It’s the Premier League of Nations! Players from 113 different countries have featured in England’s top-flight with France, Ireland and Spain producing the most… but do you recall these obscure one-offs from Malta, Faroe Islands, Gambia and Suriname?
- The Premier League’s global appeal has grown rapidly in its 30-year history
- 113 of the 207 non-UK FIFA nations have seen a player feature in the competition
- Mauritania was the latest to be added to the list back in March this year
- 17 countries have seen just the one player participate in the Premier League
Footballers from all four corners of the globe have long aspired to come and play in the Premier League.
The reach and appeal of England’s top flight is unsurpassed, with television networks in 212 different countries broadcasting its matches to a potential audience of 4.7 billion people.
The Premier League has long had a cosmopolitan feel, something which developed during the 1990s as the competition gained in strength and popularity before hitting warp speed in the 21st century.
Former Fulham player Aboubakar Kamara was Mauritania’s first Premier League footballer
It therefore comes as little surprise that 113 of the 207 foreign FIFA-affiliated nations (or 117 of 211 if you include England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) have seen at least one player grace the competition during its near-30 years of existence.
Country No 113 was racked up back in March this year when former Fulham player Aboubakar Kamara – who made Premier League appearances in the 2018-19 season – was called up by Mauritania.
France is the overseas country with the most Premier League players (227) including the Arsenal trio (left to right) Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry
While it will surprise nobody that France (225), the Republic of Ireland (192) and Spain (157) have seen the most players play in the Premier League, the true fascination lies in the one-offs.
There are 17 nations – as diverse as Malta and Guinea-Bissau, the Philippines and Suriname – that have seen just the one player take part.
We celebrate those players, some significantly more obscure than others, here.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Armenia) – Without question the most recognisable name on this list, Armenia’s best footballer and the only player from the Caucasian country to make it to the Premier League.
He was one of the best performers in the Bundesliga when at Borussia Dortmund and that persuaded Manchester United to pay £30million to sign him in 2016.
But it never really happen for him under Jose Mourinho and he was bundled off to Arsenal in January 2018 as part of the swap deal involving Alexis Sanchez.
His star shone briefly at the Emirates Stadium during the 2018-19 season but he was soon deemed surplus there too and loaned out to Roma before signing for them permanently. Ironically, their manager is now Mourinho.
Things didn’t work out too well for Henrikh Mkhitaryan at either Manchester United or Arsenal
Bertrand Traore (Burkina Faso) – Traore is so far the only Burkinabe played to make it to the Premier League.
He was a youth teamer at Chelsea but only managed 16 appearances for the club, all during the 2015-16 season, amid the usual maze of loan spells.
In the end, the forward’s career gained lift at Lyon before Aston Villa brought him back to England in a £17m deal last year.
Traore scored eight times for the club last season but has become something of a forgotten man and there’s talk he will be offloaded in January.
Bertrand Traore, the only player from Burkina Faso, celebrates a Villa goal against Newcastle
Frederic Nimani (Central African Republic) – Having never qualified for a major tournament, it’s fair to say Central African Republic aren’t the strongest of African teams.
But forward Nimani does hold the distinction of being their only international to have played in the Premier League, making two appearances for Burnley while on loan from Monaco in 2010.
The Clarets did not take up the option to buy Nimani after his loan, having just suffered relegation.
He now plays in Andorra with Sant Julia following a nomadic career that has seen him play in France, Greece, Norway and Switzerland.
Frederic Nimani, from the Central African Republic, played two matches for Burnley on loan
Onel Hernandez (Cuba) – Cuba is better known for boxing and baseball than football and it’s maybe no surprise just one Cuban has played in the Premier League.
Winger Hernandez played 26 games the last time Norwich came this way in 2019-20, scoring once.
Hernandez caused amusement by revealing his love of Argos in a programme Q&A not long after arriving at Norwich, saying: ‘I walked inside and saw the catalogue with things you can order… Argos has everything and I’ve never seen this in my life before. When I need something, I buy it from Argos!’
Norwich are back in the top-flight but Hernandez is currently on a season-long loan to Middlesbrough so may not add to his Premier League game tally.
