3for3’s Dan “The Mekon” Shoesmith talks about international football’s minnows, and how they’ve washed up on our shores.
In the 20 years since Sky Sports invented it, the FA Premier League has established itself as one of the most exciting, most intriguing and most cosmopolitan football leagues in the entire world. Hundreds of millions of people from all over the globe watch Wigan and Bolton strut their stuff every week (apparently), and the wide array of international superstars on offer is a reflection of the worldwide appeal the Premier League has. And has nothing whatsoever to do with foreign players being markedly cheaper than English ones of similar calibre. Nothing at all.
Regardless of how you see it, there’s no denying that the Premier League has attracted players from all four corners of the Earth; surprising really, since the Earth is round and doesn’t actually have corners (still, that sounds better than ‘every piece of the Earth’s single surface’, doesn’t it?) Stars from such behemoths as Spain, France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Germany and the Netherlands have made their way to our shores to entertain us, and even the somewhat lesser footballing nations like the former Soviet or Yugoslav republics, the USA or Australia have had a strong representation in the “World’s Greatest League”.
Overall, some 90+ nations have been represented by a player in the Premier League, which I’m willing to bet is more countries than your average Sky Sports pundit even knows exists (literally). However, even some of the game’s international minnows have had their players shining a light for them in the great big melting pot that is the English top flight, and here are just a few of my personal favourites. From five to one then:
5. Saint Kitts & Nevis
The tiny Caribbean islands of St. Catherine’s (St. Kitts) and Nevis have had no fewer than four players represent them in the Premier League over the years. Crystal Palace led the way in Anglo-Caribbean relations back in the early 90s, with stalwarts Bobby Bowry and Sagi Burton both flying their nation’s flag proudly. West Ham Academy graduate Adam Newton made only two appearances for the Irons before being shipped off to Peterborough in 2002, but his 5 caps for St Kitts earn him a mention here. Last but not least is Calum Willock, a former Fulham player who made only three PL appearances between 2000 and 2003 (two against Blackburn: both wins. Kean out) and only three for his country, albeit with a 100% goalscoring record (three in three surpasses even David Nugent’s magnificent international tally).
I had to look up Montserrat (turns out it’s a British colony in the West Indies).
Our first ‘sole representative’ of the article, it’s another Fulham academy graduate that puts Pakistan on this list. When he was turning out for England at youth and U20 levels, I dare say that Zesh Rehman never believed he’d even consider playing for another nation. However, when sparse opportunities and a general lack of being good enough came to bear, Rehman went back to his roots and opted to play for the Asian side, for whom he qualified through his father. He made only 21 appearances for Fulham before moving on and currently plies his trade in the Hong Kong football league where, I’m willing to bet anyway, he’s the only Pakistani player in that league too.
Confession time: I had to look up Montserrat (turns out it’s a British colony in the West Indies). Someone that I certainly didn’t have to look up is their most famous footballing son, the flying ex-Newcastle, Norwich and Spurs winger Ruel Fox. Despite having made several appearances for England’s ‘B’ side (now there’s a team that needs to come back) he never quite broke into Graham Taylor or Terry Venables’ squads, and elected to play for Montserrat through family ties. He made only two appearances for his country and scored one goal, giving him a better international goals-to-games ratio than Lionel Messi and Bobby Charlton combined.
Yep, you heard. Curaçao or, as it’s better known, the Netherlands Antilles, has been represented in the FA Premier League. Not too long ago in fact, dispelling the completely unfair myth that tiny low-ranked nations never produce decent players (and yes, I count England in that). Solid centre-half Shelton Martis arrived at West Bromwich Albion via the Dutch league and the SPL in 2007, and made 22 appearances for West Brom over three years including a handful in the top flight. He’s now at Doncaster after a successful loan spell but is a stalwart for his country, making 11 appearances and bagging a goal for his trouble. All for a team currently ranked 149 in the world, between Lesotho and Yemen.
Yes, yes, I know, I’m cheating a bit. But come on, this is a team that isn’t even allowed to enter the World Cup and it’s had more players represent it in the Premier League than all of the other nations in this list combined. Coached by Johann Cruyff, the Catalonia national team plays mostly exhibition matches and is largely comprised of some of the world’s elite players. Ex-Premier League names who’ve turned out for Catalonia include Cesc Fabregas, Albert Ferrer, Luis Garcia, Gerard Pique, Pepe Reina, Jordi Cruyff…
Yep, because it’s technically not an international side, Johann Cruyff can do what he does best: whatever he fucking well likes. Even if that means picking non-Catalan players (i.e. Reina) or even non-Spaniards (Jordi fucking Cruyff) for his glittering galaxy of global stars. As you can imagine, Catalonia are nigh-on unbeatable, especially when you consider that eleven members of their most recent squad play for Barcelona. Who are nigh-on unbeatable.
INJURY TIME FACT
The highest-ranked nation to have never been represented by a player in the Premier League is Armenia, who are 46th in the world. Read that Sheldon Martis one again and ponder.
Dan Shoesmith is the co-host of the 3for3 podcast, and host of the X-Calibre Rock Show on 1Radio. Follow him on Twitter @BigDan_83 and @3for3_