Ranking the 10 Best Non-World Cup Players in the Bundesliga
Clubs from the Bundesliga sent more players to the World Cup than those from any other league. The German top flight had more representatives than any other at every stage of the tournament, the gulf in representatives increasing steadily with each round.
Yet, despite the abundance of talent representing the Bundesliga in Brazil, many among the league’s best players actually were not present at the summer tournament.
Only 32 nations qualified, and the Bundesliga’s large pool of stars from countries like neighbors Austria and Poland, among others, could not have participated. Others may have been selected by countries that qualified, but missed out due to injuries.
B/R has weighed the Bundesliga’s World Cup absentees against one another, assessing their quality with emphasis on individual performance during the 2013-14 season. Click “Begin Slideshow” to start the countdown, beginning with No. 10.
10) Stefan Kiessling
Stefan Kiessling is perhaps a victim of the movement in modern football toward emphasizing skill on the ball in all positions and minimizing traditional "killer" attributes in strikers.
The 30-year-old has been prolific at club level in recent years but had a falling-out with Germany coach Joachim Low, who has tended toward using smaller, more dynamic players in the forward position without worrying much about their individual propensity to create goals.
By the numbers, Kiessling is an excellent striker. He finished last season with 19 goals and seven assists; the year before his figures stood at 27 scored and 10 set up.
He's both tall and strong, has great finishing ability with his head and feet and, despite his limited skill on the ball, regularly manages to assist goals.
However, Kiessling isn't seen as a good fit in Low's system and was left out of the German World Cup squad. It's a shame, as most countries would see him as a big asset.
9) Hakan Calhanoglu
Last season was only Hakan Calhanoglu's first competing at a level higher than the 3. Liga, but the Mannheim-born attacker adapted quickly and became invaluable for Hamburg.
His 11 goals and four assists may have made the difference in HSV's fight to avoid their first-ever relegation from the 1. Bundesliga to the second tier.
Now at Leverkusen, the 20-year-old continues to make big strides in his career. He gave two assists in the club's 3-2 Champions League playoff first-leg clash with Kobenhavn and, with much thanks to Calhanoglu, the Werkself have won all three matches of the season thus far.
An all-round attacking talent with strength, dribbling and shooting ability and a creative flair, Calhanoglu could yet become a big star of world football. At just 20 years of age, he's still far from his peak.
8) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Known especially for his superlative pace, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is not only a speed demon but a hugely talented footballer.
The Dortmund winger-forward is sometimes too fast for his own good, his foot speed lowering his control. But when settled, he has a keen eye for goal and a powerful and accurate shot from close and long range. Dribbling in its purest definition isn’t exactly Aubameyang’s strength, but when he has space to kick the ball into, he’s rarely second to it.
Had he opted to represent France, the country of his birth, there’s no doubt Aubameyang would have starred at the World Cup. But he instead opted to stick with his roots and play for a Gabon team that couldn’t qualify. The World Cup would most certainly have been a better spectacle with him involved.
7) Roberto Firmino
Roberto Firmino was unlucky not to be at the World Cup after having a sensational 2013-14 season at Hoffenheim.
Luiz Felipe Scolari was criticized for his selection for the tournament, and although not overtly mentioned in media, perhaps his biggest mistake was opting not to include the 22-year-old as part of his plans.
Firmino ended last season with 22 goals and 16 assists in 37 games in all competitions for Hoffenheim, his prolificacy placing him among the elite Bundesliga players like Marco Reus and Thomas Muller.
After stagnating in the previous season, the versatile Brazilian forward took a huge step in his career: Like Calhanoglu, he proved to be a complete package in attack, capable of creating chances for himself and teammates and finishing with the efficiency of a striker.
It's no wonder why Transfermarkt has increased his appraisal from €11 million in June of 2013 to €25 million at present.
6) Thiago Alcantara
Last season was somewhat of a breakthrough campaign for Thiago Alcantara as, after several years of frustration at Barcelona, he took the next step in his career at Bayern.
The 23-year-old verified his class with some brilliant displays in the midfield, although injuries limited him to just 25 appearances for club and later forced him out of contention to play for Spain at the World Cup.