Argos-loving Cuban Onel Hernandez in action for Norwich City in a Premier League fixture
Gunnar Nielsen (Faroe Islands) – Not only is goalkeeper Nielsen the only Premier League player to come from the Faroe Islands, he also only made the one appearance.
That came for Manchester City against Arsenal in April 2010 when first choice Shay Given picked up an injury.
His time with the club included loans at Wrexham and Tranmere Rovers. Nielsen, now 35, currently plays for Icelandic club FH.
Gunnar Nielsen, from the Faroe Islands, keeps goal during his one and only Man City game
Modou Barrow (Gambia) – Gambia’s one and only Premier League player made 51 games for Swansea over the course of three seasons.
Winger Barrow, signed from Swedish club Ostersunds, didn’t make too much of an impact with just the one league goal for the Welsh club and his time there also included Championship loans at Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers and Leeds United before he moved on to Reading.
Another Gambian, Omar Koroma, spent two seasons at Portsmouth from 2008 but didn’t make an appearance.
Modou Barrow of Swansea finds himself fighting for the ball with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte and defender Cesar Azpilicueta in a 2016 match
Danny Higginbotham (Gibraltar) – Manchester-born Higginbotham was eligible to represent Gibraltar through his maternal grandmother but their national team wasn’t recognised until 2013.
He was playing for Chester in the Conference when he won his first international cap but having played Premier League football for five different clubs, he holds the distinction of being the only Gibraltar national teamer to have played in the Premier League.
Danny Higginbotham turned out for Gibraltar’s national team late on in his playing career
Mesca (Guinea-Bissau) – Born in Guinea-Bissau, Mesca actually represented Portugal at youth level but is the only player from the African country to have featured in the Premier League.
Just the once, mind, a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea for Fulham in September 2013. After a loan spell in League One with Crewe, the midfielder moved to AEL Limassol in Cyprus and now plays in the country for Doxa Katokopias.
Buomesca Tué Na Bangna, also known as Mesca (left), in action for Fulham against Chelsea
Victor Wanyama (Kenya) – The former Southampton and Tottenham midfielder must be Kenya’s best footballing export.
Having impressed north of the border at Celtic, Wanyama joined the Saints in July 2013 for a £12.5m fee.
After three seasons there, Mauricio Pochettino took him to Spurs where he was a regular in his first season but tailed off thereafter. Now in the MLS with CF Montreal.
Victor Wanyama, the only Kenyan to play in the Premier League, scores for Tottenham in 2019
Dylan Kerr (Malta) – Rewinding right back to the birth of the Premier League when left-back Kerr made five appearances for Leeds in the competition’s inaugural season.
Remarkably, no other Maltese player has played in it since.
He was at Elland Road for four years but only played in a handful of games before joining Reading. Now the manager of South African club Moroko Swallows.
The former Leeds United player and Malta international, Dylan Kerr, playing for Kilmarnock
Aboubakar Kamara (Mauritania) – Another African nation with just the one Premier League alumnus.
Striker Kamara scored three times in 13 games during the 2018-19 campaign before a bust-up with Aleksandar Mitrovic during a yoga session saw him sent out to Turkey on loan.
He did return to Craven Cottage, however, and played 11 times without scoring when in the top-flight last season. Left the club for Aris Thessaloniki in Greece back in the summer.
Aboubakar Kamara, the one Premier League representative from Mauritania, plays for Fulham
Ali Al-Habsi (Oman) – Astonishingly, keeper Al-Habsi amassed 136 caps for Oman during an 18-year international career.
His time with Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic means he stands alone in the Omani section of our list. He made just 10 league appearances for the Trotters despite five years with the club but had more luck across Lancashire with Wigan.
An initial loan spell in 2010-11 led to a £4million move. Al-Habsi was especially good at saving penalties, keeping out spot-kicks from Robin van Persie, Carlos Tevez, Javier Hernandez and Mikel Arteta during his time with the Latics.
He also played in the Championship for Brighton and Reading.
Former Bolton and Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi has amassed 136 appearances for Oman
Zesh Rehman (Pakistan) – It was a hugely significant moment when Rehman came on for Bobby Petta in the final minute of a Premier League game between Liverpool and Fulham in April 2004.
