8 Famous Footballers You Probably Didn’t Know Were Immigrants

In football the eligibility criteria for a player to represent any nation on the international stage are many. Everyone knows that players are allowed to represent the nation in which they are born.

In addition to this, the player can represent any country in which their biological parents or grandparents were born and finally the player can also represent a nation where he has acquired citizenship.

#1 Zinedine Zidane

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Real Madrid and France legend Zinedine Zidane’s parents Smail and Malika immigrated to Paris in 1953 from Northern Algeria before the start of the Algerian war.

His family settled in Paris initially but moved to Marseille in the mid 1960s in search of work. His father worked as a warehouseman and a night-watchman and his mother was a housewife. They lived in Marseille’s suburb of La Castellane which was notorious for its high crime rate and unemployment.

In 1972, Zidane was born there as the youngest of five siblings and it was at Castellane where Zidane was introduced to football when he was just five years old.

Zidane was eligible to play for France because he was born there and for Algeria because his parents were born there. It is rumoured that the Algerian coach Abdelhamid Kermali was of the opinion that Zidane was not fast enough and thus decided against picking him for Algeria.

Zidane went on to represent France at the International stage and won the 1998 FIFA World Cup as well as the 2000 UEFA European Championship with his adopted homeland.

 

#2 Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s father, Sefik Ibrahimovic, was a Bosnian Muslim who immigrated to Sweden in 1977 and his mother, Jurka Gravic, was a Croatian Catholic who also immigrated to Sweden. His immigrant parents met in Sweden and Zlatan was born in the country in 1981.

His parents divorced when Ibrahimovic was just 2 years old and he spent a difficult childhood in the immigrant-populated district of Rosengard. By his own account, he was a bicycle thief and school bully before he honed his football skills.

Aged 15, he was on the verge of quitting football to work at the docks in Malmo but his coach at Malmo FF convinced him to pursue a career in football. Thankfully Ibrahimovic heeded to the advice and we all know how his career panned out.

Ibrahimovic was eligible to represent both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia through his parents in addition to Sweden. Croatia did try to persuade Ibrahimovic, but he opted to play for Sweden and is now the nation’s all-time leading goal scorer.

 

#3 Robert Pires

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Former Arsenal player, Robert Pires, was born in Reims, France to a Portuguese father and Spanish mother. Pires, who was the elder of two boys, supported Benfica along with his father and Real Madrid along with his mother.

He had trouble understanding French while he was at school because his parents communicated with him in Portuguese and Spanish. Despite his initial difficulty to understand the language, he played football at the youth level with Reims before making his professional debut with Metz in 1993.

Pires was eligible to represent France because he was born there, Portugal because his father was born there and Spain because his mother was born there. He chose to play for France because he was raised there and had the French culture engrained in him.

His decision to play for France proved to be a beneficial one as he won the World Cup in 1998 and the Euro in 2000.

 

#4 Patrice Evra

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Patrice Evra was born in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. His father who was of Guinean descent was a diplomat and his mother was of Cape Verdean origin. By birth itself, Evra was eligible to play for three countries – Senegal, Guinea and Cape Verde.

Evra was one of 25 children and when he was a year old, his father moved to Brussels in Belgium to work at the Senegalese embassy. Two years later his family moved to France and he started his footballing career there.

The former Manchester United man was eligible to play for Senegal, but his experience in the country when he was just 10 years old wasn’t pleasant. He chose to represent France internationally and played for their youth teams before making his senior team debut in 2004.

Prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Evra revealed that he was racially abused by Senegal supporters for choosing to represent France over his country of birth.

 

#5 Ivan Rakitic

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Barcelona and Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic is a youth product of the famous Swiss club FC Basel because he was born and raised in Switzerland. He was born in Mohlin to a Croatian family who immigrated to the Switzerland before he was born. His father, Luka, and his elder brother, Dejan, were also professional footballers.

Rakitic learned his trade in Switzerland while playing for Swiss giants FC Basel, before moving to Germany to play for Schalke in 2007.

The former Sevilla midfielder was eligible to play for Switzerland because he was born there and for Croatia through his parents. He represented the Swiss teams at the U17, U19 and U21 level before accepting a call from Slaven Bilic to represent Croatia at the senior level, much to the annoyance of the Swiss football federation.

 

#6 Nani

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Portuguese International, Nani, like some of his present and past international teammates, is an immigrant who acquired Portuguese citizenship.

The winger was born in Praia, the capital city of West African nation Cape Verde. His family moved to Portugal when he was very young and in Portugal he was raised by his aunt Antonia in Lisbon. His father left to Cape Verde on a holiday when Nani was just five years old and never returned, while his mother left for to Netherlands when he was 12 to start a new life.

Nani’s older brother taught him to play football and he also spent a lot of time playing the game with his childhood friend and international teammate Manuel Fernandes.

Although he was eligible to play for Cape Verde, Nani represented Portugal at the youth and senior levels. He has been capped by the senior team 92 times and has also scored 17 goals.

 

#7 Fabrice Muamba

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Fabrice Muamba was born in Kinshasa, Zaire – the country which is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1994, when Muamba was just six years old, his father fled the country because of his political views and came to England seeking asylum and it was only in 1999 that his father was granted indefinite leave to remain. Muamba, who was 11 at that time and the rest of his family joined his father in England and settled in London.

Although Muamba arrived in England without knowing English, he went on to achieve A-levels in English, French and mathematics. In 2002, he joined Arsenal’s youth setup before playing for Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers.

Muamba was eligible to play for England as he had received three years of full education in the country before he turned 18 and he also lived in the country for five years. In 2007 he declined a call up to the DR Congo squad to remain eligible for England. He represented England at the U16, U17, U18, U19 and U21 levels.

 

#8 Adnan Januzaj

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Adnan Januzaj’s Kosovar-Albanian family migrated to Brussels in Belgium years before he was born. His father chose to migrate to avoid being recruited by the Yugoslav People’s Army. Some of his father’s family members were part of the Kosovo Liberation Army which fought for Kosovar independence during the Kosovo war.

His family had endured a lot of hardships during the Balkan crisis and migration was their best way out of the poverty and persecution suffered by other members of their family.

After Januzaj came under the limelight while playing for Manchester United, there were many questions about which country he would represent internationally.

The youngster was eligible to represent Belgium because he was born there, he was eligible to represent Albania because of his Albanian heritage and he was also eligible to represent Turkey through his mother’s family’s deportation to Turkey. England manager Roy Hodgson also claimed that England were looking into the possibility of calling him up, but he didn’t fulfil the criteria to play for England. After years of discussion and negotiation he finally chose to represent Belgium.

 

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