Winning a World Cup is the greatest accomplishment a player could ever achieve with their national team… but what about then still being able to go on to represent a different nation entirely?
It sounds like a ludicrous proposition. A surely impossible one, right?
Yet, French goalkeeper Alphonse Areola could have done exactly that. The Paris Saint-Germain shot stopper found himself in a situation so bizarre that it had likely never happened before, and is unlikely to do so again.
Areola was a part of the France squad assembled by Didier Deschamps that took Russia by storm in the 2018 World Cup and lifted the trophy come the final whistle in Moscow on 15 July.
He was third choice goalkeeper, behind Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandanda, but was part of the 23-man squad all the same. Areola is part of the celebrations with the squad, and took his turn lifting the famous trophy aloft.
And yet, there remained one incredible catch. He had never made a senior international appearance for France.
Despite having received his first call up in October 2015, the Paris-born goalkeeper had always taken his place on the bench, watching on as Les Bleus achieved their success.
That meant that Areola – given that both his parents were of Filipino heritage – was still entirely eligible to represent the Philippines at international level. Even after having won international football’s highest accolade with an entirely different nation; France.
Now, obviously, Areola was not likely ever considering a dramatic late switch to the Philippines. The 26-year-old had his eyes and heart set on a place between the sticks for France, and was certainly a good enough keeper to justify it.
However, it’s just a fun and wildly unusual situation to consider. Had it been a nation whose national team is of a stronger calibre to the Philippines, a fellow World Cup contender say, and Areola could have legitimately – entirely in keeping with the rules of FIFA and international football – won World Cups with two entirely separate nations.
That would possibly be the greatest story in international football.
As it is, Areola did not opt to make a shock switch across continents to play for the Philippines and instead his patience paid off. With a thigh injury ruling out Lloris, Areola made his senior international debut for France in the UEFA Nations League (putting an end to this possible scenario) and put in a man of the match performance.
He has since earned a second France cap and is playing fairly regularly in Ligue 1 this season for Paris Saint-Germain, with the future looking bright for the France star.
However, how things could have so incredibly different had he done the unthinkable and begun representing a nation different to the one he won the World Cup with.