Saka And Other Stars That Could Have Played For Nigeria And Ivory Coast
The Africa Cup of Nations will reach its dramatic climax on Sunday as two storied footballing powers go head to head in Abidjan. It's Ivory Coast vs Nigeria - the Elephants vs the Super Eagles.
The tournament has delivered storylines in typically emphatic fashion. Chief among them? Hosts Ivory Coast reaching a first final since 2015 despite sacking their manager Jean Louis-Gasset mid-tournament. The mighty Nigeria stand in their way, desperate for silverware having been starved of AFCON success since 2013.
While both sides have done themselves proud and are 90 minutes away from etching their names into African football folklore, what might their respective squads have looked like had those players with dual nationality chosen to represent their ancestral homes?
GOAL runs through 14 stars who could have been playing in the AFCON final in different circumstances...
Bukayo Saka (Nigeria)
Saka has been following AFCON closely and lauded the semi-final win for Nigeria over South Africa on social media.
Although young Bukayo was born in Ealing, west London, his parents Adenike and Yomi both hail from the West African nation.
Before committing his international allegiance to England in 2020, the winger admitted it would be a very difficult decision, and after his choice he explained: "I feel like I’m really, really proud of my Nigerian heritage. I always still watch Nigeria’s games where I can, and I wish them all the best and support them all the way.
"But I’ve seen the process of how England are transforming, and I think in the future they’re going to do great stuff. I feel like it was right for me to choose England."
Jamal Musiala (Nigeria)
It wasn't just England who lost out on prodigious talent Musiala, who has opted to represent Germany at international level.
As well as the Three Lions, the Bayern Munich starlet also rejected the Super Eagles when they approached him in 2020, having been born to a British-Nigerian father and German mother in Stuttgart.
Explaining his choice in 2023 to TeamNigeriaUK3, Musiala said: "I could have played for Nigeria because it crossed my mind, and I thought about it well. I had good talks with Nigeria and Germany. So it really just came down to me and where I’d feel the most comfortable. So I decided to go with Germany.
David Alaba (Nigeria)
Alaba's story is a case of what could have been for Nigeria. The Real Madrid star was actually born to a Nigerian prince in Vienna, Austria, and wanted to play for his father's homeland, but an approach never came - seemingly a result of stringent eligibility rules.
Now an Austria international, the defender had wanted to join up with the Nigerian youth team in 2007 but found his pathway blocked. "I wanted to play for Nigeria but I must confess that there was no formal approach for me," he revealed in 2013.
"A scout actually discussed that with me. I got the information that Nigeria will only consider those who were in the country perhaps because of travelling logistics, and that is the end of that."
Serge Gnabry (Ivory Coast)
Another Bayern Munich star who was born in Stuttgart, Gnabry's father is Ivorian and his mother is German.
Ivory Coast made a play to secure the winger's allegiance in 2014 when he was still an Arsenal player, but he explained seven years later that his ties to the country of his birth were simply too strong - although he still feels a close bond to his ancestral home.
"The Ivorian association contacted me and asked for a meeting to convince me to play for their senior national team," Gnabry told GOAL. "But it was always clear to me: I was born and raised here in Germany, I played for almost all of the DFB and youth national teams, so I also want to play for the German senior national team.
"That also means home for me. My father is from there and most of my family still lives there. I've been there a few times and, if time permits, I want to visit more often."
Tammy Abraham (Nigeria)
Roma's Abraham has been open in his support of Nigeria during this year's AFCON, joining Saka in backing the Super Eagles on social media.
One of a host of talented players to have honed their skills in south London, the striker's father is Nigerian and is even friends with former Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick. In 2017, Pinnick prematurely claimed the then-Chelsea striker had chosen to represent Nigeria, which Abraham - just 19 at the time - was forced to deny.
When he received his first senior England call-up years later, Abraham said: "I was pretty set on England really. Playing in the Premier League meant it would be nice to play in the England team as well. It was flattering [that Nigeria wanted me], but for me my main focus was here."
Fikayo Tomori (Nigeria)
A close friend of Abraham and his fellow Chelsea academy graduate, Tomori's family also hail from Nigeria, via Canada.
The AC Milan centre-back has admitted that he 'feels Nigerian', owing to his upbringing. However, he elected to play for England, making his senior debut in 2020 - something he described as "one of the hardest decisions" he's had to make.
Describing his emotions on his call-up, Tomori said: "England is such a big nation, as well as Nigeria and Canada, so I think I was going to be happy with whoever called me up - but it’s nice it is England. It wasn’t England all the way. I had certain people and certain things that I had to consider. I spoke to my family and people that I care about it and that’s the decision I came to. So, when England came calling, it was difficult to say no.
"It was just more of a thing I was waiting for a call-up because the last international break I didn't get a call-up from anyone. This international break, I was waiting for a call-up and England called me up."
Manuel Akanji (Nigeria)
Like Alaba, Man City's Akanji claims he never received a call from Nigeria despite being eligible to represent them through his father.
The defender was born in Neftenbach, Switzerland, to a Swiss mother and had been touted to play for Nigeria before ultimately choosing the country of his birth.
Speaking in 2018, he said: "Nigeria never called me to play. There was no question where I should play because Switzerland asked me if I wanted to play for them. I heard nothing from Nigeria. So it was my decision."
