16-Best Players Who Could Have Played for Other Countries

Mark Jones@@Mark_Jones86Featured ColumnistNovember 14, 2014

16-Best Players Who Could Have Played for Other Countries

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    It's international week, but will there be some players out there wondering what might have been?

    Following Jose Mourinho's instructions, Diego Costa has been left out of the Spain squad for their qualifier against Belarus and a subsequent friendly against Germany, but of course he very nearly never made it into that squad in the first place.

    The Brazil-born forward actually played in two friendlies for the country of his birth before switching allegiance to Spain after being granted nationality in 2013, but he's far from being alone when it comes to having a choice over which country to play for.

    Here are some other star names who were faced with a similar question.


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    Before we start, though, some myths need busting. Despite what you may have heard, the truth is that:

    • Ryan Giggs could never have played for England.
    • Zinedine Zidane could never have played for Algeria.
    • Michael Owen could never have played for Wales.

    Giggs was born in Cardiff to Welsh parents who then moved to Manchester, so he played for England's schoolboys simply because he went to school in England. The new rules on nationality which were brought in in 2009 would have allowed him to represent England, but of course he'd played plenty of times for Wales by then.

    The opposite is true of Owen, who went to school in Wales despite being born just over the border in England, while the Marseille-born Zidane never even entertained the thought of playing for Algeria once he started playing in the France under-17 team.

John Barnes

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    After moving to England from Jamaica at the age of 12, winger John Barnes would go on to be one of the standout players in Britain in the 1980s and early '90s, wowing the crowds at both Watford and Liverpool.

    After gaining his British passport, Barnes played 79 times for England, although he has revealed that he could have represented Scotland had they asked him to play for them first.  

    The Tartan Army will wonder what might have been!

Patrick Vieira

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    Midfield enforcer Patrick Vieira was born in Senegal, but he moved to France with his family when he was eight and only returned to the country in 2003.

    He'd been a world champion for five years by then, and he was established as one of the most powerful central midfielders of the modern era as he captained Arsenal and added the 2000 European Championships to his haul of medals. 

Miroslav Klose

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    Born in Opole, Poland, and the son of two professional athletes, Miroslav Klose's road to becoming the World Cup's all-time record goalscorer and a winner of the competition with Germany began when he moved to the country in 1986 aged eight.

    Goals in his first Bundesliga season with Kaiserslautern in 2001 drew the attention of Poland, but he declined to play for them as he knew he'd have a better chance of success with Germany. Sure enough, coach Rudi Voller called him up that year and he sampled the first of his four World Cups 12 months later, achieving immortality at the tournament 12 years on from that. 

Marcel Desailly

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    The great joy of the 1998 French World Cup winning team was just how diverse they were, with their success seemingly uniting a country in elements where there had once been mistrust.

    One of the great icons of that side was Marcel Desailly, who decided not to play for the country of both his parents' and his own birth, Ghana, to instead turn out for the nation he's called home since he was four.

    He won 116 caps as well as the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships, despite being sent off in the final of the former.

Alfredo Di Stefano

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    When aged 21, Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano played six times for his native Argentina and scored six goals.

    Ten years later, however, and after his move to Madrid, Di Stefano acquired Spanish citizenship and went on to turn out 31 times for his adopted country, scoring 23 times despite missing out on the 1958 World Cup in Sweden when Spain failed to qualify. He retired from internationals after helping Spain to the 1962 World Cup.

Diego Costa

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    Born in Lagarto, Brazil, Diego Costa's robust playing style attracted the attention of Brazilian national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2013, when he played in friendlies against Italy in Geneva and Russia in London.

    However, later that same year Costa decided that he wanted to switch to the Spanish national team having gained nationality through his six years at Atletico Madrid, a decision which surprised many given that the World Cup in Brazil was on the horizon.

    Costa made his Spain debut almost exactly a year after first turning out for Brazil, and although the then-holders endured a torrid World Cup, you can bet that the Chelsea forward will be at the forefront of any success they achieve in the near future. 


