From an early age most footballers dream of representing their country at a major tournament. For some the dream becomes reality, for most it does not, and then there is a select few that reach their goal but play on the world stage wearing a different set of colors. Whether by heritage, marriage, or journeymen who establish citizenship in another country the history of the international game is a testament to the fluidity of national allegiance.
Perhaps more than any football power Argentina has a long history of players representing other countries. At least six Argentines have won the World Cup with other countries. Heavy immigration at the turn of the previous century made players dual eligible for the European countries their families came from during the early days of international competition. Today the children of Paraguayans who came to Argentina are choosing to represent the red and white. And the sheer number of Argentine professional footballers roaming the globe in search of work means some will become naturalized where they ply their trade.
Players like Raimundo Orsi, Alfredo di Stefano, and Omar Sivori left indelible marks on the first century of international football but there are numerous examples of Argentinians wearing the colours of other nations in the 21st century too. Here is my eleven…
Goalkeeper- Marcelo Elizaga (Ecuador)
An unremarkable goalkeeper in Argentina, Elizaga first moved to an Ecuadorian club in his 30s. He hit his stride there winning both individual and club honors. After receiving Ecuadorian citizenship Elizaga represented his adopted country in the 2007 and 2011 editions of the Copa America. He was also a standout figure in their failed 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, ironically stopping a Carlos Tevez penalty in Quito on the way to an upset over his birth country during the campaign.
Defense- Gabriel Paletta (Italy)
Paletta was a promising young player, winning the under-20 World Cup alongside Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero in 2005, but took time to come into his own. A failed early stint at Liverpool was followed by a few seasons at Boca Juniors before making another attempt in Europe, this time Italy. Solid play at Parma lead to a move to Milan and a call to the Azzurri. He was in the squad that beat England to start the group stage of the 2014 World Cup. Paletta’s run in the Italy team seems to have ended as he has not figured since and is already 31.
Defense- Norberto Araujo (Ecuador)
A globetrotter early in his career, Araujo played for clubs in Finland, Argentina, and Peru before signing for LDU Quito at age 28. He has been there for the last decade and played well enough to be called into the national team once he became a citizen. Araujo played for Ecuador in the 2011 Copa America which was hosted in his birth country of Argentina.
Defense- Mariano Pernia (Spain)
Pernia had one of the best careers for both club and country of any player on this list. An extremely talented attacking left-back Pernia broke through in Spain with Getafe then moved to Atletico Madrid in the mid 00’s. Eligible for Spanish citizenship through a grandparent, he was in the Spanish team for the 2006 World Cup, playing three of the four games in Germany. Pernia didn’t make the Spanish squad that won the 2008 European Championships and a car accident shortly thereafter effectively ended his contention for a place in the team.
Midfield- Nestor Ortigoza (Paraguay)
Ortigoza was born, raised, and formed as a footballer in Argentina but qualifies for Paraguay through his father who emigrated Paraguay. A tough, smart midfielder he was at the heart of the San Lorenzo side that won the 2014 Copa Libertadores. Never an Argentine youth international, his first taste of international football came at the age of 25 when he first represented Paraguay. Ortigoza went on to play for Paraguay at the 2010 World Cup as well as the 2011 and 2015 Copa America tournaments, the former of which saw him earn a runners up medal.
Midfield- Cristian Ledesma (Italy)
A Boca Juniors youth product Ledesma has never played a single professional club match in Argentina. The bulk of his career has been spent in Italy and he married an Italian woman, making him eligible for the Azzurri. He was a solid midfielder at Lazio for nearly a decade and was called into the national team at the beginning of Cesare Prandelli’s tenure, although he never appeared at an international tournament.
Midfield- Mauro Camoranesi (Italy)
Very accomplished for both club and country, despite Italian ancestery Camoranesi did not reach Serie A until his mid 20s. Once there he had a successful career, particularly at Juventus, and represented Italy at two World Cups and two European Championships. He started the 2006 World Cup final and helped Italy defeat France to become champions of the world. Camoranesi joined a group of Argentines including Raimundo Orsi, Luis Monti, and Attilio Demaria who won the World Cup with Italy in the 1930s.
Midfield- Franco Vazquez (Italy)
Vazquez made his name as a young player at Palermo alongside another dual eligible Argentine, Paolo Dybala. While Dybala opted for Argentina, Vazquez accepted a call to the Azzurri in 2015. He only made two international appearances and was not included in Italy’s 2016 Euros squad prompting something of a change of heart. His friendly appearances would still make Vazquez eligible for Argentina and with his former Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli now at the helm, the door isn’t completely closed on El Mudo.
Forward- Guillermo Franco (Mexico)
After beginning his career at San Lorenzo, Guillermo Franco first played in Mexico at the age of 25. Two and a half years later he obtained citizenship. Despite later stints at West Ham, Villarreal, and Velez Sarsfield the peak of his career was with Monterrey, where he was the Mexican league’s top scorer in 2004. Franco represented Mexico at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and was also in the team that won the 2009 Gold Cup, scoring in the final.
Forward- Lucas Barrios (Paraguay)
Born in Argentina to Paraguayan parents Lucas Barrios is a somewhat enigmatic figure. He has played for clubs in eight different countries, yet never in Paraguay. After a dazzling 52 goals in 59 games for Colo Colo he moved to Borussia Dortmund where he thrived again. Despite his strong form and supposed interest from then-national team coach Diego Maradona, Barrios was never selected and so accepted a call to the Paraguayan team in 2010. He played the World Cup that year as well as the Copa America tournaments of 2011 and 2015. He is probably the player on this list with the best club career before deciding to pledge his loyalty to another country.
Forward- David Trezeguet (France)
Born in France to Argentine parents, Trezeguet is the only player in this first eleven not born in Argentina. I’ve decided to include him because he was raised in Buenos Aires and developed as a footballer in the academy at Platense, where he made his professional debut. Although his peak club years were spent in France and Italy, he wound down his career at River Plate and subsequently Newell’s Old Boys. A World Cup winner with France in 1998, Trezeguet secured his place in history when he scored the golden goal against Italy in the Euro 2000 final, giving France the European title.
Andre Medrano is a writer, comic, and storyteller based in New York. He has performed at Upright Citizens Brigade, the Peoples’ Improv Theater, the Creek and the Cave and more. An American of Argentine descent he is a lifelong fan of football and follows the game in Argentina and elsewhere obsessively.