The curious case of international allegiance

By Tommie Collins

Scoring your first competitive senior goal at any level is a feat to be proud, but scoring your first on only your second senior appearance, in front of the Kop for Liverpool, suddenly escalates your reputation from promising youngster to being lauded the next big thing.

Ben Woodburn did exactly that on Tuesday night as he surpassed Michael Owen’s 19 year record to become Liverpool’s youngest ever goalscorer with his late goal against Leeds United. Woodburn, born in Chester, qualifies to play for both England and Wales but has been part of the Welsh set up from the age of 13. England are now thought to be keen to have him on board all of a sudden, which brings some other curious international representations to the fore.

Issues regarding dual nationality have risen many times over the years. The first I remember is Kevin Sheedy, a gifted left footed footballer who represented the Republic of Ireland despite being born in Builth Wells to an Irish Father. The situation has also been highlighted with Polish born players such as Miroslav Klose and Lucas Podolski, choosing to represent Germany due to both living there since childhood.

One of the greatest footballers ever actually represented three nations at international level. Alfredo di Stefano represented Argentina six times (his country of birth) and Columbia four times – although these are not recognised by FIFA. Due to a general strike in Argentina which paralysed professional football, Di Stefano moved to Columbia to ply his trade. He then appeared for Spain 31 times after acquiring Spanish citizenship whilst playing for Real Madrid. Another fine player was Ferenc Puskas of Hungary, who represented the Magyars 84 times before moving to Real Madrid, where he gained Spanish citizenship in 1962 and appeared four times for Spain.

What should the criteria be for representing a nation at international level? Should it be your birthplace or the origins of your parents or grandparents? The situation has become more complicated of late with Kosovo being granted FIFA membership. Many Kosovo qualified players, despite already playing for other countries, now want to represent their country of birth – but this is an exceptional case in point that should be allowed special consideration. One player who has now switched to Kosovo is Valon Berisha, born in Sweden but brought up in Norway to Kosovar parents, who represented Norway at all levels and gained 20 caps at full international level. He duly scored Kosovo’s first competitive goal in a 1-1 draw against Finland after switching this year.

Other issues arised with cases like Diego Costa, who represented Brazil twice before switching his allegiance to represent Spain. Roman Neustadter, a lesser known case born in the Soviet Union, represented Germany twice before switching to Russia in 2016. Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, who played two friendlies for England in 2012/13, but last week decided to defect to the Ivory Coast is a fresh case.

Stoke City captain Ryan Shawcross, born in Chester like Ben Woodburn, thwarted Wales due to the fact he didn’t feel Welsh enough. Unlike Rhys Williams, who represented Wales at U21 level, but then defected to Australia – his country of birth.

Therefore, young Ben Woodburn apparently has a decision to make, like so many before him. Wales are now a different proposition to what they were years ago and he would play for a country that recently made it to the Euro 2016 semi finals; and here’s one Welsh fan hoping Wales qualify for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia, where Woodburn will hopefully shine in the red shirt of Wales.

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