Soccer is a global game that allows African soccer players to express their patriotism. In 1995, Liberian soccer sensation George Weah won World Player of the year. It was one of the high points in African soccer history where Africans cheered irrespective of their national divide. In some countries like Nigeria with a large ethnic diversity, soccer has become a uniting force. The question remains, will we ever see an Africa soccer team win the World Cup? Imagine the huge celebration such a feat will elicit.
With many of the major European soccer leagues being financially lucrative, African soccer players often choose European countries over Africa. However, there are some exceptions. Some foreign-born Africans are making a U-turn to represent their African countries. Some may argue that it is due to the stiff competition to make the first team in European countries. However, in some cases, this is simply due to love for Africa. Here is a list of foreign-born players, who chose to represent Africa.
Why are African Diasporans Representing Africa in Sports?
While every soccer player is free to make a choice on which country to represent, there is a new trend of soccer players born in Europe or America moving back to Africa to represent their fatherland. At the FIFA 70th annual congress, the eligibility rule was reviewed.
According to the revised rule, players who changed their nationality can reverse the change in certain circumstances. This is important because some players started playing for other countries before they discovered their African heritage. Under the new rule, players can change their nationality under these conditions;
- the player held the nationality of their new association at the time of their first official appearance for their first national team.
- the player played in no more than three competitive senior games before the age of 21.
- at least three years have passed since the player’s last senior appearance for their previous national team.
- the player has not played in the final stage of an official tournament such as the World Cup, European Championship, Copa America, etc.
#15. Jeremie Boga – (Ivory Coast, Age 24)
Born in Marseille, France to Ivorian parents, Jeremie Boga had plenty of soccer opportunities as a Chelsea youth graduate. Having been capped by France at under sixteen and under eighteen levels, it seemed as if the French national team would have called up this young midfielder. However, Boga received his national call-up to Ivory Coast in 2017. Now he has played a total of three caps and looks to be part of the future plans of the Les Éléphants soccer team.
#14. Maduka Okoye – (Nigeria, Age 21)
Young Nigerian goalkeeper Maduka Okoye is definitely showing how much of an asset he is in goals. At only twenty-one years of age, Okoye already has 8 caps for his national side and has the opportunity to be listed as one of his countries greats. With a Nigerian father and German mother, it was undoubtedly the best decision to opt for Nigeria over Germany for his career.
#13. Nicolas Pepe – (Ivory Coast, Age 26)
Born in France, attacking winger Pepe enjoys his international career playing for Ivory Coast. Both of his parents are French immigrants of Ivorian descent. Although a top-quality winger, Pepe was never selected for France at the age-group level. Therefore, accepting an Ivory Coast call-up was a no-brainer. With recent legends from Ivory Coast retiring at international, Pepe will play an important part in the rebuilding phase of Ivory Coast soccer.
#12. Semi Ajayi – (Nigeria, Age 27)
A youth product from Charlton Athletic in England, Ajayi would continue his skills at some of Europe’s major clubs. Having grown up in England to Nigerian parents, Semi decided to represent Nigeria to play international soccer. Known for his solid defending and his box-to-box style of play, the defensive midfielder plays an instrumental role when playing for the Super Eagles. Sadly, Semi Ajayi’s club West Brom, unfortunately, was relegated last season. However, the Nigerian maestro looks to return his club to the top division soon.
#11. Cédric Bakambu – (Democratic Republic of Congo, Age 30)
From a Spanish La Liga Player of the month (2017) to Chinese Super League Golden Boot Winner. The thirty-year-old striker has scored in three major European Soccer leagues and is now one of the most feared strikers in the Chinese Soccer League. After departing Spanish club Villareal, a total of 40 Million Euros was spent for a successful transfer to Beijing Sinobo Guoan in 2018. In the prime form of his career, Bakambu will play an instrumental role in the DRC’s soccer team.
#10. Achraf Hakimi – (Morocco, Age 22)
At the young age of twenty-two years, Hakimi has a full soccer career ahead of him. Achraf Hakimi has played for Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan, and now recently moved to Paris Saint-Germain. Born in Madrid to Moroccan parents, Achraf started his international soccer career at age eighteen. Previously awarded African Youth Player of the Year, Hakimi is without a doubt one of the best fullback players in the world.
