5 Curious Cases of International Football

As the transfer window creaked closed, slowly stifling the frantic wailing of Jim White, the only summer saga that seemed more interminable than the Labour Leadership contest came to a close. Man City finally signed Kevin De Bruyne. City had already been embroiled in one dramatic chase for a player when it came to their attempts to sign Raheem Sterling, but their glacial pursuit of the pasty Belgian from Wolfsburg made that seem like the blink of the eye.

During my extensive research of City’s new boy [by which I mean a quick search on Wikipedia and Football Manager – if it’s good enough for Sky Sports, it’s good enough for me], I discovered that he would have been eligible to play for Burundi through his mother. While the thought of Kev, a man who would get sunburnt by the flash on your iPhone camera, strutting his stuff in Bujumbura is wonderful, it’s probably a fair decision given the current war-torn climate of Burundi. Still, if things had been different and Saido Berahino had elected to play for the country of his birth, the two of them could have struck up a formidable strike partnership for the the Swallows in the War [side note: incredible national team nickname lads].

Anyway, here are some more players with interesting circumstances of birth/ national footballing allegiances. I guess it is true that being born in a barn doesn’t necessarily make you a horse:


Asmir Begovic:

When he isn’t riding the pine at Stamford Bridge, Asmir Begovic tends goal for Bosnia & Herzegovina and was part of his nation’s squad for their first World Cup appearance last summer in Brazil. Begovic was born in Trebinje but his family fled from the growing conflict in Bosnia to Canada, after a spell living with relatives in Germany. He played in youth internationals for his adopted nation, including the 2007 Under-20 World Cup and was even called up to the senior Canadian team twice [without making an appearance]. However, when Bosnia came knocking, the keeper swapped Saskatchewan for Sarajevo and made history as the country of his birth qualified for their first international tournament as an independent nation.


Peter Odemwingie:

Habitual transfer deadline day car park dweller Odemwingie is compromised of more parts than a flatpack set of drawers from IKEA. He was born to a Nigerian father and a Russian mother in Tashkent; a region of the USSR that is now part of Uzbekistan. Big Peter wasn’t exactly short of options, but he elected to play for his father’s country after spending much of his early life and career flitting between Russia and Nigeria. Given the general treatment of black players in Russia, it was probably a good decision, Pete.

Green Lantern


The one-time source of perpetual frustration for season ticket holders at Old Trafford was born in the former Portuguese colony of Cabo Verde before his family emigrated to Portugal when Nani was a youngster. The island nation off the West coast of Africa has a population of just over 500,000 so perhaps you can’t blame Nani for turning down the opportunity to be the biggest fish in what amounts to a miniscule pond. Still, the minnows managed to cause a few ripples in that pond when they beat their former rulers 2-0 in a friendly earlier this year in a lovely bit of post-colonial payback.

Mary Poppins

Ikechi Anya:

Ok, you’re going to want to take a breath before this one: Nigerian father, Romanian mother, born in Glasgow, lived in Oxfordshire from the age of 7, before ending up in Spain for 3 years. The current Watford winger has had a fascinating career: after being released by Wycombe, he floated around the non-league scene in England before making back into the league with Northampton, When that didn’t work out, Anya ended up in the short-lived Glenn Hoddle Academy before being snapped up by Sevilla in 2009. He failed to make a first team appearance there and moved on to Celta Vigo briefly before finding himself in the Pozzo machine at Granada and eventually ended up at Watford. With a gene pool deeper than Mary Poppins’ handbag, Anya could have played for anyone one of four nations. However, he made his first international appearance in 2013 after Scotland came knocking. He followed this up by scoring against the newly-crowned world champions in Dortmund in 2015 as Scotland narrowly lost against Germany in their first qualifying game.

Sierra Leone

Ryan Giggs:

Although Giggs famously captained England school boys, he was never truly eligible to play for England. There was a nation he could have chosen to play for though – Sierra Leone. Through his paternal grandfather, Giggs could have turned out for the West Africans. Admittedly Giggs would have been swapping failure to qualify for international tournaments with one nation to another, but how could he possibly have turned down the opportunity to forge an attacking partnership with Internazionale legend and Freetown folk hero Mohamed Kallon? As recently as 2013, Sierra Leone were trying to get Giggs to pull on the shirt for them, although this time it was Ryan’s younger brother Rhodri.


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