Five Players Who Could Swap Nationalities For 2022 World Cup

Recently, reports have stated that Chelsea’s talented young winger, Callum Hudson-Odoi, is intending to switch his national team from England to Ghana if Ghana qualifies for the World Cup. Until recently, this move would not have been allowed: previous rules stated that if players appeared in a competitive international match, they were unable to switch nationalities. It appeared the book had closed on Hudson-Odoi’s Ghana career when he appeared in his first of three European Championship Qualifier appearances with England back in 2019.

However, since then the rule has changed. New FIFA rules allow players who have made three or fewer competitive appearances, were under the age of 21 at the time of those appearances, and have waited at least three years to switch nationalities to do so. Hudson-Odoi was 19 at the time of his most recent England appearance, has only appeared in three competitive matches, and will reach three years since that appearance on November 17, 2022 – four days before the delayed FIFA World Cup.

These new FIFA rules ensure players have more freedom to switch alliances, and several players have already used this rule to their advantage: Morocco’s Munir El Haddadi was one of the first players to swap national teams, having attempted to play for Morocco since his brief appearance with Spain in 2014. Several other players may try to use this rule to their advantage, whilst other uncapped players might just make a traditional swap leading up to the World Cup. But who could potentially do this?

Christopher Nkunku, France to DR Congo

Christopher Nkunku has been setting the Bundesliga alight this season with RB Leipzig. The former PSG man has contributed directly to 20 goals, per the Bundesliga website – he’s fifth in the league in goals scored, and third in the league in assists. Since arriving in Germany for just a little under $15 million in 2019, Nkunku has been one of Leipzig’s top players. In the Champions League this season, Nkunku has continued to be lethal: he scored seven goals and an assist, including a hat trick against Manchester City and a brace against Club Brugge.

Nkunku has yet to be called up for France, an undoubted source of frustration for the winger. His blistering form has many feeling he deserves a chance, having made 24 youth appearances, his most recent in 2018. Since then, Moussa Diaby, Kingsley Coman, Marcus Thuram, Jonathan Ikone, Ousmane Dembele, and Florian Thauvin are just a few of the attacking options chosen by France over him. Now 24, Nkunku has repeatedly denied the possibility of playing for the DR Congo, but if France doesn’t offer him a cap by the World Cup and the DR Congo can qualify (they’re only a two-legged tie against Morocco away from qualifying), he might just change his mind.

Nkunku is just one of many players who could switch to DR Congo, including Aaron Wan Bissaka, but Nkunku joining would be by far the biggest statement.

Paul Wanner, Germany to Austria

Bayern Munich’s hot prospect Paul Wanner has become something of a hot topic in recent weeks: in his appearance against Borussia Mönchengladbach, he became the youngest player ever to appear in Bayern’s history at 16 years and 15 days. This also made him the second-youngest player in Bundesliga history, just two weeks older than Dortmund’s Youssoufa Moukoko. Wanner has now appeared in Bayern’s last six Bundesliga match day squads and played in four of them. He’s becoming an important player for the team.

Despite coming through Bayern Munich’s youth teams, Wanner was actually born in Austria and holds Austrian citizenship but has made seven appearances for Germany’s U17 team (none at senior level). Bayern Munich may be famous for its German veterans, but recently the team has seen heavy Austrian influence – David Alaba, Marcel Sabitzer, Marco Friedl have all appeared in recent years. Wanner is just 16 but is talented enough to appear for Bayern and surely enough to appear at international level. Germany has some solid depth at midfield, so Austria could offer him an early opportunity at tournament football. To qualify for Qatar, however, Austria needs to beat Wales and then the winner of Scotland vs Ukraine – no easy feat.

Amine Gouiri, France to Algeria

Another French youth international, OGC Nice’s Amine Gouiri has long been seen as an exciting prospect. Gouiri broke into the Lyon team when he was 17 and many expected him to be one of the French club’s next massive sales. However, just a few seasons later, Gouiri was sold to Nice for a relatively low cost of $7.7 million. Since then, his value has skyrocketed to almost $50 million according to Transfermarkt, with this being arguably his most successful season. Gouiri has scored ten goals and seven assists this year in Ligue 1, with Nice currently in third. They haven’t finished a season third or higher since 2017.

Gouiri has made almost 60 appearances for France at youth level, but now aged 22, he can’t play for France’s youth teams any more. Gouiri was denied the chance to play for France at the Olympics this past summer (due to the Olympics not being a FIFA competition, giving clubs the chance to deny call-ups), so he remains uncapped at senior level. Gouiri’s father is Algerian, giving him the chance to play for the Desert Foxes, who could use the help in attack: at the most recent AFCON tournament, Algeria scored just once. To qualify for the World Cup, Algeria needs to beat Cameroon across two legs.

Harvey Barnes, England to Scotland

Harvey Barnes has risen up the ranks at Leicester City, from starting at Leicester’s youth teams to become one of the Foxes’ top players. The winger has played over 100 matches for Leicester and is a Premier League veteran despite being just 24 years old. Barnes also was key in Leicester City’s first ever FA Cup trophy.

Barnes has made just one appearance from England, with it coming in a friendly victory over Wales. Since it was a friendly, Barnes does not have to wait three years to switch and could switch to Scotland whenever he wants – Barnes is eligible to play for the Scots through his grandparents. However, he might wait to see if Scotland qualify for this World Cup, as Scotland has to first beat Ukraine and then the winner of Austria vs. Wales.

Gabriel Martinelli, Brazil to Italy

Gabriel Martinelli is a name Arsenal fans are quickly becoming very familiar with: since arriving from Ituano FC, a team in the regional Sao Paulo division, Martinelli has been an all too rare bright spot during a difficult period of Arsenal’s history. He’s scored sixteen goals and notched nine assists since arriving at the club in 2019 despite struggling with injuries, and is still just 20 years old.

Despite being born and raised in Brazil, Martinelli is a solid option for Italy, with his father being Italian. Martinelli has made three appearances for Brazil at youth level, and he has appeared at the Olympics with Brazil. However, as previously stated, the Olympics do not count as a FIFA authorized competition, so he still could switch nationalities. Martinelli has stated that he intends to play for Brazil, however, the Brazilians are loaded at the wings with the recent emergences of Vinicius, Antony, Raphinha, and more. Many of Italy’s wingers are struggling with injuries, so Martinelli would have a more than decent chance of being a first choice winger by the time the tournament starts. However, Brazil have already qualified, whereas Italy first need to beat North Macedonia and then the winner of Portugal vs. Turkey.

The World Cup is arguably the biggest tournament in the world and undoubtedly football’s biggest tournament, so players will often switch nationalities in order to play in the prestigious tournament. Brazil often has players swap allegiances before a major tournament: Mario Fernandes starred for Russia in 2018 after being naturalized, whilst Brazilian born Diego Costa was booed at the tournament in his homeland after choosing Spain in 2014. However, for many players swapping nationalities offers chances to play at tournaments they never could have dreamed of: Almoez Ali will lead the line for Qatar in 2022 after deciding against playing for Sudan, a nation that has never qualified for the World Cup.

Any players you think should have made this list? Let me know in the comments!

Image Courtesy of Steffen Prößdorf, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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