As we head into the summer transfer window, your favourite Premier League team will be searching for the hottest pieces of talent. In recent years, no corner of the globe has been left untouched, as teams are rightly ranking ability over country of origin. Players such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Victor Wanyama must face an entirely different prospect, and standard, when it comes to training with their international teammates, rather than their domestic compatriots. You recently may have spent some time thinking, “I hope my team signs a striker from the Faroe Islands”, or “Pakistan are doing well in this cricket match, I wonder how they’d get on in the Premier League”. This series is going to follow along those lines as I take a look at some of the players, from slightly more obscure countries, who have featured in the Premier League. I’ll delve into how they fared and, to roughly quote Rednex, where did they come from and where did they go.
Excluding any of the home nations, 106 countries have been represented by players in the Premier League, but this series will focus more on Cape Verde and Zambia, rather than Spain and Germany. Where possible, I’ll do one country per piece, but in many cases, such as this one, there may need to be several. I’ve decided, by blindly throwing a dart at a map, that we’ll start with the previously mentioned Cape Verde and Zambia. So without further ado, let’s dive straight into our first country.
Cape Verde is a group of volcanic islands off the west coast of Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean. Their football team are currently ranked 84th in the world, cushioned nicely between Belarus and Congo. The ‘Blue Sharks’ national stadium holds 15,000 people which is approximately 2.5% of the entire population. At this moment in time, only two Cape Verdeans (I think that’s the correct demonym) have stepped onto a Premier League football pitch.
Pelé (West Bromwich Albion 2008-09)
Don’t panic! You didn’t blink and miss one of the greatest footballers of all time playing for one of the most average teams of all time. The man who played centre-back for The Baggies was Pedro Miguel Cardoso Monteiro, rather than the more well-known, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but I can see where the confusion would lie. Pelé played for a handful of clubs in Portugal, the country of his birth, before moving to Southampton in 2006 for an undisclosed fee, which was believed to be around £1million.
After a successful season where he helped The Saints avoid relegation to League One, he was signed by West Brom before the start of the 2007 season, again for a fee of £1million. He made 13 league starts during his first season in the Championship, which ended in West Brom being promoted as champions. He even sat on the Wembley bench during the 1-0 semi-final loss to eventual FA Cup winners, Portsmouth. The following campaign was a lot more disappointing for our guy as he made just three Premier League appearances in 2008/09. West Brom were relegated and Pelé was released after his two-year contract wasn’t renewed. He was eventually picked up by Falkirk before moving on to a few English non-league sides. He is currently seeing out the twilight years of his career with AFC Totton in the Southern League Division One South & West. At the ripe old age of 39, it is unclear whether or not he will continue playing for another season.
Pelé played just 11 times for his national side, after he turned down call ups until 2006.
Cabral (Sunderland 2013-15)
AKA Adilson Tavares Varela, Cabral enjoyed a successful tenure with FC Basel, with whom he made 99 league appearances over a seven year span, which included winning five Swiss Super League titles. Positioned in a central defensive midfield role, he wasn’t a prolific goalscorer and netted just twice during that period.
Before the start of the 2013/14 season it was announced that Sunderland had signed Cabral on a free transfer. He promptly made his competitive debut in the opening game of the season against Fulham. He had an uneventful match as the Black Cats were on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline. However, it appeared that Paulo Di Canio had seen enough and Cabral failed to make another appearance all season. He was even loaned out to Italian side Genoa in the 2014 January window. His time with Sunderland was short and sweet as he was released via mutual consent in February 2015. He is currently plying his trade with FC Le Mont in the Swiss second tier, where he wears the number 88.
Cabral represented Switzerland from Under-18 to Under-21 level. However, after failing to break into the first team he switched playing nationality to the country of his birth, in order to play in a friendly against Ghana in 2012. This appears to have been a misjudged decision as he sat on the bench for that encounter and hasn’t been called up again since.
Zambia is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The Zambian national football team, nicknamed The Copper Bullets, are clinging on for dear life in the top 100 of the FIFA rankings (currently in 99th position). They have experienced recent success by winning the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in 2012. Two players from that victorious side have represented a team in the Premier League.
Collins Mbesuma (Portsmouth 2005-06)
Remember when Portsmouth were a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League and not counting pennies in League Two…sorry, League One (congratulations on promotion). Well, in July 2005, Alain Perrin (I’ve got no idea either) made the genius call of signing Collins Mbesuma from South African side Kaizer Chiefs. He had had a sensational season in the Premier Soccer League, scoring 27 goals in just 33 league appearances. For his triumphs, he was gifted with the PSL Player of the Season as well as the Golden Boot award. It also earned him a lucrative move to Portsmouth for an undisclosed fee.
However, he didn’t get off to the best of starts in England as it was noted that he arrived seemingly overweight, something that might have made him appeal more to Sam Allardyce who was reportedly interested while in charge of Bolton Wanderers. It didn’t get much better for the Zambian as he made just four substitute league appearances for Pompey in the first half of the 2005/06 season. He was swiftly loaned out to CS Maritimo in Portugal, ahead of the following campaign. Mbesuma would not return to Fratton Park as he was sold to Bursaspor, without starting a game in the Premier League and playing for just a total of 51 minutes. After spending time with a variety of other clubs, he would win the PSL Golden Boot award again in 2016, this time with the Mpumalanga Black Aces.
Mbesuma has played for Zambia since 2003 and has netted 24 times in 68 games, at a prolific rate of a goal every 2.83 matches. As was previously mentioned, he was part of the AFCON winning side in 2012.
Emmanuel Mayuka (Southampton 2012-15)
The final player for today is Emmanuel Mayuka who, after impressing domestically and in the Europa League for Swiss side BSC Young Boys, was snapped up by Southampton for a fee in the region of £3million. Sadly, Mayuka had a frustrating spell with The Saints and the only real contribution he made in the league was winning a penalty against Aston Villa, to help his side score their fourth goal in their first win of the 2012/12 campaign.
For the following year he was sent to France on a season-long loan deal with Sochaux. When he returned to Southampton at the start of 2015, Ronald Koeman said that he had “no future at the club”. He left England to join FC Metz in Ligue 2. Mayuka made 16 Premier League appearances without scoring. He did, however, take comfort from a solitary goal in the League Cup. He is currently playing in Egypt with Zamalek SC.
Mayuka had a successful AFCON 2012 as he won the Golden Boot award with three goals in the competition. He also scored in the Final’s penalty shootout, to help Zambia win 8-7 against the Ivory Coast. Overall he has 12 goals in 56 international appearances.