Known as the ‘home of football’, England have always been considered one of the best national sides in the game. The Three Lions are usually blessed with hundreds of candidates to call up to the national squad, with the Premier League hosting many of the top talents around the world. Alongside the dozens of homegrown stars, though, are a plethora of foreign stars from around the world who have been attracted to join the league and spend years plying their trade in the English top flight. On some occasions, this allows them to qualify as a British national and potentially be selected to play for England, if they are uncapped elsewhere. So who are the best foreign players who were eligible for the England national team? Here’s our top 5.
5 foreign players eligible to play for England
Having spent well over a decade as a star in English football, it’s quite surprising to think that Mikel Arteta never got a call up to an international side. With Spain always overlooking his midfield talents, thanks in part to the mercurial talents of Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets et al, Arteta’s time with both Everton and Arsenal comfortably qualified him to join the Three Lions if he so wished.
With excellent passing and a penchant for deadly free kicks, Arteta could’ve comfortably slotted in a defensive midfield role at a time where the likes of Gareth Barry or James Milner were the preferred option. However, Arteta always maintained that his primary concern was reaching the Spanish national side and somehow passed his entire playing career without playing a single international appearance for any country. A wasted talent in international terms and definitely one of the best foriegn players who could have played for England.
Wilfried Zaha’s story is an interesting tale in that he technically did represent England before switching allegiances to the Ivory Coast, where he was originally born. The Crystal Palace winger was born in the African nation but moved to England during his childhood making him eligible to play for both countries.
The pacey winger’s plethora of tricks and constant attacking presence quickly caught the eye of England scouts and he featured for The Three Lions early in his career, notching two caps in friendlies in 2012 but was then overlooked over the next couple of years due to a lack of appearances for then club Manchester United.
Ivory Coast then made contact with Zaha and lured him into their 2016 squad for the African Cup of Nations successfully coaxing him into their selection pool from then on out. With just under a goal every three games since, England’s loss was the Ivory Coast’s gain.
For several seasons, it seemed like Manuel Almunia was going to become the next number one goalkeeper for the England national side. Having earned a regular spot as Arsenal number one in the late 2000s, the flamboyant Spaniard was a regular starter in the Premier League just as the England team were struggling to find a regular quality goalkeeper.
With Spain never calling him up, Almunia made a clear vocal presence that he would be interested in playing for England should they show any interest. However, the rise of several young English prodigies like Joe Hart and an upturn in form from the likes of David James and Ben Foster prevented Almunia from ever completing his dream.
International football always beckoned for Adnan Januzaj who had the option of playing for no less than 4 different nations. Born in Belgium to Kosovan parents but raised in both America and the UK, the young prodigy had no shortage of options having risen to prominence with Manchester United.
With excellent ball skills, he showed an attacking presence that would’ve been welcomed in a mid-2010’s England side that was in a state of flux. However, a mix of poor form and a lack of English education experience meant that Januzaj had to look for other options away from England and opted to play for his birth nation, Belgium.
It seemed a wise choice in the end though with the Real Sociedad winger enjoying rich form in La Liga for his club and regularly featuring for a national side that has been ranked number 1 in the world since the end of 2018. Undoubtedly one of the best foreign players who was eligible to feature for England, though the Three Lions never really stood a chance.
England and Germany have always been bitter rivals in football and the two classic enemies classed off the pitch in their bid to lure Aaron Hunt to their national sides. The winger has been a regular presence for the likes of Hamburg and Werder Bremen in the Bundesliga and his versatility to also play as a right-back made him a popular option for both sides to call-up in the late 2000s.
Despite being born and raised in Germany, Hunt has an English mother allowing a potential call-up to The Three Lions should he so wish. In the end, Hunt opted to play for Germany representing the nation he always called home and spent his entire career in. A minor blow in the never-ending rivalry between two European powerhouses.
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