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Sports Features of Friday, 8 September 2017


Kevin-Prince Boateng among Africans who switched allegiances at senior level

Kevin-Prince Boateng Kevin-Prince Boateng

A Chelsea starlet has become the latest player to switch allegiances from Europe to Africa.

Here is a list of stars, including two CAF African Players of the Year, who represented European countries at youth level, but returned to their African roots in senior football.

Ola Aina, who is on loan at Hull City this season, played for England at youth level – from U16 to U20 – but was recently cleared by FIFA to run out for Nigeria. The 20-year-old was born in London but his parents are from the African country.

"It was a very proud moment to get called up by Nigeria and the prospect of representing my country for the first time is very exciting," Aina told Hull City's official website when hearing about his call-up for the recent international break.

"Everyone wants to play at the highest level and that's what international level is. For me, it's very exciting and I want to do really well.

"I hadn't played for England at any level for quite a while, and international football is something that I wanted to experience. Also, Nigeria is where my origins are."

However, Aina, who was in Nigeria's squad during the recent international break but did not make an appearance, is not the first player and will surely not be the last starlet to pledge their allegiance to Africa. In fact, after years of European nations snapping up some of Africa's greatest talents, including World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane, more African countries are now looking at Europe for talent with African roots.

A rule change in January 2004 allowed players who were capped for one country at youth level to run out for another at senior level. These footballers must have dual citizenship and be uncapped in a competitive match for the country they want to switch from. The rule initially included an age cap, only allowing players to switch allegiances until the age of 21, but this was later removed, in June 2009.

French-born Antar Yahia became the first footballer to switch loyalties after representing France at U16 and U23 level, when he switched to Algeria in 2004 and made his debut in an Olympic Games qualifier, scoring the only goal of the game against Ghana, as Al Jazeera pointed out.

However, many, including 2015 CAF African Player of the Year Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (France to Gabon) and 2007 CAF African Player of the Year Frederic Kanoute (France to Mali) would follow. Kevin-Prince Boateng (Germany to Ghana), Alex Iwobi (England to Nigeria) and Wilfried Zaha (England to Ivory Coast) are some of the other names in the gallery.