Oman

Club(s): Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic

It already feels like a lifetime ago when Wigan created the last genuine FA Cup final upset. Roberto Martinez’s men sensationally beat Manchester City 1-0 in the 2013 showpiece event and sitting near him was first-choice goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi, who remains a cult hero at the club. Al-Habsi, who joined from Bolton — where he made ten Premier League appearances — would enjoy two seasons of English top-flight football with the Latics, before winding down his career. He did though join West Brom in their ill-fated campaign last season but left having never kicked a ball in anger.

Zesh Rehman

Nation: Pakistan

Club(s): Fulham

Though born and raised in Birmingham it was at Fulham where Zesh Rehman began his football journey. After leaving Craven Cottage he would turn out for several different clubs, but Rehman would never taste Premier League action again. Through his Pakistani parentage, and because he possessed dual nationalities, Rehman opted to represent the nation at international level. Still playing today, as the player-manager of Hong Kong Premier League club Southern, the Brummie has so far made 25 appearances for Pakistan.

Neil Etheridge

Nation: Philippines

Club(s): Cardiff City

Another name on this list who began at Fulham despite starting in Chelsea’s youth set-up. Neil Etheridge, though, wouldn’t play a single minute of Premier League football with the West London outfit, instead he’d wait several seasons before getting that opportunity with Cardiff City, though it lasted one season. Before joining the Welsh club, the shot-stopper was a regular with the Philippines national team, having debuted in 2008. However, it’s been a while since earning his most recent cap, which came three years ago.

Kevin Betsy

Nation: Seychelles

Club(s): Fulham

Another ex-Cottager. Kevin Betsy came to prominence at boyhood club Woking before joining Fulham, who offered him Premier League experience, though it was brief. Like so many he’d move from club to club representing the likes of Oldham, Bristol City and Southend United before hanging up his boots at the place where it all began. Before signing off Betsy, a one-time England C international, made seven international appearances for the Seychelles.

Ryan Donk

Nation: Suriname

Club(s): West Bromwich Albion

The sole Premier League season Ryan Donk enjoyed coincided with his parent club AZ winning the Eredivisie title. The Amsterdammer had spent the 2008/09 campaign at West Brom, where he made 16 league appearances before joining Club Brugge on a permanent basis. He would soon turn out for Turkish clubs Kasımpaşa and Galatasaray. A former Netherlands U21 international being called up for the senior team seemed remote and Donk ultimately chose to represent Suriname in 2021, and he’s since made six appearances.

Mbwana Samatta

Nation: Tanzania

Club(s): Aston Villa

After impressing scouts, who followed his progress at African powerhouse TP Mazembe, it wouldn’t be long before Mbwana Samatta made an impact on European soil. He did exceptionally well at Belgian side Genk, where he mustered 43 goals across 101 league appearances. Aston Villa brought him to English football in early 2020 but his time in Birmingham proved limited. The 59-capped Tanzania striker has since continued his footballing journey at Fenerbahçe and Antwerp.

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