March 2010

Ex-Pats: Redefining “Home” Country

The World Cup gives players a chance to represent their country, but not everyone represents the country they were born in. Sometimes through parentage, other times through naturalization, there are plenty of players who don’t play for their birth nation. Here are some of the players who might play in the World Cup for their adopted nations, and the three general categories most ex-patriot players fall into.

The Immigrant

The immigrants are players who born in another country, but moved to their current nation at a young age, growing up in its culture and often identifying with his new home more than the faded memory of his distant birthplace.

Gonzalo Higuaín (Argentina)

Although he was born in Brest, France, and at one point, was called up to the French national team, Higuain eventually chose to represent Argentina, where he came through the River Plate youth system.

Patrick Vieira (France)

Although he doesn’t play for Arsenal anymore, France’s captain was born in Dakar, Senegal, before moving to France at the age of eight.

Freddy Adu (USA)

The American midfielder was born in Tema, Ghana, before his mother won an immigration lottery when he was eight. He was asked by Ghana to represent that country in the 2006 World Cup, but declined.

Miroslav Klose (Germany)

The reigning World Cup Golden Boot winner, Klose’s family left communist Poland for West Germany in 1985. In an interview, Klose stated that he preferred not to be called German or Polish, but “European.”

Lukas Podolski (Germany)

Podolski has a story very similar to his teammate Klose’s. Both of their mothers played handball for Poland, and both are from Silesian ethnic German families living in Poland. Like Klose’s parents, the Podolski family left Poland for West Germany in the 1980s.

John Vonlanthen (Switzerland)

Although born in Santa Maria, Colombia, Vonlanthen’s stepfather is a Swiss national, and Vonlanthen came up through the youth ranks of Swiss side BSC Young Boys.

The Legacy

The legacy was born and raised in another country, but feels such an affinity with his ancestral country that he turns his back on his homeland to play for the nation of his forefathers.

Owen Hargreaves (England)

Owen Hargreaves was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, and lived in Germany from the age of sixteen until the age of 26, but plays for England, the country of his father, who was once on the youth team at Bolton Wanderers.

Giuseppe Rossi (Italy)

He was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, and played most of his youth career with Manchester United in England, but Giuseppe Rossi represents his parents’ nation of Italy.

The Mercenary

Sometimes, a player who has spent much of his career abroad decides that if he can’t make his own nation’s national team, he’ll play for any team that will have him. This is the mercenary.

Deco (Portugal)

Once deemed by Corinthians as too lightweight for the rigors of professional football, and then dismissed by Benfica manager Graeme Souness, it wasn’t until he linked up with Jose Mourniho that Deco’s career really took off. Born in a suburb of São Paulo, Brazil, Deco has played for his adopted country of Portugal since 2003.

Keith Hickey is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at

Keith Hickey

  • Amy

    Cool feature Keith ! Gio dos Santos also could have chosen his parents native Brazil under the same Rossi rule. Unlike Rossi– he recognized that he had learned football in Mexico and that it was that country that helped his family recover from unfortunate economic circumstances. Faithful to that idea– he remained with El Tri. Rossi decimated any American hope @ a Finals run by choosing to play for an Italy side that ironically is not leaps and bounds better than the Yanks, @ least this time around.