21 June 2018 - 11:14 AM
A World Cup Without Immigrants? Here's What Your Favourite Teams Would Look Like Without Them
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People migrate for different reasons. Some leave their country of origin due to economic conditions, others flee violence, and some get contracts with football clubs. Finding a European team without immigrants is difficult and these players, often some of the world's best, often leave their countries of origin at an early age in the hope of securing better opportunities, which tell us something about how the world actually works.

Denmark's team, including the Ugandan-born Pione Sisto, poses before a friendly match with Sweden. Stockholm, Sweden. June 2, 2018.


Russia 2018 World Cup

While it isn't accurate to say all players from the global south, who gained prominence in the world's top leagues turn down the opportunity to play for their countries of birth or where their parents were born, many do. This is, however, how immigration works and how some states benefit from it.

Here's a look at what your favorite teams at the 2018 World Cup in Russia would look like without the movement of people.

Mario Figueira Fernandes was born in Sao Caetano de Sul, Brasil, in 1990. He made his debut with Brazil's national team in 2014 during a friendly match against Japan. He, however, signed a contract with Russia's CSKA Moscow in 2012, which led to his eventual naturalization and eventual qualification to play for Russia.

Russia's Mario Fernandes in action with Saudi Arabia's Yasser Al-Shahrani. Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia. June 14, 2018. Photo | Reuters

He acquired Russian citizenship in 2016 and made his debut for the national team in a friendly match against South Korea in 2017.

William Carvalho was born in Luanda, Angola, to a family of football players, and moved to Portugal at an early age. He started his career very young and was called by the Angolan Football Federation to represent the national team, but rejected the offer. He debuted with the Portuguese under-21 team against Ukraine in 2012.

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo and William Carvalho during a game. Photo | Reuters

Gelson Martins, Carvalho's partner at Sporting CP, was born in 1995 in Praia, Cape Verde, and moved to Portugal in 2008. Martins, a winger, is one of the prospects of Portuguese football and debuted with the national under-19 team in 2014.

Kepler Laveran de Lima Ferreira, better known as “Pepe,” was born and raised in Brazil. He moved to Portugal after signing with Maritimo when he was only 18 years old. Since then, he has played with clubs such as Beşiktaş and Real Madrid. He became naturalized in 2007 and went to 2010 World in South Africa to play for Portugal; he coincidentally played against Brazil during the tournament. 

Other players in the team were born abroad to Portuguese parents and later came back or decided to play for other Lusitanic countries, such as Anthony Lopes, Cedric Soares, Adrien Silva and Raphael Guerreiro.


Gonzalo Higuain was born in Brest, France to the Argentine Footballer Jorge Higuain. His family moved back to Argentina when he was only ten months and grew up and built his career there. He has a French passport, but he reportedly doesn't speak the language. He became an Argentine national in 2007 and was picked by the national team's coach Diego Maradona to debut against Peru in 2010.


Thiago Cionek is another “back to the roots” story. He was born in 1986 in Curitiba, Brazil, to a Polish family. He spent most of his life there and played for several Brazilian clubs before applying for Polish citizenship, which he got in 2011. He was called for a friendly match with Germany in 2014 and will represent the European country at the 2018 World Cup.


Thomas Lemar was born in Guadeloupe, a French overseas department in the Caribbean, and played for the Solidarite Scolaire team there. As such, he's not an immigrant and is eligible to play for the French national team by birthright, since the former colony became an integral part of France's footballing heritage having produced players such as World Cup winners Lilian Thuram and Thierry Henry.

Steve Mandanda was born in Kinshasa, at the time when the Democratic Republic of Congo was known as Zaire and is one of France's goalkeepers for the 2018 edition of the competition. His family emigrated to France when he was at an early age. His younger brothers Riffi, Parfait and Over were born in France and are also goalkeepers. Steve decided to represent France, which earned him the nickname “Frenchie” by his brothers, who have played for Congo's national youth division.

France’s goalkeeper Steve Mandanda. Friendly match between France and the Republic of Ireland. Stade de France, Paris, France. May 28, 2018. Photo | Reuters

Samuel Umtiti was born in Yaounde, Cameroon, and moved to France with his family when he was two years old. He was picked up by the Olympique de Lyon when he was only eight years old and is now with F. C. Barcelona. He debuted with France's senior team against Island in 2016.