#9. Hakim Ziyech – (Morocco, Age 28)
Having won the recent Champions League with London club Chelsea. Hakim Ziyech is currently one of the top-rated African soccer players because of his creative passes. All seemed set for his Dutch international call-up, however having been overlooked by the coaches, Ziyech switched legions to Morocco. Since making the international switch, Ziyech has played in the FIFA Soccer World Cup in 2018. As a rebuilding phase is taking place for the Morrocan national team, there are plenty of exciting soccer players to watch from the North African nation.
#8. Kalidou Koulibaly – (Senegal, Age 30)
The solid Senegalese center-back is rated as one of the best defenders in the world. Koulibaly was a top French youth player. However, after not receiving a national call-up, Kalidou switched to represent his parent’s home country of Senegal. In response to his choice, Koulibaly said, “I don’t have any regrets. I want to write the story of the future of Senegal football and I hope I’ll be able to do that”. Kalidou Koulibaly has 46 international caps and is definitely one of the best soccer players on the Senegal side.
#7. Tyronne Ebuehi – (Nigeria, Age 25)
Spending his youth in the Netherlands, Tyronne Ebuehi made a bold choice to represent Nigeria over Holland for his international soccer career. Ebuehi qualifies for The Super Eagles as his father is Nigerian. Having played successfully in Holland, Portugal, and Italy, there are more solid performances ahead for this young African right back.
#6. Younès Belhanda – (Morocco, Age 31)
A successful club career for Morrocan attacking midfielder rates him as one of the continent’s best soccer players. Having played a vital part in each club he has played for, Belhanda has won five leagues across Europe for his respective clubs. Belhanda represented France at the junior level. However, in 2010 he decided to represent Morocco for his international career. To date, Younes Belhanda has 58 international caps and has scored a total of 5 goals for his country Morocco.
#5. William Troost-Ekong – (Nigeria, Age 27)
Born in the Netherlands, to a Nigerian father and Dutch mother, William Troost-Ekong chose to play for the Super Eagles over Holland for his international career. After playing his first game for Nigeria in 2015, Troost-Ekong now has 48 caps for Nigeria. Recently, William Troost-Ekong said the decision to play for Nigeria was his ‘best decision ever’. Undoubtedly, his solid presence in defense compliments the Super Eagles’ famous attack.
#4. Riyad Mahrez – (Algeria, Age 30)
Algerian maestro Riyad Mahrez is every shade of a successful soccer player. He was the winning captain of the 2019 African Cup of Nations. His choice of Algeria over France turned out to be a triumph. Riyad Mahrez made headlines when Leicester City won the English league in 2016. Eventually, Mahrez transferred to Manchester City where he would again win the league two more times. Riyad Mahrez is one of the entertaining midfielders to watch.
#3. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – (Gabon, Age 32)
Born in France to a former Gabonese soccer captain. Aubemeyang had four nations of which he could play his international soccer. Like his father, Aubameyang went on to captain the Gabon national side. Having won top goal scorer in the English and German leagues, Aubameyang stands out as one of Africa’s best soccer strikers. Scoring 27 goals for Gabon, he is his Gabon’s leading scorer and is rated as his country’s best-ever soccer player.
#2. Sofiane Feghouli – (Algeria, Age 31)
French by birth, Algerian international soccer player Feghouli chose Algeria and has never looked back. Sofiane Feghouli played a vital part in Algeria’s African Cup of Nations success. The Algerian winger also scored at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, where Algeria suffered a 2-1 defeat against Belgium. To date, Feghouli has scored 16 goals for his national team and is one of his side’s star players.
#1. André Ayew – (Ghana, Age 31)
The Ghanian forward is one of the greatest soccer players on the African continent. He continues to wear his national jersey with pride. What may have been a great addition to the French national team, Ayew chose to represent Ghana over France, his birth country. Andre Ayew wrote his name in the history books as the top goal scorer in the African Cup of Nations in 2015. Plenty of Ayew’s great work is off the soccer field. He continues to help grow the game in vulnerable communities.
Following the racist slurs on Bukayo Saka after missing a penalty at the Euro 2020, other players of African descent are considering switching their allegiance to Africa. One of such players is Hudson Odoi. The sensational Chelsea player is currently in talks with the Ghana FA on a possible switch. With rising racist attacks on black players in Europe, we expect more African players in the diaspora to play for Africa.