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    Having been born in Brazil and played for the legendary Corinthians club, many were waiting for the creative midfielder Deco to break into the Brazilian national side in 2002, but the Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho generation had good enough players already, as proved when they won the World Cup in Japan and Korea.

    He gained Portuguese citizenship a year later, having played in the country for six years, and he showed no hesitation in playing for the European side. Pleasingly for fans of irony, he scored on his debut in a friendly match against Brazil before going on to win 75 caps.


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    Associated Press

    One of world football's great figures, Eusebio was born in Mozambique before moving to Lisbon as a teenager.

    His prodigious football talent was already evident, and it wasn't long before he was called into the Portuguese national side for whom he scored 41 goals in 64 games and was also the top scorer at the 1966 World Cup in England.

Lukas Podolski

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    He may have been a peripheral figure during Germany's World Cup win this summer, but Polish-born Lukas Podolski has managed an impressive 47 goals in 120 appearances for his national team.

    The Arsenal forward was just two years old when his family emigrated from Poland to West Germany, where they were immediately given citizenship due to Podolski's grandparents being German nationals. The 29-year-old has claimed that the Polish federation only showed an interest in him after he'd started playing for Germany's youth sides, by which point his international future had been decided upon.


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    A divisive figure in world football, the Real Madrid defender Pepe was born in Brazil but was never selected for any of their youth levels after moving over to Portugal to further his club career.

    He gained Portuguese citizenship in 2007 after six years at Maritimo and Porto, and in the same year he both made his Portuguese debut and earned a dream transfer to Madrid. He's been a fixture in both teams ever since.

Marcos Senna

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    Spain's Euro 2008 win kicked off their six-year cycle of success, and key to that victory was the calming nature of the naturalised Spaniard Marcos Senna in the centre of midfield.

    Born in Brazil, Senna became a legend at Villarreal over 11 years at the club as he helped them reach the dizzying heights of the Champions League semi-finals. He gained Spanish citizenship in 2006 and was put straight into the national team ahead of the World Cup.

    He played 28 times for Spain and was a key player as that 2008 success was secured in Austria and Switzerland.

Eduardo Da Silva

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    Eagle-eyed scouts from Dinamo Zagreb took Eduardo da Silva to Croatia from Brazil in 1999, and he gained citizenship three years later.

    Goals both at youth level and for Dinamo took him into the Croatian national side in 2004, and he stayed there for 10 years, scoring 29 goals in 64 appearances, with the severe broken leg he suffered while playing for Arsenal hindering his progress.

Mauro Camoranesi

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    A World Cup winner with Italy in 2006, the midfielder Mauro Camoranesi carried dual citizenship having been born in Argentina.

    When he joined Verona in 2000, that appeared to make his mind up about where his international future lay. A year after transferring to Juventus in 2002, he won the first of what would be 55 Italy caps over seven years, the most memorable coming when France were defeated on penalties to win the World Cup in Berlin eight years ago.

Simone Perrotta

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    Another member of that Italian World Cup winning team to have been born outside of Italy was the midfielder Simone Perrotta, who came into the world in Ashton-under-Lyne, England in 1977.

    The Perrottas moved back to Italy when Simone was four, and there was never any suggestion that he'd don the Three Lions after he made his Italy under-21 debut in 1998.

    He won 48 caps for his country, and he started all seven of the games in that 2006 World Cup victory.

Adnan Januzaj

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    Born in Belgium, Manchester United's exciting youngster Adnan Januzaj nonetheless had plenty of choice when it came to determining his international future after he broke into the United team under David Moyes last season.

    Albania, Turkey, Kosovo and even England all stated a claim to his prodigious talents, but he decided to go with the country of his birth and was called into the Belgian squad for the summer's World Cup, where he made one appearance.

Raheem Sterling

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    Another talented Premier League teenager with an international choice to make was Liverpool's Raheem Sterling, who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, before emigrating to London with his mother when he was five.

    After being educated at the Queens Park Rangers academy, he was snapped up by Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez when he was 15 and has never really looked back. He made his England senior debut in 2012 having risen through the youth ranks, and in the summer he was the only member of Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad who was born outside of England.