Thiago Alcantara was born in Italy to a Brazilian father. He began his career in Brazil and then moved with his father to Spain when he was five years old. He played for Barcelona before moving to Bayern Munich; he has played for the Spanish national team since joining the under-17 squad.

Rodrigo Moreno Machado emigrated to Spain in his teens from Brazil following his father Adalberto, who moved take charge of a football academy in Vigo. He soon joined Real Madrid and was called for the Spanish under-19 team in 2009.

Diego Costa is another Brazil-born player turned Spanish. Played in a local team before he was scouted by Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes and signed a contract with Braga before jumping to other several European clubs, especially Atletico Madrid. He played two matches with Brazil's national team before being called up by Spain. When he accepted, Diego was declared “persona non grata” by Brazil.


Yvon Mvogo is a goalkeeper born in Yaounde, Cameroon. He played for five years with the Swiss Young Boys and signed with Leipzig in 2017. He joined the national team for the first time in 2016 playing against Lithuania.

François Moubandje is another Cameroon-born Swiss player. His family moved to Geneva when he was eight years old and currently plays for Toulouse. He also debuted against Lithuania in 2016.

Breel Embolo was also born in Yaounde, Cameroon. Her mother emigrated to Basel with her two children. He debuted with the under-16 national team even before becoming a Swiss citizen. He joined the senior team in 2015.

Switzerland players pose for a team group photo before a friendly match with Japan at Cornaredo Stadium, Lugano, Switzerland. June 8, 2018. Photo | Reuters

Johan Djourou was born in Cote d'Ivoire. Shortly after his birth, his father married a Swiss woman, and they moved to Geneva when he was one year old. He has played for Arsenal, Hamburger SV, and Antalyaspor. He joined the Swiss national under-16 team and was called for the senior squad in 2006.

Valon Behrami was born in Yugoslavia's Titova Mitrovica, now part of Kosovo, to Albanian fathers. He moved to Switzerland at age five when both his parents lost their jobs. He was first called for the under-18 national team and has made another 77 appearances since then.

Having a similar story as Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili was born in Yugoslavia's Macedonia to Albanian fathers. His family emigrated to Zurich when he was four. He has played for his hometown team, Torino, Napoli, Galatasaray, among others. He joined the Swiss team in 2006.

Xherdan Shaqiri was also born to Albanian parents in what now in Kosovo. He emigrated with his family when he was only one year old. He has played for Basel, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and is currently with Stoke City. He joined the Swiss under-17 national team in 2007 and the senior division in 2010.

Gelson Fernandes was born in Praia, Cape Verte, and emigrated with his family to Sion, Switzerland when he was five. At that time his father used to work as a groundskeeper for the F. C. Sion, where he started playing when he was about nine years old. He later switched to Manchester City, Sporting CP, Freiburg and Eintracht Frankfurt. He joined the Swiss senior team in 2007.


Raheem Sterling was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1994. His father was murdered when he was two years old and he left for England with his mother three years later. He plays as winger and midfielder and joined the English senior national team in 2012.


Fernando Muslera was born in Argentina and grew up there, but moved to Montevideo after being picked up by the Wanderers, where he stayed for three years. He left to play in Italy's Lazio and was later transferred to Galatasaray. He debuted with Uruguay's senior team in 2009 and has played 96 matches with them.


Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic were born in Switzerland and Austria respectively to Bosnian Croat parents and started their careers there. Rakitic played for both the Swiss and Croatian national youth teams before he decided to join Croatia's senior squad. Kovacic joined the under-14 team in 2008 and the senior unit in 2013.


Pione Sisto was born in Kampala, Uganda, to a South Sudanese family and emigrated with his family to Denmark when he was only two months old. He was 19 when he got the Danish citizenship and first played in the national team in 2015.

Pione Sisto during Denmark's national team training. Elsingoer, Denmark. June 6, 2018. Photo | Reuters


Kari Arnason is a Swedish-born Icelandic, and Frederick Schram was born in Denmark to a Danish father and an Icelandic mother.

Costa Rica

Oscar Duarte is Costa Rican player but was born in Nicaragua.