Wesley Fofana (Ivory Coast)
Although he would have been ruled out of the tournament anyway following the latest in a series of serious knee injuries, Chelsea's Fofana could have represented Ivory Coast in an alternate universe.
Born in the south of France in Marseille, Fofana's father is Ivorian. It was reported that the Elephants were trying to convince the centre-back to switch allegiances back in 2022, with Fofana yet to be called up to Didier Deschamps' France squad at the time, and some serious competition in his way in the form of Dayot Upamecano, William Saliba and Ibrahima Konate, among others.
However, it seems their approach fell on deaf ears, with Fofana called up twice by Les Bleus in 2023, making his debut in the summer against Gibraltar. Speaking before making his bow, he told reporters: "France provided my education. It’s the choice of the heart. I had discussions with the Ivory Coast coach, but above all I am French, I was born in France, I had my education here. So, for sure, the choice is not easy. When we see the enthusiasm, we ask ourselves questions, but I am French, it's a logical choice, a normal choice. I chose France because that's what was deep inside me ."
Eberechi Eze (Nigeria)
Another south Londoner born to Nigerian parents, and - like Abraham - Eze, too, slipped between the Super Eagles' talons. Despite the aforementioned ex-Nigerian federation president Pinnick saying he was "confidently hopeful" the Crystal Palace star would opt to play for his ancestral home back in 2019, he ultimately pipped for the Three Lions.
Ending years of speculation that he might represent the West African nation, the attacking midfielder explained his decision-making process before making his England debut in the summer, saying: "[It was] more just speaking to the people around me, my family, my wife, getting good advice from the people around, trying to think what is the best decision for myself and my career.
"We think that this is the best one. It is a big opportunity for me, it is the highest level of football. I look at it with no regret at all. You want to test yourself against that, you want to be in that and you can see from the quality of the team, where they are getting to, the confidence they are playing with, it is incredible."
Karim Adeyemi (Nigeria)
Alongside Musiala, Adeyemi is the other player of Nigerian descent in Germany's current ranks. Born in the Bavarian city of Munich to a Nigerian father and Romanian mother, it is perhaps little surprise that he decided to play for Germany after he rose through their age grades.
He made his senior debut in 2021, but that has not stopped him from creating a charitable foundation back in Nigeria. Speaking in January on a visit to the country, he told soccernet.ng: "I think I have my roots here. My father is from here, and his heart is still here in Nigeria. Of course, my heart is also here in Nigeria.
"[There is] a story of how I came here to Nigeria. I saw the kids playing football on the street, and I played with them. It’s a small story, but it touched my heart all my life. So I try to give something back to the community."
Noni Madueke (Nigeria)
Chelsea's Madueke was also among those to share his support for Nigeria after the AFCON semi-final triumph. An England Under-21 international and a key member of the side that won the U21 European Championship in the summer, he is one of few names on this list who is still eligible for the Super Eagles.
Speaking in 2020 during his time as a PSV player, he said: "I am only 18 so I have got to be open to everything. If I had a closed mindset I would not be where I am now so for sure I am open to both [England and Nigeria]. We just have to see in the future what is best."
However, he has since outlined his desire to break into Gareth Southgate's senior England squad, and that is likely his aim having made the switch to the Premier League in January 2023.
Marc Guehi (Ivory Coast)
One player who will perhaps feel a deeper connection to his African heritage, Guehi was born in the Ivorian city Abidjan before moving to south London aged one.
He had been on the Elephants' radar for some time before receiving a senior England call-up in 2022, with then-manager Patrice Beaumelle saying: "I tried to contact him several weeks ago before his decision.
"When I saw him in the English lists I understood that at the moment he wants to try with the Three Lions. Since he went to Crystal Palace he has improved a lot and he could be an option. But the choice has to come from the heart. He will make his own decision."
However, while he was still eligible thereafter having only appeared in friendlies, he has since become a fixture in Southgate's squad.
Dominic Solanke (Nigeria)
Another player who is still eligible to play for Nigeria - and one they might have a real chance of convincing aged 26.
The in-form Bournemouth striker has played for England at senior level, but that was in a friendly against Brazil way back in 2017, meaning he is still eligible to switch allegiances. However, speaking in April last year he claimed he had not heard from the Super Eagles about playing for them, and also admitted he still dreams of a Three Lions recall - something which has become a distinct possibility this season.
"It's England for me in the future but it starts with my form at my club," he said. "I know a lot has been said about playing for Nigeria but no one has contacted me about it. Maybe they will in the future."
It has been reported that Solanke would be willing to play for Nigeria at the 2026 World Cup if an England call doesn't arrive beforehand, although he may have to dislodge Victor Osimhen from the line-up.
Curtis Jones (Nigeria)
Another player who is still eligible for a Nigeria call-up - although that is perhaps becoming increasingly unlikely given his form for Liverpool this season.
Jones, who has a Nigerian grandmother, has played for England throughout the age grades and has a very good chance of receiving a first senior call-up for the Three Lions' friendlies against Belgium and Brazil in March.
Given his success with the Reds this campaign, he will almost certainly have his eyes set on a place in Southgate's Euro 2024 squad in Germany, but for the time being he will likely be cheering Nigeria on from home on Sunday.