By Chux Odoh
Over the decades, Nigeria has lost many of its brightest sports athletes to foreign nations, especially England. The English have a robust and well-organised sports development programme that helps groom young athletes into potential world stars.
In football, Nigeria has had many of its potential football stars turn out for England in different categories. These players are mainly born in England to one or both migrant Nigerian parents. Someone these players have been courted to play for the Nigeria Football Federation but turned down the offer for different reasons while hoping to get more opportunities to boost their careers playing for England.
While some of them never get to finally make it the English senior team, only a few have been able to break into the ranks of the elite squad. Below is a list of the Nigerians that have played for The Three Lions.
Born in 1962, John Fashanu is the first known Nigerian to play for the English senior national team. His father was a Nigerian lawyer of Yoruba extraction while his mother is from Guyana. Fash first played as was a centre-forward from 1978 until 1995, most notably in an eight-year spell at Wimbledon F.C. in where he won the FA Cup in 1988 and scored over 100 goals in all competitions.
He also played for Norwich City, Miramar Rangers, Lincoln City, Crystal Palace, Millwall and Aston Villa. He scored 134 league goals in a career lasting 17 years. He was also capped twice at senior level by England but failed to score on either occasion.
22-year-old Bamidele Alli was one of England’s flying stars at the FIFA 2018 World Cup in Russia. So far he has had an impressive 28 caps for England, scoring 3 goals. Alli was born to a Nigerian father Kehinde and an English woman Denise. The two met when Kehinde was studying for a Master’s degree and got married soon after but the marriage didn’t last: the older Alli relocated to the United States a week after his son’s birth and Dele lived with his mother until he was nine. He moved to Nigeria to live with his father for a year before returning to his mother in England. However, Dele Alli is currently estranged from his biological family and doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. He also snubbed the chance to represent Nigeria as he says he feels no connection with his home country. During Nigeria’s world cup buildup friendly game with England at Wembley, Dele was booed by a cross-section of Nigerian fans at the stadium who felt he was wrong to snub his family and country of birth.
Tammy Abraham made his first appearance for England’s Men Team in their goalless draw with Germany in a 2017 international friendly. He once said that though he was flattered by the approach from Nigerian football officials wanting to lure him to switch his allegiance to his home country, he was always focused on representing England “They tried to, but like I said, the main focus was England. I see myself as being a long-term England player — I am 100 per cent focused here to try and get into that team.”
Unknown to many people, Everton’s attacking midfielder Ross Barkley is born to a Nigerian father, Peter Effanga, who resides in Liverpool and once worked at the Getrag Ford Transmission plant. Ross answers his mother’s maiden name resulting from a strained relationship with his dad.
Ross Barkley was eligible to turn out for the Super Eagles before making his competitive debut for England senior squad in 2013. Prior to his debut against Moldova in a World Cup qualifier, the Liverpool-born attacking midfielder had announced himself that Nigeria was one of the countries he could have represented apart from England. Barkley went on to feature for England at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Gabriel Agbonlahor was one of four children born to a Nigerian father and a Scottish mother in Birmingham. His parents, however, separated while he was still young and he lived with his father, without any contact with his mother, for around 20 years.
Agbonlahor played for Aston Villa FC all through his career, going on loan twice in 2005 to Watford and Sheffield Wednesday.
Now 31, Agbonlahor turned down all requests to play for the Super Eagles of Nigeria, instead opting to play for his country of birth. He made his debut for The Three Lions on On 19 November 2008 against Germany. Agbonlahor managed only three caps with the English senior team with his only competitive game being the match against Spain 14 October 2009.
Ex Chelsea and Westham United striker Carlton Cole is born to a Nigerian father and Sierra Leonian mother in London. The striker once revealed that he had never been a follower of Nigerian football and his interest in African football only occasional.
It is also widely rumoured that former Chelsea and current Manchester United Coach Jose Mourinho was responsible for convincing Cole to snub his home country.
“I was called up by Nigeria in 2004 but Chelsea told me that it was in my best interests not to go,” Cole once said in an interview.
“They said it would affect my England future and interfere with things at club level as well. As a young player, I was advised not to take up the Nigeria offer and I supported that”, he added.
Cole went on to star for the Three Lions seven times. He announced his official retirement from football in March 2018