He became the first British Asian played to appear in English football’s top division and there hasn’t exactly been a cavalcade since.
The defender, capped 25 times for Pakistan, went on to play 21 times in the competition and had a lengthy career in the Football League.
Now 38, he is player-manager at Hong Kong Premier League club Southern.
Zesh Rehman, who played for Pakistan 25 times, in action for Fulham against Everton in 2004
Neil Etheridge (Philippines) – The keeper spent six years as a professional on Fulham’s books without making a single Premier League appearance but finally achieved that aim when Cardiff were promoted in 2018, playing every league fixture in the 2018-19 campaign.
That made Etheridge the one and only Philippines international to appear in the division.
Hailing from Enfield in London, Etheridge’s mum hails from the Asian archipelago.
Philippines goalkeeper Neil Etheridge pictured during a Premier League game for Cardiff
Kevin Betsy (Seychelles) – Now a respected coach in Arsenal’s academy, Betsy played seven times for the Seychelles towards the end of his career when at Wycombe Wanderers.
He’d relented after originally turning down overtures from the Seychelles Football Federation back in 2005. The former midfielder remains the only Seychelles international player to grace the Premier League, having played in the competition with Fulham.
Kevin Betsy played for Fulham in the Premier League and later represented the Seychelles
Ryan Donk (Suriname) – Donk was another with a much delayed international career. Born in Amsterdam, he played for Holland at under-21 level and even won a European Championship in 2006.
It wasn’t until 2014 that Suriname tried to call him up but his club at the time, Kasimpasa in Turkey, didn’t allow him to join up with the South American nation.
It wasn’t until 2021 that Donk finally made his debut for them, at the age of 34. His experience of the Premier League came much earlier, encompassing 16 games on loan at West Brom from AZ Alkmaar in 2008-09.
Ryan Donk (right), who played for West Brom on loan in 2008-09, represented Suriname
Mbwana Samatta (Tanzania) – Samatta’s time with Aston Villa proved to be very brief. Signed from Belgian club Genk for £8.5million in January 2020, he would play just 14 Premier League games and 16 overall before joining Fenerbahce in September 2020 on loan and ultimately on a permanent basis.
On February 1, 2020, in a 2-1 defeat to Bournemouth, Samatta became the first player from Tanzania to play – and score – in the Premier League.
Mbwana Samatta, the Premier League’s one player from Tanzania, in action for Aston Villa
Number of Premier League players from each country
225 players – France
192 – Republic of Ireland
157 – Spain
138 – Holland
90 – Brazil
81 – Portugal
75 – Italy
74 – Germany
71 – Argentina, Denmark, Norway
67 – Sweden
59 – Belgium
53 – Australia
51 – Nigeria
50 – Jamaica
49 – United States
40 – Senegal
36 – Ivory Coast
32 – Switzerland
31 – Cameroon
29 – Serbia
28 – Ghana, Greece
27 – Czech Republic
25 – Croatia
22 – Uruguay
21 – Poland
20 – Colombia, Morocco, Turkey
19 – Slovakia
18 – Austria, DR Congo, Finland, Iceland
17 – Algeria
16 – Israel, Mali
15 – Chile, South Africa, South Korea
14 – Romania
12 – Ecuador, Trinidad and Tobago
11 – Canada
10 – Hungary, Japan, Mexico
9 – Bulgaria
8 – Paraguay, Russia
7 – China, Curacao/Netherlands Antilles, Ukraine
6 – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Guinea, Honduras, New Zealand, Slovenia, Tunisia
5 – Congo, Gabon, Georgia, Iran, Latvia, Macedonia/North Macedonia, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Zambia
4 – Barbados, Guyana, Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Togo, Zimbabwe
3 – Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Bermuda, Grenada, Kosovo, Liberia, Monserrat
2 – Albania, Belarus, Bolivia, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cyprus, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, Lithuania, Venezuela
1 – Armenia, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Cuba, Faroe Islands, Gambia, Gibraltar, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Malta, Mauritania, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Seychelles, Suriname, Tanzania
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