Player migration offers new riches to African national teams

The steady flow of players migrating from Africa to Europe over the last few decades means there is now a larger pool of talent available for African national teams, and many will be dipping into this pool at the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon.

Over the last 15 editions of the tournament there has been a steady increase in the number of Europe-based players representing African countries.

At the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations finals in Senegal, only three players among the 12 participating countries were born in Europe: two in France who represented Algeria, and Nigerian international Reuben Agboola, born in London to a Nigerian father and English mother.

At the 2021 edition, which has 24 teams and gets underway on Sunday, just over 30% of the players were born in Europe. There are 199 at the tournament in Cameroon plus one born in Canada.

They were born in countries as diverse as Denmark, Sweden and Romania but the majority in France (122), with 21 born in Spain, 16 in England and 12 in the Netherlands.

Defending champions Algeria's French connection remains strong, with 11 of their born in France.

One of the main advantages this rich diaspora of players provides for their national sides is high-quality training and experience.

“There is an extraordinary amount of talent in Algeria, but they do not get the formative training that the French-born boys do. The locals lack something that we get from those who have had their football schooling in Europe,” explains former Algeria coach Abdel Djaadaoui.


Sixteen of those born in Spain are in the Equatorial Guinea team, helping the former colony to punch above its weight and qualify for the finals.

The Comoros Islands' entire squad, save for just one player, were born in France. The tiny island nation would never have had any chance of qualifying for their first ever finals appearance without being able to pick from the migrant communities in Marseille and other areas of France.

African countries are always on the lookout for players who have a family connection that could qualify them for a passport and a place on the national team.

Many are former junior internationals for European countries who have later switched international allegiance, and since FIFA recently relaxed those rules, there are also former full internationals for European countries who will be competing for African sides in Cameroon.

Steven Caulker and Wilfried Zaha both played in friendly internationals for England but now appear for Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast, respectively. Munir El Haddadi appeared for Spain and now plays for Morocco, while defender Mikael Dyrestam who won two caps for Sweden in 2012 now plays for Guinea.

Only Egypt, Ethiopia and Malawi are competing at the tournament with a full squad of home-born talent.


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