Football Features

Serie A’s greatest foreign import? Famous players who could have represented Italy

By Mohamed Moallim

feature-nearly-italy internationals

Published: 16:30, 13 November 2021 | Updated: 12:27, 16 November 2021

It’s a consistently hot topic of conversation in Italy regarding their national team and current manager Roberto Mancini even reignited the issue back when Inter Milan were employing him.

“The Italy national team should be Italian,” he said. “Maybe we find some players in the Italy squad who are not Italian but only have some relatives here, but this is only my opinion. I think that an Italian player deserves to play in the Italian national team while those who were not born in Italy, even if they have [Italian] relatives, don’t deserve it. We do so much to bring through young players and then we go and call up the foreigners [who are eligible to play] for Italy.”

His opinion has understandably changed. Emerson, Rafael Tolói and Jorginho, all born outside Italy, were part of the Azzurri’s championship-winning squad at Euro 2020. But there are, of course, exceptions. Footballers who could have played for Italy (either through birth right or parentage) but chose to represent another nation. Here are seven notable examples.

18+ only. New customers using promo code M50 only. 1x per customer. Min £/€10 bet. Min odds 1/2 (1.5). Free bets of 2 x £/€20 issued after first qualifying bet settles. Max £/€10 Bonus. 35x wagering requirement. Max redeemable bonus: £25. Casino bonus expires after 72 hours. UK & Eire only. Additional T&Cs, including free-bet, game, location, payment method and stake contributions apply. See full terms below.

Place a pre-match £10 bet on any Football market between 2nd December and 24th December, at min. odds 1/2 (1.5) — get a total of £50 in free bets, £30 on bet settlement and an additional £20 the following day. Your qualifying bet must settle by Friday 23:59, 24th December. Only deposits via Cards will qualify (Apple Pay deposit excluded). T&Cs apply. Please Gamble Responsibly.

To sign up, you need to be over 18, Gamble Aware and meet FanTeam’s terms and conditions. Otherwise, just follow these simple steps: Click the link to head to FanTeam and sign up. Join the ‘Second Chance Season Game’ tournament with your free entry ticket. Create a team and click ‘Enter Tournament’

Deposit £20, Get £20 cash refund on losses T&Cs apply

18+ only. New customers only. Deposit £20 using Debit Card or Trustly. Up to your first £20 of losses will be refunded as CASH within 24 hours of qualifying bet having been settled. T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware.

18+ only. New customers only. T&Cs apply.

Claim Here
Bet £10, get £20 in free bets T&Cs apply

*New customers only. 18+ only. *New members. £10 min deposit & bet on sportsbook, placed & settled at 1.5 min odds within 14 days of sign-up. Win part of E/W bets. 2 non-withdrawable £10 Free Bet Tokens: accept in 7 days, valid for 7 days from acceptance (ex. E/Ws & Multiples), stakes not returned. Full T&Cs apply. Bet Responsibly.

New customers only. 18+ only. BeGambleAware.

Get up to £100 in bet credits T&Cs apply

18+ only. New customers only. Min deposit £5. Bet Credits available for use upon settlement of bets to value of qualifying deposit. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware.

18+ only. T&Cs apply.

Claim Here

Edinson Cavani

  • International team: Uruguay
  • International caps: 126

A feared marksman across three seasons at Napoli, where he bagged 104 goals across 138 appearances in all competitions, Edinson Cavani born in Salto, Uruguay, would leave his boyhood club Danubio in 2007 for Palermo. Though he represented La Celeste at youth level, Cavani could have been simultaneously leading the line for Italy as his grandparents were from Maranello, but he’d snub gli Azzurri and ever since debuting at international level, the South American powerhouse has benefited from his ice-cold finishing. To date, Cavani has netted 53 goals, making him Uruguay’s second all-time leading scorer behind the relentless Luis Suárez (65).

Paulo Dybala

  • International team: Argentina
  • International caps: 31

Heralded as Lionel Messi’s heir, Paulo Dybala’s path to representing Argentina was an interesting journey. For one, there was more than one nation that could have given him a home. The most surprising was Poland, where his grandfather was born and raised before emigrating to Argentina, and then there was Italy, where Dybala has played his domestic football since 2012. But the Juventus playmaker would have felt uncomfortable wearing either of their colours. “I feel 100 per cent Argentinian,” he said. “I wouldn’t be happy in a national team that didn’t feel like mine, to hear an anthem that isn’t my own, in colours that don’t belong to me.”


