Earlier in 2019/20, when the world seemed normal and the Belarusian league wasn’t our only source of live football, Cuba and Tanzania became the 116th and 117th countries to have been represented in the Premier League.
The names Onel Hernandez and Mbwana Samatta have been written into the history books, which got us thinking, what are these 117 countries?
We don’t actually know. The term country is somewhat vague, differing in a political sense and a football sense – the benchmark for a country is usually along the lines of “being a sovereign state as recognised by the UN”, while several football associations play on the international stage without meeting this criteria.
If we assume that the 117 refers to countries in a footballing landscape, this needs further substantiation also. There are FIFA recognised countries and there are other nations that play unofficial international matches that are not recognised by FIFA.
Players are usually listed with a nationality on the Premier League website. We believe this nationality is assigned according to FIFA eligibility rules, though we are not certain.
We won’t go into the technicalities of these rules here, but it’s important to note that players can change their international allegiance, exactly once.
This means that a player could make their Premier League debut while considered to have one nationality, and later switch their international allegiance to another as long as they have a permitted link to the new nation and they have not yet played in a competitive FIFA recognised international fixture.
This exact situation has occurred several times in the Premier League. A recent example is former Manchester United, Derby County, Southampton, Sunderland and Stoke City defender Danny Higginbotham, who was considered English until 2013 when he elected to represent Gibraltar, whom he was eligible for through his heritage.
This of course means that only FIFA-recognised nations can be listed.
From our research, 115 current FIFA nations have been represented to date. We believe that East Germany is the 116th (for reasons we explain in the “Bonus countries” article), but we have no idea who the 117th is.
We’ve reached out to the Premier League for clarification but have yet to receive a reply. We would love to know who these 117 countries are for certain but for now, enjoy our profiles of the 115 current FIFA nations and special extra nations that have appeared in the Premier League over the years.
In each of these articles you can see records including the first player to represent their nation, the top scorer, most appearances and some general trivia.