Ranking the 20 Best Non-World Cup Players in La Liga
Javier Tebas, the president of La Liga in Spain, might have been joking when he said he wanted the best 500 players to be plying their trade in his country's top flight, but there's certainly little doubt that Spain houses some of the world's finest, including the new summer additions of a handful of World Cup stars.
By the nature of the World Cup and the multitude of nationalities accounted for in La Liga, not every big star of the top flight was on show in Brazil this summer, however.
Neymar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might have been the star names going into the finals, but La Liga has a plethora of talents who didn't travel to South America.
Here we take a look at 20 of the best of them: Eligibility is, of course, based first and foremost on players not being named in the final 23 of their nations' World Cup squads and being currently registered with a La Liga side for the 2014-15 season. Order is based largely on what the players achieved last season, but also on their potential for the upcoming campaign.
A handful who didn't quite make the cut:
Carlos Martinez, Spain and Real Sociedad
Sergio Garcia, Spain and Espanyol
Alfred Finnbogason, Iceland and Real Sociedad
Cristian Ansaldi, Argentina and Atletico Madrid
Adriano, Brazil and Barcelona
Roberto Trashorras, Spain and Rayo Vallecano
Diego Lopez, Spain and Real Madrid
Andre Gomes, Portugal and Valencia
Ignacio Camacho, Spain and Malaga
Pablo Piatti, Argentina and Valencia
20. Nicolas Otamendi, Argentina and Valencia
Valencia signed Nicolas Otamendi in January, but he spent the last part of last season on loan in Brazil.
This summer he has returned to Spain and has played his part in Valencia's pre-season programme, figuring in the centre of defence, his preferred position.
Otamendi missed out on Argentina's World Cup squad with the likes of Federico Fernandez, Martin Demichelis and Ezequiel Garay named ahead of him.
19. Mateo Musacchio, Argentina and Villarreal
Mateo Musacchio similarly missed out on Argentina's run to the World Cup final, despite impressing in La Liga last term as Villarreal challenged for a European position.
He has only briefly been involved with the national side, so it was perhaps expected that he did not make the cut this time around.
Musacchio is a composed and talented player who showed terrific form defensively last season.
18. Gerard Deulofeu, Spain and Barcelona
Gerard Deulofeu's talents sneak him into our top 20, as we take a bit of a leap of faith as to what he could achieve with Barcelona this season—though he'll play the part of super sub.
Being on the verge of the Spanish national team prior to the World Cup highlights his level of ability, though, and if he makes an impact with Barca domestically, he has every chance of being involved in the Euro 2016 qualifications.
Deulofeu impressed on loan at Everton in the Premier League last season, though he was frequently used from the bench there, too.
17. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Germany and Barcelona
Sticking with Barcelona, it was a case of all-change in the goalkeeping department this summer.
German youngster Marc-Andre ter Stegen joined as, presumably, the first choice, though Claudio Bravo gives Barca significant depth in that area.
Great reflexes and distribution, as well as a good reach and a strong presence in his six-yard box, make ter Stegen one of the highest-rated young stoppers in Europe right now, but he certainly has errors in his game, too, which Barcelona will demand he stamps out quickly.
16. Aymeric Laporte, France and Athletic Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao's young defender Aymeric Laporte made great strides last year, playing almost every league game throughout the season and helping his team to fourth place.
Laporte has shown great maturity in his game over the past 12 months, reading the game well and showing good consistency as he's become an integral part of the side.
Being of French nationality, he has some quality young defenders ahead of him, such as Mamadou Sakho and Raphael Varane.
15. Ikechukwu Uche, Nigeria and Villarreal
We'll start at the top—there was really no excuse for Nigeria not to call up Ukechukwu Uche.
The Villarreal striker was in fine form last season, scoring 14 goals in 19 starts, which could have been considerably more if it were not for injury.
Instead, Nigeria went with the likes of Shola Ameobi and Michael Uchebo to lead their line. Ah well.
14. Alberto Moreno, Spain and Sevilla
Spanish left-back Alberto Moreno was in the preliminary squad for his country and played his part in the warm-up games, before missing out on the final 23.
He was one of Sevilla's stars last season and ended as a UEFA Europa League winner after the team's success over Benfica in the final.
Moreno is quick to get forward and is adept at getting involved in the final third, but is also an aggressive tackler and looks to pressurise opponents quickly.
13. Guilherme Siqueira, Brazil/Spain and Atletico Madrid
Guilherme Siqueira is uncapped at the senior international level, though three of "his" countries were present at the World Cup.
Born in Brazil, Siqueira has an Italian passport and is also eligible to represent Spain, having received his citizenship in 2013.
The left-back joined Atletico Madrid this summer after a successful loan spell at Benfica saw him win a domestic treble of two cups and the Liga Sagres title.
12. Iker Muniain, Spain and Athletic Bilbao
Iker Muniain enjoyed a return to some of his best form in 2013-14, scoring seven times as Athletic reached fourth place in the league.
His dribbling and ability to trouble defenders has always been one of his biggest traits, along with good pace and a selfless approach in the final third.
He will be all the better for a year in the Champions League if Bilbao reach the group stages, and could conceivably add to his solitary international cap over the coming season.
