Norwich’s Hernandez makes history as first Cuban player in Premier League

Stephen Pond
The winger made his debut in a loss to Liverpool, bringing the league total to 114 countries to have been represented over the course of its history

Norwich City’s Onel Hernandez made a bit of history on Friday as he became the first Cuban player to set foot on the pitch in a Premier League match.  

Though he was born in Cuba, Hernandez came up in the German football system, making his professional debut with Arminia Bielefeld in 2. Bundesliga back in 2010.  

Having bounced around the lower levels in German, the 26-year-old impressed enough with Eintracht Braunschweig to earn a move to Norwich in January of 2018 and helped the club finish top of the table in the Championship last season, scoring eight times in 39 league appearances.  

Hernandez emigrated to Germany with his mother at the age of six, and while he has been called up to represent Cuba at the international level he has never been allowed to play in any matches for the country due to political rules that prohibit players based outside the country from playing with the national team.  

Cuba adds to a long list of nations to have been represented in the Premier League, with the Concacaf nation now the 114th country to have seen at least one player play in England's top flight competition.  

Hernandez has not followed the traditional route for Cuban players, who have a history of defecting to the United States as they search for professional playing opportunities.  

The Cuban Under-23 national side famously saw seven players defect following an Olympic qualifier hosted in the United States in 2008, while as many as 13 players defected in 2015 across the full national team and youth side.  

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Twelve more players defected from the U-20 side in 2018, and the 2019 Gold Cup saw four others leave the national team.  

Maykel Galindo and Osvaldo Alonso have been among the most successful of the defecting players, having strung together strong careers in Major League Soccer and the lower levels in the United States. 

Cuba lost all three matches at the 2019 Gold Cup and was bounced at the group stage, though they did make the quarter-finals of the competition in both 2013 and 2015 and made the penultimate stage of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.