When he did play, Thiago proved himself an enormous asset for Bayern when in possession.
Like Ilkay Gundogan at Dortmund, he added a No. 10's accent to a more withdrawn position: He not only distributed well in deep areas, but he had the control and agility to dribble through crowded spaces and the creativity to play his teammates through on goal as well.
Apparently chosen by the Bayern management to succeed Toni Kroos, Thiago looks set to become a cornerstone of Pep Guardiola's side once fit.
5) David Alaba
Whether as a left-back, central midfielder, left-winger or, as he has played more recently, a center back, David Alaba’s class varies from proficient to world-class.
The Austria international is arguably the best left-sided defender in the world and has all the makings of a great central midfielder, but even when used in wide midfield and central defense, he’s passable.
Such versatility speaks volumes of how much of a “pure” footballer he is.
Alaba has the gift of technique that is highly uncommon for a natural defensive player, and that and his distributive abilities make him an assured player when in possession.
As a defender, he has enough strength to play at least in a wide position and is explosively quick, making him an excellent ball-winner.
It’s a shame that the 22-year-old Alaba missed the World Cup, but the unfortunate reality of being an Austria international is that qualifying for major international tournaments will always be more difficult than for nations like Germany and Spain.
4) Bernd Leno
A list of Bundesliga talents would not be complete without the presence of at least one goalkeeper. And with Marc-Andre ter Stegen having left Gladbach for Barcelona, the runaway candidate for best Bundesliga goalkeeper not present at the World Cup is Bernd Leno.
A Bundesliga professional at the age of 19, Leno was rated by Kicker as the joint-third-best player in the Bundesliga in his debut season.
In the most recent campaign, he placed fourth. A player of uncommon maturity considering his age, and one with outstanding reflexes and shot-stopping ability, Leno has the class to one day play at a top club and even contend for a starting role with Germany.
3) Franck Ribery
Some may claim he’s on the decline, but Franck Ribery is a hugely talented player who, at the beginning of the year, nearly won the Ballon d’Or.
He’s been the heartbeat of the Bayern Munich attack ever since 2007; that the Frenchman has retained his integral role despite the additions and emergence of Arjen Robben, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze and more exemplifies how great a player he is.
An exceptional dribbler with an immaculate first touch and ingenious playmaking instincts, Ribery for years has contributed to goals (mostly by being the setup man) at a rate of at or near one per game.
The 31-year-old only missed the World Cup due to an injury sustained shortly before the tournament. With him in the squad, they might have overcome Germany in the quarterfinal.
2) Robert Lewandowski
There are few strikers in today’s game who boast a record comparable to that of Robert Lewandowski. Although not as flamboyant as Luis Suarez or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Bayern man has at a younger age scored more goals in a Champions League campaign—and many more in the knockout rounds—than either of his comparisons. And his work rate is rivaled by few.
Lewandowski is a great role model for aspiring strikers.
He understands his strengths and weaknesses and rarely tries to do more (or less) than he can. He puts in an industrious shift up front, involves himself in the build-up play and has the finesse and killer instinct to work himself into high-probability scoring opportunities—and finish them clinically.
Lewandowski’s presence was missed at the World Cup, which sorely missed the presence of the ex-BVB man and his Polish colleagues who failed to qualify for the tournament in Brazil.
1) Marco Reus
It was a close call, but Marco Reus edges Lewandowski in a head-to-head comparison. Once named the German Footballer of the Year, the 25-year-old finished just behind Manuel Neuer in this year’s voting despite an injury ruling him out of the World Cup. Had he gone to Brazil, odds are that he would have run away with the honor for a second time.
Reus’ 2013-14 season was his best yet and exemplified his versatility. He scored 23 goals and assisted 23 more in 44 games in all competitions.
Simply put, he’s a complete package as an attacking player. The Dortmund man is equally gifted as a scorer and creator, capable of finishing with both feet from short and long distance, exceptionally fast and agile and an outstanding dribbler.
Whereas most top players excel in one way or another, Reus is one of the most complete, well-rounded players in today’s game.
That’s what put him ahead of the likes of Lewandowski and Ribery in this list.