  • International team: Brazil
  • International caps: 91

It’s fair to say there was no shortage of quality Italian midfielders in the 1980s and 90s but you could have seen room being made for Dunga, who turned out for Fiorentina with distinction. Being of Italian descent, he was eligible for a call-up but the Ijuí-born footballer earned a first Brazil cap in 1987, the same year Dunga moved to Europe by joining Pisa from Vasco da Gama, and seven years later in the United States, he’d lead Carlos Alberto Parreira’s men to World Cup glory.

Bet £10 and get £30 in free bets T&Cs apply

18+ only. New customers using Promo code H30 only, Min £10/€10 stake, min odds 1/2, free bets paid as 2 x £15/€15, free bets credited after settlement of first qualifying bet, free bets will expire 30 days after the qualifying bet is placed, payment method/player/country restrictions apply. Full terms apply. BeGambleAware.

18+ only. New customers using Promo code H30 only. T&Cs apply.

Claim Here
Get up to £100 in bet credits T&Cs apply

18+ only. New customers only. Min deposit £5. Bet Credits available for use upon settlement of bets to value of qualifying deposit. Min odds, bet and payment method exclusions apply. Returns exclude Bet Credits stake. Time limits and T&Cs apply. BeGambleAware.

18+ only. T&Cs apply.

Claim Here
£20 in Free Bets when you place a £5 bet T&Cs apply

18+ only. New customers only. First single & e/w bet only. Odds of 1/1 or greater. 2 x £10 bet tokens. Free bet stakes not included in returns. Free bets exclude virtuals. Free bets are non withdrawable. No free bet expiry. Eligibility restrictions and further T&Cs apply.

18+ only. New customers only. T&Cs apply.

Claim Here

Mauro Icardi

  • International team: Argentina
  • International caps: 8

“I had the option to play for Italy. I got a call-up for the under-21s and I had to fight with Sampdoria because I didn’t want to go, I wanted to play for Argentina.”

These are the words of Rosario native Mauro Icardi, whose grandparents were Italian born. Italy’s loss hasn’t exactly been Argentina’s gain as, to date, Icardi has made sporadic appearances for La Albiceleste (eight caps won since 2013 and one goal scored) through no fault of his own as competition for attacking places is strong.

Enzo Scifo

  • International team: Belgium
  • International caps: 84

Before the emergence of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, the undisputed greatest and most stylish Belgian footballer was Enzo Scifo, who grew up in La Louvière, Wallonia, and was born to Italian parents from Sicily. This naturally made him eligible for the Azzurri, but Scifo wasn’t on their radar as he built up his reputation at Anderlecht, thus earning him a first Belgium cap. He’d soon move to his parent’s homeland when Inter Milan came knocking and although his was a brief stay, Scifo did enjoy a successful spell at Torino, where he continues to be idolised.

Alex Telles

  • International team: Brazil
  • International caps: 4

There was the possibility of Alex Telles donning Italy’s famous blue jersey before Tite called him up in March 2019. The 28-year-old left-back, who holds Italian citizenship as well as enjoying a brief loan spell at Inter Milan, even welcomed the opportunity and stated that he feels Italian, but nothing transpired. In a different world, Telles could have been lining up against Luke Shaw (his competition at Manchester United) in the Euro 2020 final.

Javier Zanetti

  • International team: Javier Zanetti
  • International caps: 143

Quite possibly the greatest foreign-born Serie A player of all time, Javier Zanetti redefined what it means to be a leader across a near two-decade spell at Inter Milan, and he’s still working there today as the club’s vice-president. Zanetti, a proud son of Buenos Aires, actually debuted for Argentina a couple of months before leaving home for Milan but his parents were of Italian origin, which technically means Zanetti is another who could have played for Italy, even though they were born elsewhere. The possibility of him in a defensive cohort featuring Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Paolo Maldini would be tantamount to cheating.


Sign up to the Best Football Offers

A valid email is required.

Invalid e-mail.

Yes I am over 18.
Yes, I would like to receive email updates on exciting offers from For more info on how we and our partners process your data, see Privacy and Cookie Policies.
You need to confirm that you are over 18 and that you want to receive updates.

*By subscribing you are confirming that you are over 18 years of age.

*All emails include an unsubscribe link, where you can opt out any time. *Please see our privacy and cookies policy..


Newsletter error