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Trinidad and Tobago's Gavin Hoyte (right) and brother Justin Hoyte (left) pose for a photo at the Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires before facing Argentina in a friendly match on June 4th, 2014.

Receiving a call-up to represent your country should be one of the biggest honours in sport, but for people with dual nationality, it can raise questions about cultural identity.

Jamal Musiala is one of hundreds of footballers eligible to represent more than one country. He scored for England Under-21s in a 5-0 victory over Albania in November 2020. Seven months later, he came off the bench for Germany’s senior side during their 2-0 loss to England in the last 16 of Euro 2020.

“I have a heart for Germany and a heart for England,” Musiala told The Athletic. “Both hearts will keep beating. In the end, I just listened to the feeling that over a long period kept telling me that it was the right decision to play for Germany, the land I was born in. Still, it wasn’t an easy decision.”

Tariq Lamptey is another player with dual eligibility. He watched from the bench when Musiala represented England Under-21s against Albania four years ago. Since then, he has represented Ghana at the 2022 World Cup.

Crystal Palace winger Michael Olise has been capped by France at under-18 and under-21 level, but could still represent the England, Nigeria or Algeria senior sides. FIFA rules were updated in 2020 to allow players who have no more than three senior appearances to switch if those appearances were under the age of 21 and not at a major tournament. Three years must also have passed since they played for the team from which they are switching.

Former Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool defender Steven Caulker switched to Sierra Leone (below) before the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. He had made one appearance for England in a friendly against Sweden and represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics, but his grandfather, William, came from the town of Bonthe in Sierra Leone. The defender told The Athletic that representing the African nation was “more than about just playing football”.

At this year’s tournament, which was held in Ivory Coast, around a third of the 629 players were born outside of Africa. Sebastien Haller, who scored the host nation’s winner in the final against Nigeria, grew up in France.

So how do players decide who they should represent? Should their first choice be the country they were born in or whoever calls them up first? What if they have a closer connection to the country their parents are from? And should a team’s competitiveness be a consideration?

The Athletic examined what it’s like to play for a country you didn’t grow up in.

Gavin Hoyte started his career in Arsenal’s academy, following in the footsteps of his older brother Justin. In 2007, when he was still 17, Arsene Wenger gave him his debut in an FA Cup fifth-round replay against Blackburn Rovers.

A few months later, he received a letter in the post saying he had been selected to represent England at the Under-17 European Championship in Belgium. He made two appearances at the tournament but was an unused substitute in the final, which they lost 1-0 to Spain.

England then qualified for the Under-17 World Cup in South Korea but, before it started, Hoyte was placed in a confusing position. His father, Les, was born in Trinidad & Tobago and they would be competing too.

“Liam Brady (Arsenal’s head of youth development and academy director at the time) called me into his office and said Trinidad wanted me to represent them,” Hoyte tells The Athletic.

“I was born in England and I had never been to Trinidad. They had already qualified and I didn’t feel I had the right to change and take somebody else’s place who maybe deserved it more than me for Trinidad.

“I was playing for Arsenal and doing quite well. A lot of boys dream of playing for England at Wembley and I just wanted to try to do that.”

Hoyte featured in all of England’s matches at the tournament, but they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Germany while Trinidad & Tobago finished bottom of their group.

The defender’s career progressed and in November 2008, he made his Premier League debut as a substitute in Arsenal’s 3-0 defeat to Manchester City. He signed a long-term contract in December, joined Watford on loan for the rest of the season, and went on to represent England’s under-18s, under-19s and under-20s.

However, he never established himself at Arsenal. He had loans to Brighton & Hove Albion, Lincoln City and AFC Wimbledon, but was released in 2012. He joined League Two side Dagenham & Redbridge and his performances caught the attention of Trinidad & Tobago’s manager.

“I got a message from the manager Stephen Hart,” Gavin says. “He said, ‘We have some games coming up and I want you to join us because you would be a good addition’. He then gave me a call and he was so encouraging it made my decision very easy.”

Hoyte was called up for two friendlies in June 2014. The squad met up on the main island, which gave him the opportunity to explore where his father and grandfather had grown up.

“A few of the players used to take me out, show me around town and get street food,” he says. “They could have thought, ‘He is a foreigner, he is not actually one of us, I don’t really want to speak to him’. But they weren’t like that at all. They were very good to me.”

His debut was as a substitute in their 3-0 defeat to Argentina, a game that also featured his brother Justin, who similarly switched from England youth levels to Trinidad & Tobago. It was Argentina’s penultimate warm-up match before the World Cup in Brazil and it was played at the Estadio Monumental.

“I just tried my best to take it all in,“ Hoyte says. ”I was playing for Dagenham in League Two in front of not that many fans and then suddenly you’re playing in Buenos Aires. Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Javier Mascherano were all there.

“It was packed with Argentinians and there was this little section of Trinidad fans making as much noise. I know my dad was watching and would have been so proud. My grandad passed away, but he used to keep all the newspaper clippings about our careers so he would have been proud too.”

Hoyte also came off the bench in a friendly against Iran, yet had to wait over 12 months before making his next appearance in a 2-1 win over Panama. It turned out to be the final time he would play for Trinidad & Tobago. The 33-year-old spent the last five seasons with sixth-tier side Maidstone United.

“To represent a country at any level is a big thing,” Hoyte says. “It’s definitely one of my biggest achievements along with making my debut in the Premier League. I’ve got a picture up on my wall in my bedroom of me and my brother in our Trinidad tracksuits at (Argentina’s) stadium.

“I still look back and think representing England at youth level was a massive achievement too, if you think of how many players there are in England. I didn’t make it to the senior side, but that’s just football.”

SOURCE: The Athletic