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On Thursday, West Ham midfielder Declan Rice committed his international career to England after previously playing 3 times for the Republic of Ireland. Rice was born in London to two English parents, but has Irish family roots and has never played a competitive match for Ireland. His switch has led to plenty of debate, but Rice is the latest in a long line of players to face the issue of mixed nationality in football.
John Barnes (England 79 Caps)
English football’s most decorated adopted son was born in Jamaica and moved to England with his family at the age of 12. Jamaica remained a footballing backwater in the early 80’s and eager to make his mark, Barnes was eligible to play for all four British nations. A little known fact is Scotland was the first nation to approach Barnes about representing them, but he chose England and made his senior debut in 1983.
Although he remained an enigma for England, Barnes still amassed 79 caps, scored a memorable goal in the Maracana and represented England at 2 World Cups.
Wilfried Zaha (England 2 Caps, Ivory Coast 8 Caps)
Wilfried Zaha was born in the small nation of Ivory Coast, but moved to England at the age of 4. He was spotted by the Crystal Palace academy at the age of 12, and the winger broke into the first team at just 18. Zaha quickly entered England’s youth system, winning his first senior cap in 2013. and shortly afterwards securing a transfer to Manchester United. Zaha played twice in friendlies for England and seemed set for a long career wearing the Three Lions.
However, Zaha struggled at Old Trafford and disappeared off the international radar, eventually heading back to Crytsal Palace. In 2016, Zaha made the surprise move to switch his allegiance to the country of his birth. Gareth Southgate attempted to persuade Zaha back into the England fold, as by now Zaha was delivering on the early potential his career had shown. Zaha has since represented Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations and will spearhead their hopes for Qatar 2022.
Vinnie Jones (Wales 9 caps)
Prior to his Hollywood career, Vinnie ‘Wellard ‘ Jones was a midfield enforcer best known for becoming acquainted with the contents of Gazza’s shorts, clattering Steve McMahon in the ’88 FA Cup Final, and picking up a booking after just 6 seconds of a league game for flying in on Peter Reid.
Born in Watford to English parents, Jones seemed destined to play out his career in domestic football. At the age of 29, he was called up by Wales. Jones played 9 games for Wales, all losses, including that infamous 7-1 humping against Holland. Wales plummeted down the world rankings under Jones’ former Wimbledon boss Bobby Gould.
Marcos Senna (Spain 28 Caps)
Born in Brazil, Marcos Senna bounced around several clubs in South America before going Villarreal in 2002 at the age of 26. At Villarreal, Senna established himself in central midfield and quickly developed a reputation as a fine passing midfielder. By 2006, he also qualified to play for his adopted nation in Spain. Senna played at the 2006 World Cup, but is best remembered as the standout player in Spain’s triumphant 2008 European Championship.
Senna looked set to play the 2010 World Cup at the age of 33, but an erratic season at Villarreal saw him miss out on selection and end his international career. He won 28 caps and a European Champions medal.
Owen Hargreaves (England 42 Caps)
Born in Calgary to a Welsh mother and English father, Owen Hargreaves had the unusual distinction of being eligible for 3 nations. After moving to Germany to sign with Bayern Munich, he could have been eligible for Germany by 2003 under residency laws. After helping Bayern Munich in their run to 2001 Champions League glory, Hargreaves chose England; much to the annoyance of Canadian fans.
After making his senior debut in 2001, Hargreaves went on to play 42 times for England. He was a star at the 2006 World Cup after which he was named England Player of the Year. Given Wales and Canada failed to qualify for a major tournament during his career, it’s fair to say Hargreaves made the right call.
Marcel Desailly (France 116 caps)
The France legend was born in Ghana, but his family migrated to France when he was 4-years old. Marcel Desailly began his club career with Nantes in 1986 before moving on to Marseille. He lifted the Champions League trophy with Marseille in 1993 , nd repeated the trick a year later with new club AC Milan.
At an international level, Desailly opted to represent France, making his debut in 1993. Five years later as France hosted the World Cup, Desailly was one of a cluster of players in the French squad from migrant backgrounds. Seen as the emblem of the new multicultural France, Desailly lifted the World Cup in Paris and went on to win Euro 2000, retiring in 2004 with 116 caps. Although a proud Frenchman, Desailly has remained a vocal supporter of Ghanaian football and has even been linked with the Ghana manager’s job.
Eduardo Da Silva (Croatia 64 Caps)
Most players who switch allegiances are treated with suspicion, but Eduardo Da Silva’s story is a heart-warming one. Largely overlooked in his native Brazil, Eduardo was spotted by Dynamo Zagreb and moved to Croatia at the age of 15.
Unlike the richer academies of Western Europe, Dynamo didn’t have a five-star facility to home the youngster, so he lived with the groundsman. Three years on in 2002, Eduardo became a Croatian citizen and eventually earned himself a big money move to Arsenal.
Although his time in England was marred by the horror tackle he took from Birmingham’s Martin Taylor, which ruled him out of Euro 2008, Eduardo still went on to play 64 games for his adopted nation.
Lukas Podolski & Miroslav Klose (Germany 130 & 137 Caps)
Lukas Klose and Miroslav Podolski shared near identical footballing stories, both born in Poland they were both snapped up by Bundesliga sides as juniors. When they broke through to first team football, both qualified for Germany through residency.
Both came through in the era before Germany’s coaching revolution; hence the shallow pool of German talent meant the national side was looking at other options. In both cases, Poland was slow off the mark to keep the players in their own system, so the Germans acted swiftly and bagged both strikers.
Both had a major impact on Germany’s home World Cup and stuck around long enough to be veterans in Germany’s victorious 2014 World Champion squad. They played a combined 267 games and scored 120 goals for Germany, with Klose breaking the World Cup scoring record.
Deco (Portugal 75 Caps)
The Brazilian-born midfield maestro was overlooked by the country of his birth in 2002. To be fair, Brazil’s attacking midfield options were Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Juninho. It meant overlooking Deco, who qualified for his adopted nation of Portugal, where he was part of Jose Mourinho’s all-conquering Porto side. Deco lit up Euro 2004 and was again brilliant at the 2006 World Cup, where Portugal out-performed Brazil. He went on to win 75 caps and every major honor in club football.
Diego Costa (Brazil 2 Caps, Spain 24 Caps)
Diego Costa was born in Brazil, making his first team breakthrough in Portugal with SC Braga. He was selected twice for Brazil after making it big with Atletico Madrid. However, as Costa had only played friendlies, he was still eligible to switch to his adopted country of Spain once he’d been a resident for 6 years.
Costa submitted his switch to FIFA while Brazil played Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup Final, adding edge to that fixture. It was given a hot reception when the defending World Champions arrived in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup.
Costa has endured an inconsistent international career, but did enjoy a strong World Cup in Russia, with only 24 caps to his name.
Half the Republic of Ireland team (1986- 1996)
Jack Charlton is rightly lorded for his management of the Republic of Ireland, but it’s fair to say he got creative when it came to defining who was eligible to play for Ireland. ‘Big Jack’ took aim at anyone with an Irish connection who wasn’t capped by neighboring nations. Of the Ireland team that beat England at Euro ’88, only 4 were born in Ireland. The trend continued at Italia ’90 with half the squad born outside of Ireland, and only 4 of the starting 11 in the quarterfinal being born in the Republic.
Picture Credits: The Times, SI, DFB