The Ultimate Guide To Footballers Playing International Matches

Last updated on August 1st, 2022

Every professional footballer has a country of origin, no matter how obscure the country may be.

Different people have differing opinions regarding international matches and players in these matches. Oftentimes, conflicts may arise between clubs and national teams over their players and their availability, making it essential to understand what a footballer’s rights over his international team are ,and what the international team’s rights over its players are. 

Here’s what you need to know about some ‘rules’ regarding international footballers.

The Country of Origin in Fashion
The Country of Origin in Fashion
Do football players get paid when they play for their country?

For many professional players, representing their national team is a great privilege that they dream of from the very beginning of their careers. They feel fulfilled to represent their country on the football pitch and see it as a great honour. However, this does not mean that players do not get paid when they don their international colours. 

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Players earn money for playing for their national teams, but this amount differs from country to country. The money paid to these players is usually in the form of:

  1. International match fees
  2. Match bonuses
  3. Allowances

As a result, when players are on international duty, it becomes the responsibility of their country to take care of their welfare. This will include paying them for the time they spend in the national team camp. 

Most times, the exact amount of money paid to these players is not revealed by their national federation, but it is usually a small amount compared to what the players earn playing for their clubs. 

In the 2018 World Cup, it was revealed that France paid its players an equivalent of £17,000 per match. In his generosity, Kylian Mbappe donated everything to charity to support disabled children to have access to sporting activities.

By default, countries are not obliged to pay their players after matches but do so as an incentive to make them feel valued. In international competitions, countries are paid directly by FIFA/UEFA/CONMEBOL/CAF/CONCACAF, after which they pay their players according to their discretion

You can find out how FIFA differs from UEFA here.

Before the commencement of any competition, national federations usually promise their players huge sums of money to motivate them to perform at their best level and win the competition.

There have been numerous situations where national team players have been forced to embark on a strike or protest because their allowances and bonuses were not paid. 

In June 2014, Nigeria’s Super Eagles deliberately boycotted a training session and threatened to boycott their Round of 16 clash against France due to unpaid bonuses. The situation was resolved, and the players took to the pitch against Les Bleus.

The same Super Eagles are still owed their performance-related bonuses accrued from winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations! These bonuses were supposed to have been paid by some private stakeholders, but the players are still to be paid.

Can a club refuse a player to play for his country?

In an ideal world, a national federation should have established contact with a club when they want to invite their player(s) to represent the national team. Once this is done, the club has no right to hold the players back except under some special conditions. 

FIFA has rules in place to handle this situation.

Principle 1.1 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of players states: “Clubs are obliged to release their registered players to the representative teams of the country for which the player is eligible to play based on his nationality if they are called up by the association concerned. Any agreement between a player and a club to the contrary is prohibited.”

There are, however, specific conditions that can change this. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, English and Scottish football clubs mandated that their players should not visit some parts of Africa due to the number of cases in those countries. An example of this was when Liverpool refused to release Salah in 2021 due to quarantine restrictions he would face when he returned from Egypt.

For this reason, many African countries allowed their players to miss matches in these regions, conceding to the request of the clubs.

You can find out why Scottish clubs aren’t in the Premier League here.

However, there have been cases where clubs explicitly asked their players to disregard call-ups to the national team, especially when they fall outside the general FIFA window

This is especially true of African players and the Africa Cup of Nations, which usually takes place in January/February. It often leads to a conflict between the player and club, causing them to fall out with each other. 

Odion Ighalo, for example, revealed that he secured a transfer away from his Saudi club Al-Shabab because they refused him permission to represent Nigeria at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. 

Under normal circumstances, the clubs cannot prevent their players from playing for their country unless they first confer with the country’s football association. Sometimes, club managers ask the countries not to include their players because they may be carrying an injury or have just recovered from one. This was seen in the case of Reece James, who England manager Gareth Southgate called up in March 2022 despite being a distance from full fitness.

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel prompted the club hierarchy to speak to Southgate, and the case was resolved with James remaining with his club.

Do footballers have to play for their country?

While many footballers dream of representing their country, many do not feel obligated to represent their national team and instead choose to sit out of international matches entirely. FIFA’s rules do not make it mandatory for a player to play international football throughout their career, so some players choose not to. 

Many players have decided against playing for their country for different reasons. For example, Fernando Redondo only made 29 appearances for Argentina in his career despite being one of the world’s best defensive midfielders at the time.

This was because he rejected numerous call-ups from different coaches for reasons ranging from a difference in tactical systems, discipline in the squad, and his studies. 

Similarly, Chelsea winger Hakim Ziyech is currently not a member of Morocco’s national team after a falling out with manager Vahid Halilhodzic. The winger has made himself unavailable for selection, essentially ending his time with the national team.

Also, footballers can call time on their international careers to focus on their club commitments. Most players retire from international football a few years before they retire from the game altogether

For example, Jamie Vardy retired from international football in 2018 to give chances to younger strikers and informed England’s manager of his decision. Similarly, Italy and AS Roma legend Francesco Totti retired from international football in 2007, a decade before he hung up his boots in 2017. 

Once a player decides to retire from international football, he ceases to be considered for selection except if he rescinds his decision to retire. At one point, a player like David Villa decided to make a comeback from international retirement.

Ighalo also returned from his international retirement at a time.

Players who refused to play for their national team

There have been several cases of players refusing to play for their national team for various reasons, ranging from personal to tactical ones. This is most common among African players who are eligible to represent other countries as they like to hold out until such an opportunity presents itself. 

Usually, there are no consequences for the players when they do not appear for a national team, but many of them are left with regrets at the end of their careers. 

Here are some examples of some players who refused to represent their country;

#1 Nedum Onuoha

Manchester City academy graduate Nedum Onuoha is an example of a player who opted against playing for his national team and ultimately ended his career with zero international appearances. 

The former Manchester City and QPR defender was born in Warri, Nigeria, to Nigerian parents but moved to the UK as a child and was raised in England. When he turned professional, he received a call-up to represent Nigeria’s senior national team, the Super Eagles but declined the offer

He stated that he decided to reject Nigeria’s callup twice because he wanted to be a regular in the Manchester City team. Nigeria did not extend another call-up to him after that, and he ended up not playing for any international side throughout his career.

#2 Kekuta Manneh

Gambian forward Kekuta Manneh was born in Bakau, Gambia, a West African country. He began his professional career in The Gambia before moving abroad to the USA in search of greener pastures. The Gambian national team approached the 27-year-old to represent them internationally, but he declined, instead holding out to play for the USA.

He became an American citizen in 2016 and eventually got called up for the USA in 2018. However, he has never played a match for the USMNT.

#3 Oleguer 

Former FC Barcelona right-back Oleguer is another player who refused to play for his country. The Spaniard was called up to the national team by manager Luis Aragones, only to inform the manager that he did not feel motivated enough to accept the invitation. 

He refused to represent Spain due to his Catalan background and ended his career without making a single appearance for the Spanish national team.

Honourable mention: Joel Matip

Liverpool defender Joel Matip was first called up to the Cameroon national team in 2009, but he opted against accepting the invitation. He eventually played for the country between 2010 and 2015 before retiring. 

He refused subsequent call-ups, citing his dislike for the coaching staff and national team set-up. After Cameroon qualified for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, however, there were rumours that the former Schalke 04 man was ready to represent the country again, but Cameroon FA president Samuel Eto’o quickly shot down the possibility.

However, the rumours had no basis and would not count as valid.


Club and international football may clash against one another, especially when it comes to players representing their countries.

This may result in some friction between the two!

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