The Nationality Dilemma - Rising African Stars Confronting an Important Career Choice

A growing number of Premier League’s emerging stars now shining on the big stage of club football are confronting an important career choice to make.

Soon, these bright football prospects with African heritage will have to make a potential career make or break decision on which country to represent on the international stage. The choice often being between their country of origin or where they have lived and made a name for themselves. Take the case of 22 years old Ike Dominique Ugbo. Currently plying his trade with Club Brugge in Belgium on loan from Chelsea.

Ugbo was born in Lewisham, London, and is of Nigerian heritage. He began his Chelsea career at the Under-10 level, turning pro in the summer of 2015. He, however, confronted a big dilemma when he had to choose between representing his country of birth, England, or his country of origin, Nigeria at the international level.
He ended up committing his future to Nigeria having represented England at both the Under-17 and Under-20 levels.

In doing so, he joined the likes of David Adiele, Reuben Agboola, Efan Ekoku, George Abbey, and Efe Sodje as former Nigerian players born outside the shores of Nigeria but who chose to represent their country of origin.
Still, the decision of which nationality to assume lingers for a host of talented stars like Arsenal wonder-kid Bukayo Saka, Eberechi Eze of Crystal Palace, Liverpool’s Ovio Ejaria, and Joshua Orobosa Zirkzee among others plying their trade in Europe’s top leagues but of African or Asian descent.

Nationality Switch Criteria

Let’s take a look at the criteria that allow a player to change his nationality.
Players can request to change their national team association only once, subject to the following conditions:

Article 8.1 of the FIFA National Team Eligibility Rules. indicate that such individuals may "only once" request to change their national team association, subject to the following conditions:

a) He has not played a match (either in full or in part) in an official competition at “A” international level for his current association, and at the time of his first full or partial appearance in an international match in an official competition for his current association, he already had the nationality of the representative team for which he wishes to play.
b) He is not permitted to play for his new association in any competition in which he has already played for his previous association.

Making this call has never been an easy one. For instance, England ace Declan Rice, who was faced with a choice between England and Ireland clarifies that choosing one nationality over the other should not be misconstrued for belittling the other.
"I have equal respect and love for both England and Ireland and therefore the national team I choose to represent is not a clear-cut, simple selection," Rice said as quoted by Sportskeeda. "Particularly not for a young lad who never dreamed of being in this position. Ultimately, it is a personal decision that I have made with my heart and my head, based on what I believe is best for my future."

Rice played three times for Ireland, but only in friendlies rather than competitive games, which left his plea to shift allegiances without any hindrances.

Luckily, he is among the few who have survived the recent trend that saw England and most European nations move to cap the rising stars early on their careers leaving them with little leverage if any to negotiate their international future if need be.

However, as clear cut as the criteria may seem the implications of such choices are clearly far reaching. With most of these players approaching their prime, their choice of nationality has largely been affected by financial considerations, the role of football intermediaries, and the strong blood ties that bind them to their heritage.
For most of the emerging stars, the jury is still out there on how much has gone to influence the next career phase.
Certainly, the need to approach this subject of nationality dilemma with sobriety can never be overemphasized.

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