Fulham's summer signing, who will make Venezuela the 100th different overseas nation to be represented in the top flight, is honoured to put his country on the map
• Interactive map of Premier League of nations
And then there were 100. Fernando Amorebieta joined Fulham from Athletic Bilbao this summer and he had been looking forward to his moment for months only to miss the opening match of the season, the first day of a new league and a new life, through injury. It was not all bad news, though: while Amorebieta did not play last weekend, Southampton's new signing Victor Wanyama did. Wanyama is from Kenya: the 99th overseas nation to be represented in the Premier League. No100 will now be Amorebieta's birthplace, a small piece of history forever his.
He had no idea but it is, he says, an honour. It is also a long story. Amorebieta joined Fulham from the club that famously plays only Basque players, a kind of unofficial national team for Euskadi; the defender was brought up through the club and made his first-team debut at 17. He won the European Under-19 championships with Spain in 2004 and four years later Vicente del Bosque called him up for Spain's senior squad. But it is not Spain, nor the Basque Country, that Amorebieta represents; it is Venezuela.
Amorebieta was born in Cantaura in Venezuela in March 1985. His father was a professional pelota player, dedicated to the most traditional Jai Alai version of the sport, a kind of fives or squash where players have a long basket attached to their wrists and hurl the ball at a wall at great speeds; the record stands at more than 300 kilometres per hour and the Basque government insists it is the fastest sport in the world. Bets, thrown round the arena on pieces of paper, travel almost as fast.
Symbolic of the Basque Country, Jai Alai became popular in Latin America and the United States, anywhere with an expatriate community where people could bet, and was beloved too of Ernest Hemingway, Walt Disney and Pancho Villa. "My father went to play pelota vasca in the US, in Miami and Orlando, and from there he went to retire in Venezuela. That's why I was born there," Amorebieta explains. "But then when my parents divorced, I came back to Spain at the age of two."
In 2008 he was included in the Spain squad for a friendly against Denmark but did not play. Venezuela were already monitoring the situation and when the rule preventing him from representing them because he had played for Spain at youth level was repealed in 2009, contact was made. Amorebieta wrote a formal letter to Fifa and requested a Venezuelan ID card. He was called up in August 2010 but the paperwork had still not been completed. Besides, the then Athletic coach, Joaquín Caparrós, opposed the idea and the chance of a Spain call-up had not disappeared entirely.
But when Del Bosque overlooked Amorebieta again in the summer of 2011, the player spoke to the president of the Venezuelan federation and later that year he played his first game for the country he was born in. A month later he scored the winner against Argentina.
"That was a difficult decision," he says. "But it's a decision I'm proud of. I've always felt entirely at home there. It was a great chance to play with a national team like Venezuela that is growing, ambitious, improving, chasing qualification for the World Cup. It's been wonderful. I could see that it was a nice project for me and that I could help, really contribute to doing something important.
"The first day was different. I turned up at the squad, joining team-mates who I didn't know, who didn't know me. But they were very welcoming and in my first official game we beat Argentina at home in a packed stadium and I scored – so imagine how they welcomed me then!"
Now, the Basque-Spanish-Venezuelan has made another move – this time to England. It is one that he thinks will suit him well, on and off the pitch. London called; it called his wife especially, who loves the city. Much has already changed since he signed on a free transfer: Fulham have a new owner, Shahid Khan having bought the club from Mohamed Al Fayed, other new signings too, and they won their opening game at Sunderland without him.
Now he just wants to get started. Fitness and form permitting, he will make his debut against Arsenal on Saturday. "I had gone round and round thinking about leaving Athletic. It wasn't an easy decision but I wanted to experience something different," says the 28-year-old. "If I had not gone I would have regretted it."
For some the move may look like a backwards step. Amorebieta is swift: "No," he says, "for me it's a step forward. The Premier League, London and Fulham: a very welcoming club, a family club, one that has a special warmth. They have a long, important history, it's the oldest club in London and that really attracted me. There were other clubs, but Fulham was the option I liked best.
"London makes quite a difference. If you need to travel home, it's closer and easier; there are flights every day. We're away from home and that may be hard but that doesn't frighten me. In fact, it's exciting."
The first step is linguistic; the question is inevitable. How's your English? "Well," Amorebieta grins, "bit by bit. I'm taking classes and have been for months. But the most important thing is quickly to feel part of the team, to contribute.
"That's my short-term aim. In the long term, I'd love to be able to see out my [four-year] contract here.
"And if in that time I have been able to prove myself, play well and win them over and they want me to continue, then I'd be delighted and I would think about it. I'd love to play in England for a long time."
In theory, at least, Amorebieta has the qualities to "win them over". Athletic have always been considered the most English of Spanish clubs and Amorebieta fits that prototype. "I'm a player who gives everything," he says. "I'm a player who goes in very hard all the time, sometimes too hard because in the Spanish league the slightest touch and you get a foul against you. It's true that at times I have to rein in that impetus, that fight, yet it's also true that if I did not have that I wouldn't be the player I am.
"But in England it's totally different. People tell me that the player who is 'hard' or 'dirty' in Spain is 'committed' in England. There are different interpretations, a different culture, and that might help me. I think I'm going to like it and I hope they like me."
Basque, Spanish, Venezuelan – and an English centre-back, then? Amorebieta smiles. "Well," he laughs, "I hope to be."