15 World Cup Stars Who Are Better for Their Club Than Their Country
With the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil now very much underway, we take a look at those stars at the tournament who tend to perform better for their club sides than they do their actual country.
And so, using statistics from Transfermarkt to compare a player’s past displays for both club and country, these are the 15 star men who appear more suited to the domestic than the international game.
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City and Argentina)
The brilliant Manchester City right-back may have made his Argentina debut a full nine years ago, however, it took the 29-year-old until 2010 to win a regular starting berth in his country’s back four.
And while part of the reason for Pablo Zabaleta’s lack of appearances on the international stage was obviously the presence of Javier Zanetti blocking his path to the first team, it also has a lot to do with the fact that the player has often struggled to replicate his scintillating club form when pulling on the Argentina jersey.
Leighton Baines (Everton and England)
The Everton left-back has been one of the most consistent players in his position in the Premier League over the course of his four-year international career to date. The 29-year-old has created 43 goals in his 281 encounters for the Toffees.
And yet, while the full-back may have only just begun to nail down a regular starting spot of late for the Three Lions, even in that short period of time, Leighton Baines has struggled to carry his club form over to the international stage.
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid and France)
At times during the striker’s seven-year international career, Karim Benzema has appeared a shadow of the deadly forward we have seen playing for Real Madrid since 2009. The Frenchman has scored a mind-boggling 71 goals in just 112 matches.
All of which makes the 26-year-old’s stop-start career with Les Bleus even more perplexing, with Benzema not even making his country’s squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
And despite the player's return to goalscoring form for France of late, including his brace against Honduras on Sunday, Benzema also went an incredible 1,222 minutes without scoring for France between June 2012 and October 2013.
David Silva (Manchester City and Spain)
Do not get me wrong: It is not as though the little midfield magician has been poor for his country during his eight-year international career to date. Far from it, with David Silva certainly shining for Spain in particular when they won Euro 2012.
However, there is also no denying that during that same period of time, the 28-year-old has been a far more consistently dangerous attacking force for the likes of both Valencia and Manchester City, especially the latter where the Spaniard has racked up a remarkable 27 goals and 64 assists in only 183 contests at Eastlands.
Jackson Martinez (FC Porto and Colombia)
The red-hot FC Porto striker may have been representing his country for the past five years now, however, due to Colombia possessing a plethora of equally high-quality players in his position, Jackson Martinez has been restricted to just seven goals in 26 internationals in that time.
And despite the South Americans losing star man Radamel Falcao to injury for this World Cup, the player who has netted an eye-catching 96 goals in only 160 matches for club sides Chivas and Porto since 2009 still only started Sunday’s Group C win over Greece on the substitutes bench.
Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray and Netherlands)
Sure, over the course of his past 100 caps since making his international bow back in 2003 the impish Netherlands playmaker has shone brightly, none more so than during both Euro 2008 and especially in his country’s run all the way to the final of the World Cup two years later.
However, those performances were the exception rather than the rule for Wesley Sneijder on the international stage, with the latter also coming on the back of his best-ever season in club football for Inter Milan. The playmaker was the inspiration behind the Nerazzurri’s treble-winning campaign.
And whether it be for Ajax, Real Madrid, Inter or even now Galatasaray, the 30-year-old has always for some reason tended to perform better domestically than for the Oranje.
Glen Johnson (Liverpool and England)
While the 29-year-old has been representing his country for the past 11 years now, at no real point in that time has Glen Johnson ever managed to truly convince as England’s right-back in a way that the player has done for his club sides during that same period.
As whether it be for Chelsea, Portsmouth and especially of late Liverpool, there’s no denying that the attack-minded full-back has been a far more reliable performer in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League than he has for the Three Lions.
Yaya Toure (Manchester City and Ivory Coast)
If Yaya Toure had played at the same level for Ivory Coast as he has done since joining Manchester City four years ago, then surely his country would not have underachieved so badly at both the World Cup and the Africa Cup of Nations during his 10-year international career.
