8 players who switched international allegiances – and a Premier League star who still could

Diego Costa

Tim Ellis picks out a handful of stars who chose to represent a country they weren't born in

1. Diego Costa (Spain)

A disastrous World Cup campaign in his birth nation followed, with Spain knocked out after just two group-stage matches

After playing in two friendlies for Brazil under Luiz Felipe Scolari, Costa declared his allegiance to adopted homeland Spain after a frank discussion with coach Vicente del Bosque in 2013. Scolari scoffed: “He's turning his back on a dream of millions, to represent our national team, the five-time champions, in a World Cup in Brazil.”

The then-Atletico Madrid man insisted he had “a special affection” for the Spanish people, even if that love wasn’t always reciprocated - especially when some La Liga fans greeted him with chants of “No eres Espanol” ("you're not Spanish"). A disastrous World Cup campaign in his birth nation followed, with Spain thumped by the Netherlands and knocked out after just two group stage matches.

Diego Costa

Costa was booed by many local supporters at the 2014 World Cup

There was another problem for Costa: he couldn’t score. Although a reliable goal-getter at club level, it took him seven games to register his first for la Roja - and that came against Luxembourg. Even Del Bosque had started to lose faith at the stage, and the Chelsea striker was duly axed from Spain's Euro 2016 squad. He's since returned, though, and could start at No.9 in the Russia World Cup next year.

2. Kevin-Prince Boateng (Ghana)

Born and raised in Germany, Boateng played for his birth country’s youth teams but was dropped from the under-21 squad for breaking a curfew

Born and raised in Germany, Boateng played for his birth country’s youth teams but was dropped from the under-21 squad for breaking a curfew – the first of many misdemeanours that littered his early career. Boateng received a Ghanaian passport in 2010 - just in time to represent them at the World Cup in South Africa after FIFA changed the age limit rules on players switching allegiance.

A year later, he retired from international football at the ripe old age of 24, claiming his body couldn't cope with playing for his country (especially when there was a less glamorous AFCON around the corner).

He then reversed that decision and returned for the 2014 World Cup, before being sent home from Brazil for an alleged “vulgar verbal assault” aimed at coach Kwesi Appiah. Boateng is hoping for another return to the Black Stars squad in time for Russia 2018, although his criticism of their fourth-place finish at the 2017 AFCON might mean his exile doesn't end.

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3. Owen Hargreaves (England)

Hargreaves was capped 42 times by England, but never forgiven by some in Canada

Raised in Canada by a Welsh mother and English father, Hargreaves experimented with all of his options before settling on the Three Lions. As a 15-year-old he had a trial for Canada's U17 side, but was rejected; Hargreaves then set off for Europe, where he was schooled at the Bayern Munich academy and even made his Wales Under-21 debut at the 1998 Milk Cup.

England came calling in 2000, though, and Dragons coach Jimmy Shoulder was surprisingly generous when assessing his the last-minute switch: “I think Owen is sensible to keep his options open. If he commits to us in a European Championship game, he's stuck with us for the rest of his career.”

Owen Hargreaves

Hargreaves made his England Under-21 debut against Georgia in 2000

Hargreaves, who enjoyed 10 successful years at Bayern and also won a Premier League and Champions League double with Manchester United, was capped 42 times by England but never forgiven by some in Canada. 

4. Tony Cascarino (Republic of Ireland)

The Football Association of Ireland said there was no evidence that Cascarino was ever refused a permanent passport

After winning 88 caps for the Republic of the Ireland, Bromley-born Cascarino admitted in his 2000 autobiography that he should never have played for the country: “I didn't qualify for Ireland. I was a fraud. A fake Irishman.”

The striker revealed that he was refused an Irish passport by the authorities in 1985, but carried on regardless as he'd already played for the Republic three times. The Millwall legend had orginally believed he qualified under the one grandparent rule, only for his mother to reveal in 1996 that his grandfather wasn't a blood relative.  

Cascarino once complained: “The only people I got stick from were the English. They would give it the ‘Plastic Paddy’ stuff and I would tell them, ‘My mother is Theresa O’Malley. How much more f***ing Irish can you get?’”

The Football Association of Ireland said there was no evidence that Cascarino was ever refused a permanent passport, and FIFA took no retrospective action.