International football is still the pinnacle of the world game.
Obviously in terms of quality, elite club football surpassed it a while back, but when you ask players they all seem to confirm that there is nothing quite like representing your country, even if the route you take to get there can lead you through another, different country.
Players changing international allegiances has always been a thing in the game (just ask Alfredo di Stefano) but it is definitely more common and understood nowadays.
The most recent examples revolve around the England national team with Jamal Musiala switching to the country of his birth, Germany, having represented the Three Lions at youth level, and Michail Antonio, who has linked up with Jamaica in their bid to reach the 2022 World Cup (eligible through his parents). Antonio did not represent England at any level, but he was named in Three Lions squads twice, once for Sam Allardyce in which he was an unused sub, and again for Gareth Southgate before having to withdraw through injury in the 2016/17 season.
So we’ve come up with a list of active players who, having played for one nation, changed allegiances to represent another and looked at what happened next.
From: Republic of Ireland
Grealish was born and raised in Birmingham, but qualified for Ireland through his grandparents. He played for Ireland up through U-21 level before declining a senior call-up as he wanted to represent England.
What Happened Next: After the switch, he helped England U-21s win the 2016 Toulon tournament before starting a now-legendary four-year wait for a senior call-up. That wait ended in 2020 and, after his impressive performances, Captain Jack is finally an established member of the England squad. He played the role of ‘super sub to perfection during England’s run to the Euro 2020 final, turning a number of games from the bench.
Born in France to a Gabonese international and a Spanish mother, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had lots of choices growing up. He was initially emerging through the French youth system but switched to Gabon in 2009 and hasn’t looked back since.
What Happened Next: He helped his country reach an Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final (the furthest they’ve ever gone) and is currently their captain as well as all-time top-scorer with 30 goals.
Koulibaly was born in France to Senegalese immigrants, and after coming through the French youth system including representing Les Bleus at the U-20 World Cup he chose to represent Senegal, saying he wants to “write the story of the future of Senegal football.”
What Happened Next: As a world-class centre-back, Koulibaly was the pillar of the Senegalese defence as they were cruelly eliminated from the 2018 World Cup on the fair play rules and made it all the way to the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations final only to lose to Algeria as Koulibaly, suspended due to yellow card accumulation, watched on. Koulibaly has now taken over as captain, and through his leadership Senegal won the Afcon 2021 final, beating Egypt on penalties.
Ivan Rakitic was born and raised in Switzerland with Croatian parents. He emerged in Swiss football before moving to Germany and then settling in La Liga where he became a legend. Internationally he played for Switzerland through several youth groups before switching.
What Happened Next: After accepting Slaven Bilic’s call, Rakitic became an indispensable member of the first-team squad. The trans-Clásico partnership he formed with Luka Modric powered Croatia to much of their success, including their historic run all the way to the 2018 World Cup final. A run that saw Rakitic become the first player in World Cup history to score two shootout-winning penalties in the same tournament in addition to consistent excellence and stability in the middle. A switch well-made!
Diego Costa is a rare instance where a player changed nationality for a purely cynical reason. Costa had represented Brazil twice in 2013, but he wasn’t going to make their World Cup squad. So when world champions Spain, where he had lived and played since 2007, asked him to switch and be their striker, how could he say no?
What Happened Next: Costa’s Spanish career has been a nightmare. He came into the 2014 World Cup half-fit and was helpless to watch as Spain continued the curse of reigning champions crashing out in the group stages. He then basically disappeared for a while before showing up again at the 2018 World Cup. Here he played well, scoring three times in the first two games, but he tailed off badly and again watched Spain slump to a humiliating defeat against Russia.
To: Ivory Coast
Zaha was born in the Ivory Coast but moved to London at the age of four, so was eligible for both nations. He came through the England system and even played for the first team. However, Ivory Coast convinced him to switch allegiances in 2017.
What Happened Next: Much to Gareth Southgate’s chagrin, Zaha became an Ivorian international and a fixture in the first XI. He’s not managed to guide them to much success yet, despite scoring twice at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations and one more time at the 2021 edition.
From: United States
Subotic’s family fled Yugoslavia in the early 90s and he lived in Germany for a while before moving to the USA. There he came through their youth system playing for the U-17 and U-20 sides before a bizarre attack from then-U-21 coach Thomas Rongen, who claimed Subotic hadn’t developed. Suffice to say, this more than likely had an impact on Subotic’s decision to switch allegiances.
What Happened Next: After changing to Serbia, Subotic had a rocky time. Inconsistent displays led to him getting dropped for the 2010 World Cup. He played just once, albeit starring as Serbia beat Germany 1-0. Subotic’s impact post-2010 was limited both by injuries and a constant changing of coaches at Serbia. He hasn’t played for the national team since 2013.
Amorebieta was born in Venezuela to Basque parents. The no-nonsense centre-back was raised in the Basque Country and became an Athletic Bilbao legend but, despite playing a few times for Spain U-19, the closest he got to the senior side was one game as an unused substitute in 2008. So, in 2011 he switched to the nation of his birth.
What Happened Next: Amorebieta became a fixture in the Venezuelan defence and scored the winning goal in the nation’s first-ever victory over Argentina in World Cup qualifying. He played for Venezuela in the 2015 Copa América but got sent off against Peru before retiring from international football later that year.
Kevin-Prince and Jerome grew up in Germany, the sons of a Ghanaian and a German, the pair came through the German youth system and represented the country at varying levels. However, on the eve of the 2009 U-21 Euros, a tournament Germany won, Kevin-Prince Boateng was thrown out of the squad after visiting a nightclub. He then decided he’d rather represent Ghana.
What Happened Next: As a member of the Black Stars, Boateng went all the way to the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup including a stunning goal against the USA in the round-of-16. He then retired from international football only to return in 2014 for the next World Cup, however, once again his attitude proved a problem. After two games he was sent home for alleged abusive behaviour. He hasn’t played for Ghana since.
Granit and Taulant Xhaka grew up in Switzerland and came through the youth teams together. But where Granit became an established Swiss international, the older Taulant wasn’t as lucky and decided to represent Albania – the nation of his parents.
What Happened Next: Taulant went on to become a key member of the Albanian side and represented them at Euro 2016 as they were eliminated in the groups. After this he voluntarily stepped away from the squad, saying he wouldn’t play for Albania whilst Gianni De Biasi was in charge. Sure enough, he didn’t return until October 2017 and has since scored his first goal for his country.
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From: Northern Ireland
To: Republic of Ireland
James McClean was born in Northern Ireland and came through their youth system, however, he rejected a call-up to the senior side in order to represent the Republic of Ireland. He finally got his chance in 2012.
What Happened Next: McClean has been one of the key players for almost a decade of Irish football. McClean helped the Republic of Ireland qualify for and play well at Euro 2012 and 2016 and is still a regular for the side to this day.
To: Central African Republic