The situation with Tunisia and that of Morocco shows another side of immigration. A significant part of Tunisia's team was born and raised abroad to Tunisian families, due to the economic, social and political relationship between the North African country and some countries at the other side of the Mediterranean.

They built their careers overseas and decided to play for the team of their descent.

These players include the French-born Saif-Eddine Khaoui, Wahbi Khazri, Ellyes Skhiri, Naim Sliti, Anice Badri, Mouez Hassen, Syam Ben Youssef, Yohan Benalouane and Dylan Daniel Mahmoud Bronn.

Tunisia's Mouez Hassen during training. Selyatino, Russia, June 13, 2018. Photo | Reuters 


Yassine Bounou, or Bono, is another example of a returning immigrant. He was born in Canada and came to Morocco when he was young, signed with Wydad Casablanca and contracted by Atletico Madrid. He debuted with Morocco's senior team in 2012.

And following Tunisia's fashion, a significant part of Morocco's national team was born and raised abroad. Munir Mohand Mohamedi was born in Spain to a Moroccan family and built his career there, but decided to play for his country of descent. As Munir, Achraf Hakimi Mouh has a similar story.

Morocco players during training. Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia. June 14, 2018. Photo | Reuters

And among the French-born are Khalid Boutaib, Manuel da Costa, who also played for Portugal's youth team, Medhi Benatia, Romain Saïss, Younes Belhanda, Fayçal Fajr, Youssef Ait Bennasser and Amine Harit.

Hakim Ziyech, Karim El Ahmadi, Moubarak “Mbark” Boussoufa, Nordin Amrabat and his brother Sofyan Amrabat were born in the Netherlands and also decided to play for Morocco.

And Mehdi François Carcela-Gonzalez, whose name already says a lot about migration, was born in Belgium to a Spanish father and a Moroccan mother and played for Belgium's youth and senior teams before deciding on Morocco.


Saman Ghoddos is another example of players born abroad. He was born and raised in Sweden and played two friendly matches for their national team in 2017. He applied for Iranian citizenship in the same year and decided to play for his country of heritage.


Senegal's situation is similar to that of Morocco and Tunisia. While most of its team was born in Senegal, many were born abroad, especially in France.

Croatia's Mario Mandzukic in action with Senegal's Alfred N'Diaye and Sadio Mane during a friendly match. Stadion Gradski, Osijek, Croatia. June 8, 2018. Photo | Reuters

The national team's Abdoulaye Diallo, Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sané, Youssouf Sabaly, Lamine Gassama, Alfred N'Diaye, Moussa Sow and M'Baye Niang were born and raised in France and played for European Football Clubs, but decided to represent their country of heritage.

Keita Balde Diao, on the other hand, was born in Arbucies, Spain and played for the Catalan national team before being called by Senegal's manager.


Sam Morsy was born in England to an Egyptian father, which made him eligible for the North African country's national team. He was first called up in 2016 and has played five matches with Egypt.


Both Milos Veljkovic and Aleksandar Prijovic were born in Switzerland and played for their national youth team before pledging alliance to Serbia, their parents' country.


William Troost-Ekong and Tyronne Ebuehi were both born in the Netherlands to Nigerian fathers and Dutch mothers and play for European clubs. Troost-Ekong played for Netherland's youth teams before being called for Nigeria, with which he debuted against Chad. Leon Balogun was born in Germany to a Nigerian father and a German mother and was invited to represent Nigeria in 2014.

Brian Idowu was born in Russia to Nigerian parents and moved with his family to Nigeria at an early age. He later came back to Russia and played for Zenit St. Petersburg, Amkar Perm, and Dynamo St. Peterburg. He was called up for Nigeria in 2017.


Milos Degenek was born in Croatia to Serbian parents during the toughest years of the wars of independence in the Balkans. The internal conflicts and NATO bombings led his family abroad, and they finally emigrated to Sydney. He played for both the Serbian and Australian youth teams before deciding for Australia's senior team on 2016.

Australia's Daniel Arzani and Massimo Luongo during training. Trudovye Rezervy Stadium, Kazan, Russia. June 11, 2018. Photo | Reuters

Daniel Arzani was born in Khorramabad, Iran, in 1999. His family moved to Sydney when he was seven years old and he built his career there. He joined the Australian under-17 team in 2014 and has played two matches with the senior squad.

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