International football may currently be an afterthought for supporters, but it always has a habit of throwing out a peculiar story.
Just think of Iceland and the thunderclap, Panama reaching their first World Cup or Costa Rica and Ghana becoming surprise packages at previous tournaments.
As much as we hate to admit it, international football can actually be pretty good sometimes.
England’s run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia sparked a summer of chaos. Summer evenings were spent sipping on an alcoholic beverage while watching a man in a waistcoat guide his side to fourth place.
Of course, regular international breaks aren’t usually full of thrills and spills but seeing who gets selected for various squads is pretty exciting. It’s always a topic for debate.
In the past, we’ve seen claims that Manuel Almunia and Mikel Arteta could have played for the Three Lions, while there was mass hysteria surrounding Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey two years ago as well.
He was never going to be eligible for Gareth Southgate’s team but there were somehow calls for the Jamaican to be included.
Although he’s never going to play for England, there are a bunch of footballers who could have represented different nations.
We’ve already seen with the likes of Diego Costa that it’s possible, but here is a longer list of players, past and present, who could have been turning up in different colours on the international stage.
Kylian Mbappe – Cameroon
The Frenchman has become one of the hottest talents in world football right now but if he didn’t rise to the top in meteoric fashion, he may well have been turning out for Cameroon. Although Mbappe was born in France, his father is from Cameroon, and thus, he could have been playing for the Indomitable Lions instead. As it happens, the exciting forward has since won the World Cup.
Erling Haaland – England
This was nothing but a pipedream. Haaland has become a goalscoring sensation over the last year and in 2019/20, hit the back of the net on 44 occasions. He also scored a hat-trick for Norway during the most recent international break when they dispatched Romania. Haaland would have qualified for England because he was born in Leeds when his father Alf-Inge Haaland was playing in the Premier League.
Alphonso Davies – Ghana
The Bayern Munich full-back’s story is a fascinating one. Although he now represents Canada, he was born to Liberian parents in a Ghanaian refugee camp in November 2000. His family fled during the second Liberian Civil War and they then moved to Canada when he was just five. Davies has since been capped 17 times by the country he grew up in.
Miroslav Klose – Poland
The Polish will be cursing their luck with this one. Klose was born in Opole, Poland in 1978 before moving to the Rhineland aged eight, knowing just two words of German. However, he eventually let his football do the talking and ended up scoring 71 goals in 137 caps for Germany. He also won the World Cup and is the competition’s all-time top scorer with 16 strikes to his name. Talk about one that got away.
Marcos Senna – Brazil
Another major tournament winner when he took home the European Championship trophy in 2008, Senna’s career could have been incredibly different. The Spanish midfielder is regarded as one of the most underrated players of his generation but was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1976. He didn’t move to Spain until 2002 when he joined Villarreal, but he was granted Spanish citizenship in 2006 and went onto make 28 appearances.
Christian Pulisic – Croatia
The Chelsea winger has very quickly become one of the most threatening in the English top-flight and he is now the real star of US football. However, rather than being a trailblazer for the USMNT, he could have been playing for Croatia. Now, this one is a little more unlikely because the only way he qualifies is through his grandparents. Just imagine how good their national team would have been with him at the last World Cup.
Zinedine Zidane – Algeria
The great Zizou was never going to play for Algeria but he qualified for the African nation as a result of his parents who lived there before emigrating to Paris in the 1950s. Speaking to Esquire in 2016, the attacking midfielder said: “I have an affinity with the Arabic world. I have it in my blood, via my parents. I’m very proud of being French, but also very proud of having these roots and this diversity.”
As it happens, Zidane has gone down as one of the best French players to ever play the game, winning the World Cup and being capped 108 times. He is, of course, a Ballon d’Or winner too.
Ansu Fati – Guinea Bissau
The Barcelona prodigy is only 17 but had to make a very quick decision about what country he represented. The teenage livewire was born in Guinea Bissau in 2002 and then moved with his family to Seville when he was six.
He consequently joined Barcelona’s La Masia academy in 2012, just four years later, and now he’s already in their first-team. Fati earnt his Spain debut in September of this year after being granted citizenship in 2019. He also reportedly qualified for Portugal through his grandparents’ birth.
Adnan Januzaj – Turkey, Kosovo or Albania
Remember this whole saga? It was a drawn out affair that saw the former Manchester United attacker in the frame for England too. Born in Belgium, that was the country he ultimately chose to represent, but he had Kosovar-Albanian family and thus, could have played for either of those nations. He had no connection to Turkey so that was batted away, while Roy Hodgson admitted England could call him up if he received British citizenship.
Eusebio – Mozambique
Just imagine if the great Eusebio had represented Mozambique, the country of his birth, rather than Portugal. There’d have been no 1966 World Cup Golden Boot and it would have been difficult to picture him winning a Ballon d’Or either. Known as one of the greatest players to kick a ball, he earnt 64 caps for Portugal and scored 41 international goals. He was superb.
Kevin-Prince Boateng – Germany
This is quite a famous one, primarily because his half-brother Jerome Boateng plays for Germany. Kevin-Prince did play for their youth team from U19 to U21 but then switched his allegiances to Ghana after telling German authorities in 2009 he had no interest in playing for them anymore. He received a Ghanain passport because of his paternal routes but only managed to play 15 times for them. That’s surprising given his talent.
Raheem Sterling – Jamaica
Sterling has become one of Manchester City and England’s leading lights but he does qualify for Jamaica as well. The winger was born in Kingston and his mother was even a track and field athlete for Jamaica. However, after living in England from the age of five, he chose to represent the Three Lions instead of the Caribbean island.
Marcel Desailly – Ghana
The colossal defender is one of the best to have played in his position and is a real legend of French football, winning the World Cup in 1998. However, he was born in Ghana in 1968 before relocating to Europe when he was four years old. Desailly came through the youth programme at Nantes and from there, he was only ever going to represent France. He appeared 116 times for them, scoring three goals in the process.
Giuseppe Rossi – USA
Rossi has had an up and down career, one that’s taken him to Manchester United, Villarreal and to 30 Italy caps. However, he could easily have represented the United States. He was born to Italian parents in New Jersey and started his career with the Clifton Stallions in 1996. Coincidentally, he is now back in America and playing for Real Salt Lake in MLS.
Patrick Vieira – Senegal
It’s crazy just how different France’s World Cup winning squad could have looked if a host of their players represented other nations. The Arsenal legend and Nice manager was born in Dakar, Senegal in 1976 but moved to Europe when he was eight years old.
He qualified for France anyway because his grandfather served in the French army but considering his imperious form for the Gunners, he was never going to play for Senegal. He became a mainstay for Les Bleus, winning 107 caps.
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