11. Jan Oblak, Slovenia and Atletico Madrid
It was always going to be tough to replace Thibaut Courtois once his long-term loan ended, so Atletico Madrid have spent big to bring Jan Oblak to the Vicente Calderon in his stead.
The Slovenian had no chance of being involved at the World Cup after his side failed to qualify, finishing behind Iceland and Switzerland.
He was part of Benfica's almost-all-conquering side last season, winning the domestic treble with new Atleti team-mate Siqueira.
10. Iñigo Martinez, Spain and Real Sociedad
Another talented Spaniard now is central defender Iñigo Martinez, who will be one of several hoping to press his claim in the upcoming season to fill the void left by the likes of Carles Puyol and Raul Albiol with the national team.
The Real Sociedad centre-back is a confident player on the ball, able to bring possession out of defence into midfield and initiate attacks from deep. He isn't the strongest but reads the game very well and tends to hold off forwards rather than directly confront opponents in the challenge.
Martinez has won one Spanish cap so far, at the beginning of last season.
9. Isco, Spain and Real Madrid
Isco started last season extremely well for Real Madrid, a big part of the team and a penalty box presence from his No. 10 position, but faded as the season went on—due in no small part to a team tactical alteration.
The Spanish attacker has plenty of quality to his game and is already a full international, though he will have to work extremely hard to win any kind of regular starting role this coming term.
Had he remained in the Real side, he would have been a contender for the Spain World Cup squad.
8. Jese Rodriguez, Spain and Real Madrid
Another potential squad member for Spain's World Cup exploits was Real Madrid's Jese.
The forward enjoyed a productive season as Real's super sub, scoring goals off the bench and eventually earning a place in the team, before injury ended his season and his World Cup hopes in the process.
He has yet to win a senior cap.
7. Arda Turan, Turkey and Atletico Madrid
Turkish attacking midfielder Arda Turan won La Liga with Atletico Madrid and reached the Champions League final, just falling short of winning that in the end, too.
Turkey, of course, did not make the World Cup this time around, being bested by Netherlands, Romania and Hungary in qualification.
Turan showed all his creativity, work-rate and technical ability for Atleti, mainly from a left midfield position, playing an important role in the team's success last season.
6. Raul Garcia, Spain and Atletico Madrid
Sticking with Atletico for now, Raul Garcia played a huge and, at times, unexpected role for the side throughout the season.
Not unexpected in his ability, which has always been of a high level, but in that Garcia turned into an important goalscorer for the side. He was a real team player who filled in at three or four different positions and combined the work-rate his manager demands with the technical level required to win top trophies.
Raul Garcia was a regular for Spain at youth level but has never been capped at senior level.
5. Miranda, Brazil and Atletico Madrid
Garcia and Turan's team-mate Miranda would have hoped for a dramatic World Cup call-up with the finals taking place in his home nation of Brazil, but he has infrequently appeared for his country, winning just seven caps to date.
Miranda did, however, play a huge part in Atletico's title triumph, making a rock-solid pairing with Diego Godin at the heart of the Atleti defence.
Quick over ground and able to sweep up passes behind the defence, Miranda is not afraid of making challenges and is always alert to react to danger inside the penalty box. He'll be vital in their defence of the title once more.
4. Markel Susaeta, Spain and Athletic Bilbao
Another Spaniard now, Markel Susaeta has an international record which reads one cap, one goal—but he hasn't had the chance to add to that since 2012.
The Athletic Bilbao winger was in terrific form for his side last season, scoring six and claiming 12 assists throughout the campaign to help Bilbao into fourth place.
With Pedro, David Silva, Jesus Navas and the like all to contend with at international level, his solitary cap is really more of a reflection of Spain's immense depth than his own levels of ability.
3. Carlos Vela, Mexico and Real Sociedad
One of the top few scorers in La Liga last season, Carlos Vela's participation in the World Cup should never really have been in question, but he has not enjoyed a good relationship with the Mexican federation down the last few years and, as such, did not commit to playing with the side.
At Real Sociedad last season, Vela played in a free role from the right side of the attack, often appearing centrally, too.
He scored 16 and added 12 assists, perhaps the most productive player in the final third from outside the top three clubs.
2. Gabi, Spain and Atletico Madrid
It seems incredible after his performances last season, but Atletico Madrid captain and midfield general Gabi has never been capped by Spain.
Admittedly, the competition for positions in that area of the field has been rather fierce over the past half a decade!
Still, Gabi showed a tremendous combination of attacking threat and incision, defensive solidity and tactical dominance to rule La Liga from the centre of the park last year and lift the league title.
1. Gareth Bale, Wales and Real Madrid
Top of the pile has to be Real Madrid's Gareth Bale, who, after a difficult start, showed himself as one of the most effective attackers in world football.
Bale scored 15 league goals and added 12 assists in his debut La Liga campaign, playing from the right side of Real Madrid's attack and being an unstoppable force with his driving runs, searing pace and ability to shoot from anywhere around the edge of the penalty box.
His Champions League goal meant he scored and won two trophies in his first season in Spain, the Copa del Rey being the other, though being of Welsh nationality, he is not likely to ever appear at the World Cup final—Wales finished behind Scotland, Serbia, Croatia and Belgium in qualification.