In the north-west, the marauding midfielder has registered a remarkable 52 goals and 37 assists in only 183 contests for his club, and while the 31-year-old has at times displayed similar skills for The Elephants, especially at the 2008 and 2012 AFCONs, they have been nowhere near as often enough as for City.
Yohan Cabaye (Paris Saint-German and France)
The little playmaker has been the standout star for both Lille and Newcastle United over the course of the past four years, with Yohan Cabaye orchestrating proceedings in the centre of the park with a series of dominant displays that ultimately earned the midfielder a well-deserved £22 million move to Ligue 1 champions PSG in the recent January transfer window.
However, it has been much more of a struggle for the 28-year-old to impose himself while with France in the four years that Cabaye has been playing for his country, during which time the player has found the back of the net on just four occasions in 31 appearances.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal)
People may think it harsh to question a player who is their country’s all-time leading goalscorer, as Cristiano Ronaldo is for Portugal, having netted 49 times in just 112 appearances since making his international bow back in 2003.
However, when you are a two-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner and generally considered to be one of the greatest players of the modern era, then the standards by which one is measured are slightly higher than for mere mortals.
And when contrasting the playmaker’s form for Manchester United and Real Madrid over the past 11 years with that for his national team, then there is just no comparison, particularly for Los Blancos for which the Portuguese has recorded a breathtaking 252 goals and 81 assists in only the 246 appearances.
Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid and Argentina)
In the five years that the exciting wide man has been representing Argentina, Angel Di Maria could easily lay claim to be one of, if not the best players in his position in the world due to his mesmeric displays on the wing for both Benfica and Real Madrid.
And yet, the 2008 Olympics apart, the 26-year-old has never really turned in the same kind of performances for his country, for which he has scored only nine times in 48 internationals, as he has for his club sides. Especially since moving to the Santiago Bernabeu, where the flyer has registered a quite-unbelievable 36 goals and 87 assists in just 189 games.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium)
The Belgium public have long queried just why the impish playmaker has been unable to reproduce his scintillating club form of the past six years for both Lille and Chelsea on the international stage.
It took Hazard nearly three whole years to score his first goal for his country, while the 23-year-old—who was labelled the best young player in the world by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho in February—has only managed six in total for the Red Devils since making his debut in 2008.
Oscar (Chelsea and Brazil)
While the pint-sized playmaker has been featuring for the Selecao for three years now, it is fair to say that Oscar has still to fully win over his country’s ever-demanding fans and media with his displays for the five-time world champions. That was especially true in the buildup to this summer’s World Cup when some were even calling for the star to be dropped.
And that is because those back in Brazil know exactly what the highly promising 22-year-old is capable of, having seen how impressively the starlet has performed for the likes of both Internacional and Chelsea during that time. The attacking midfielder has managed to provide 38 goals and 38 assists in just 161 contests.
However, despite Oscar's impressive showing in Brazil's opening Group A win over Croatia, many would still prefer his Chelsea club-mate Willian to start in his place.
Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona and Argentina)
The fact that the four-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner’s strike to beat Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday night was Lionel Messi’s first goal in the World Cup finals since 2006, and only his second ever in the tournament, says all you need to know really about how differently the playmaker performs for club and country.
And while there is also no doubting that the new Argentina captain has finally begun to start resembling the superstar who regularly tears up defences across Europe for Barca since the appointment of Alejandro Sabella as national manager in August 2011, there is still a long way to go before the 26-year-old is thought of in the same affection by his country’s fans as by those at Camp Nou.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United and England)
The Manchester United frontman goes into Thursday’s crucial Group D encounter with Uruguay, incredibly, still searching for his first-ever World Cup goal, with debate raging back home in England as to whether the 28-year-old should even start the must-win fixture in Sao Paulo.
And with Wayne Rooney having flattered to deceive for his country at the finals of every international tournament he has competed in except for his first at Euro 2004, there can be no doubt at all that the player who has scored an impressive 216 goals in just 442 matches for United is better for his club than the Three Lions.