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9 major footballers who switched international allegiance: Rice, Zaha, Williams…

Several of football’s biggest names have started their senior international career with one nation before controversially switching their allegiance.

It’s actually not quite as uncommon a trope as it might sound on the surface, with players being scouted out by various nations they might possibly be eligible for from the minute they show an ounce of talent, and FIFA allowing them to switch allegiance freely before making a senior debut.

Playing for one country at youth level before switching at senior level is extremely common, but making an appearance at senior level for a country and then switching is a little more complicated, even if there are rules which enable it these days.

We’ve highlighted nine high-profile players of recent times to have been capped for more than one different international team at senior level.

Diego Costa

One of the game’s most well-known cases, Costa was born and raised in Brazil and only moved to Europe at 17 years old, first landing in Portugal with Braga. He was capped twice for Brazil under Luiz Felipe Scolari in friendlies in March 2013, but was being pursued by the Spanish Football Federation by September.

Costa had been granted Spanish nationality that July having been in the country since 2007 with Atletico Madrid and helped along the process by sending a letter to the Brazilian Football Confederation requesting that they let him go and represent Spain instead.

Scolari was – unsurprisingly – not happy, but there was little he could do and by January 2014 he was being called up for La Roja by Vicente del Bosque, before making their World Cup squad that summer.


Drew Spence

Best known for her time at Chelsea, London-born Spence was capped for England in late 2015 as the Lionesses lost to China, and went on to be capped once more.

It was revealed in 2017 that she had been involved in a racism probe into former England boss Mark Sampson, who directed a comment towards Spence – the only person of colour in the room at the time – asking her how many times she had been arrested.

Spence and Eni Aluko – who brought the case about and pursued allegations of racial discrimination – received apologies from Sampson and the FA that year.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2020, Spence revealed she felt like she had never been given a chance to represent England following the incident, with then-manager Phil Neville never calling her up to the squad.

Despite being recognised by the FA as the 192nd women’s player to be capped for England, she returned to international football with Jamaica in 2021 and has since been capped seven times for the Reggae Girlz.

Steven Caulker

A man whose career path might honestly never be eclipsed, we will never grow tired of hearing about Caulker’s wonderfully wild football escapades.

Born to be Liverpool’s auxiliary centre-forward but forced to be a centre-back, Caulker – who is currently a player-manager in the Spanish fifth tier – received his first and only England cap under Roy Hodgson in 2012 after representing Team GB at the Olympics that summer.

He then tried to pursue the possibility of playing for Scotland in 2018 after realising his England career was probably over, but after that never came to be, he eventually returned to international football with Sierra Leone in 2021.

He’s been capped 13 times for the African country and represented them at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

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Wilfried Zaha

After being a regular at youth level for England, the supremely talented Zaha earned full international honours in November 2012 under Hodgson, the first of two caps in friendly competition.

As per FIFA rules, though, friendly games do not tie a player down to a nation and after not receiving another cap for England after 2013, he eventually switched allegiance to represent the Ivory Coast in 2017, representing them at AFCON at the beginning of that year despite Gareth Southgate trying to convince him to remain eligible for England.

He’s since been capped 33 times for The Elephants, scoring five goals.

Declan Rice

A controversial switch, Rice actually represented the Republic of Ireland at various youth levels and was capped by them at senior level despite being born in London, due to eligibility through his grandparents.

After making his senior debut for the country and quickly progressing into one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League at West Ham, Rice began to ponder playing for England.

He’d been dropped from the Republic of Ireland throughout the summer of 2018 under Martin O’Neill while he decided on that future and, by January 2019, Rice had pledged his allegiance to England.

He made his Three Lions debut in Euro 2020 qualifiers that March and has since become one of their most important players, often wearing the captain’s armband. A sore one for Ireland to stomach.

Sandy MacIver

The Manchester City women’s stopper represented England at various youth levels and earned her first senior cap in February 2021 after being a part of several camps before that, but made herself unavailable for selection in 2023.

With her father being born in Scotland and her only playing in a friendly for England, MacIver made the international allegiance switch official in October 2023 and made her debut that month in a Nations League defeat against the Netherlands.

She unfortunately ruptured her ACL while playing for Scotland in a Euro 2025 qualification match back in April and is now set for a spell on the sidelines.

Houssem Aouar

Bursting onto the scene with Lyon a few years ago, many had high hopes for Aouar and assumed that he could well become the crown jewel of France’s national team in the years to come.

That’s no longer possible as he switched allegiance to represent Algeria – the country of his parents – in 2023 despite playing for France once and coming through their youth system.

Aouar went as far as to say that he ‘regretted’ playing for France, also stating: “The (Algerian football) president held out his hand to me and it seemed like it was just meant to be. I had a second chance and I jumped on it.” 

Toni Kroos, Wayne Rooney, Steven Bergwijn

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Geoffrey Kondogbia

Making 57 appearances for France across various youth levels, it’s a testament to just how stacked their national team pool is that Kondogbia wasn’t able to forge a lengthy senior career with Les Bleus.

He was actually capped five times for France, but with them all being friendlies, he was still able to switch allegiance and did so in 2018.

He now represents – and captains – the Central African Republic, who are currently doing everything they can to try and qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Qualifying for the tournament would be the first time in the nation’s history that they’ve played at the World Cup.

Inaki Williams

Perhaps the most interesting of them all, Inaki Williams has been capped at senior level for three different international teams. Let us explain…

Born in Bilbao, Williams made his debut for Spain as a substitute in a Euro 2016 warm-up friendly, but wasn’t capped again after that. Two years later, he made the first of two appearances for the Basque Country’s national side.

The Basque Country national football team aren’t yet affiliated with FIFA or UEFA despite ongoing efforts to become so, and therefore can only play friendly matches.

That meant that Williams  – despite playing for two nations already – could declare himself for the Ghana national team without any issues.

Despite his own reservations about taking up a spot from someone born or raised there compared to him, he became available ahead of the 2022 World Cup and has since made 17 appearances for the country where his parents were born.