This summer’s World Cup in Russia brought the prevalence of dual nationality in football to the fore, with the main case in point being Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri. Both players became embroiled in controversy after celebrating their goals against Serbia with Albanian political gestures; both Xhaka and Shaqiri are dual Swiss and Albanian citizens of Kosovar-Albanian heritage.
Considering the political tension between Serbia and Kosovo, with Serbia still not recognising Kosovo’s independence, their celebrations were inflammatory to say the least. The Swiss stars could find themselves in hot water with FIFA, who ban political gestures during celebrations, and the Swiss FA has even said they are considering banning dual citizens from playing for Switzerland from now on.
Xhaka and Shaqiri are just two players in a long line of dual national footballers, unsurprising when you consider the millions of individuals across the world enjoying the multitude of benefits of dual citizenship, like visa-free travel and the opportunity to live abroad. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most notable examples of footballers with dual citizenship.
- Diego Costa
The Atletico Madrid striker may have shone for Spain at the World Cup, but Costa was born in Brazil and famously made two friendly appearances for the Seleção in 2013. It was during his breakout 2013/14 season—where he bagged 36 goals for eventual La Liga winners Atletico—that he caught the eye of Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque. Costa had been granted Spanish citizenship in July 2013 after living in Spain from 2007. Del Bosque felt there was a chance of convincing Costa to play for them, with FIFA rules permitting dual national players to represent a second country if they had only played in friendlies for one nation.
After the Spanish football federation made a request to FIFA for permission to call him up to the national side in September 2013, Costa himself declared his desire to play for Spain the next month, and made his debut the following March. The decision caused much furore in his native Brazil, with the Brazilian team gearing up to host the 2014 World Cup. Costa’s appearances at the competition were, unsurprisingly, met with a chorus of boos from locals attending the games. He has since gone on to represent Spain 24 times, scoring 10 goals.
- Wilfried Zaha
In a similar vein to Costa, Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha also switched international allegiances despite appearing for England in two international friendlies. After being born in Ivory Coast’s capital of Abidjan, Zaha moved to England at the age of four. He played all of his youth international football for England, becoming a mainstay in the under-21 side between 2012 and 2013.
After impressing at Crystal Palace during the 2012/13 season, Zaha was called up to senior England team in late 2012, going on to play in friendlies against Sweden and Scotland. However, he later became disillusioned with his lack of subsequent opportunities with the England side, and made the decision to play for Ivory Coast in November 2016. Whilst Zaha himself says he has no regrets over changing allegiances, his sparkling form over the last few years has caused England fans to wonder what could’ve been.
- Vincent Kompany
A lesser-known example of a footballer with dual nationality is that of Belgium captain Vincent Kompany. Despite being born in Belgium and playing for the Belgian national side throughout his career, Kompany himself has declared himself “100% Belgian, 100% Congolese”.
The reason for the Manchester City centre-back’s dual nationality is his father’s Congolese upbringing. Kompany has himself visited the African nation on numerous occasions, most notably to engage in projects aimed at providing education and safe living for Congolese children living in poverty. He has even helped to build a village in the capital of Kinshasa.
Speaking about his efforts in Kinshasa, he told CNN: “I’m proud of that. It’s a wealth on my side to be able to do that. I’ll try to do well with Belgium and if I do, I hope that a lot of people in Congo as well will feel proud of my achievements.”
- Lukas Podolski
Born in Gliwice, southern Poland, Podolski grew up in Germany and played for German sides FC 07 Bergheim and 1. FC Köln as a youngster. It was at the latter club where Podolski’s talent really began to shine through, and by 2003 he was a regular in their side at the tender age of 18.
It was around this time that a clamour for Podolski to play for the Polish national team began, with Poland’s media urging then national head coach Paweł Janas to call up the teenage sensation. However, Janas rejected the media’s requests, and stated: “We have much better strikers in Poland than Podolski. I don’t see a reason to call up a player just because he played one or two good matches in the Bundesliga.”
Poland’s loss was Germany’s gain, and Podolski went on to net a remarkable 49 goals in 130 games for Die Mannschaft, making him the third highest German national scorer in history. He was part of the World Cup winning side of 2014, etching his name in German football folklore forever.