World Cup 2014 Superstars: Where Are the Top 25 Players Now?
It has been more than 250 days since Germany lifted the World Cup in the Maracana Stadium—the glorious ending to a tournament that thrilled everyone who witnessed it.
There were plenty of superb individual performances that lit up the month in Brazil, but what has become of the players who produced them?
Using the players determined as the best in the tournament by FIFA's technical study group—who decided the shortlist for the Golden Ball, Golden Glove and Best Young Player awards—as well as the tournament's Golden Boot and top assists rankings, the Castrol Index and the Dream Team voted for by fans, let's take a look at just what the superstars are up to now.
Angel Di Maria (Argentina)
Then: A lively presence on the wing for Argentina and scorer of a dramatic extra-time winner against Switzerland in the second round, Angel Di Maria picked up a muscle tear in the quarter-final win over Belgium and was forced to miss both the semi-final and final, but he was named on the shortlist for the Golden Ball regardless.
Now: He has struggled to adapt to English football since a British-record £59.7 million move to Manchester United from Real Madrid in August. Although still capable of conjuring outstanding moments of quality, injury and underperformance have hampered him to the extent that many are unsure about his future at Old Trafford.
Mats Hummels (Germany)
Then: The rock at the heart of Germany’s World Cup win, Mats Hummels scored his side’s second goal in their 4-0 win over Portugal in their opening match of the tournament. He followed that up by heading the winner against France in the quarter-finals. His displays at the heart of defence earned him a deserved place on the Golden Ball shortlist.
Now: Borussia Dortmund endured a disastrous start to the season, but Hummels stayed loyal to his club despite inevitable interest from elsewhere. He remains one of the most outstanding central defenders in the game.
Toni Kroos (Germany)
Then: The metronomic influence at the heart of the Germany midfield, Toni Kroos scored twice in the stunning 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the semi-finals and ended the tournament with a joint-high four assists. FIFA’s official Castrol Index also rated his tournament performance at 9.79 out of 10, making him the player of the World Cup in that regard.
Now: Real Madrid saw enough at the World Cup to know that Kroos would be a quality addition, and they swooped for the German shortly after the tournament. The former Bayern Munich man quickly settled into life at the Bernabeu and looks to be part of the furniture already, with a long and happy partnership in the offing.
Philipp Lahm (Germany)
Then: After starting the tournament in midfield, Philipp Lahm’s move to right-back helped solidify Germany during the tournament and enabled them to produce their best football in the stunning win over Brazil. He became the first man to lift the World Cup for a unified Germany when his side beat Argentina in the Maracana on July 13.
Now: Lahm announced his retirement from international football after the World Cup win, with the success being the culmination of an international career in which he earned 113 caps and scored five goals. An ankle injury in November has affected his season with Bayern Munich, but he returned to the side in a 4-0 win at Werder Bremen earlier in March.
Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
Then: The snarling heartbeat of the Argentina side, Javier Mascherano was seen by many as his team’s real inspiration in Brazil despite the constant media attention on Lionel Messi. The midfield warrior was especially impressive in the semi-final victory over the Netherlands, and he deservedly took his place among the 10 nominees for the Golden Ball.
Now: Still performing similar duties for Barcelona, Mascherano can switch in between defence and midfield seemingly at will and is undoubtedly one of the most important players at the club. Considered by Roy Hodgson to be worthy of the Ballon d’Or, he continues to impress and could well find himself a Primera Liga and Champions League winner come the end of the season.
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Then: The World Cup’s Golden Ball winner, the irrepressible Lionel Messi scored four goals at the tournament and earned four man-of-the-match awards. Many thought it was his destiny to guide Argentina to glory in Brazil, but sadly for him, they fell at the final hurdle against Germany.
Now: Having visibly kicked on since the turn of the year, Messi is undoubtedly the best player on the planet at the moment, turning in weekly displays that lead many to demand he be recognised as the greatest there’s ever been.
Thomas Muller (Germany)
Then: The scorer of a hat-trick in Germany’s 4-0 opening-match victory over Portugal, Thomas Muller looked to be on course for a second successive Golden Boot. In the end, he had to settle for a silver one but found more than enough compensation in Germany’s World Cup victory.
Now: Still a regular scorer no matter which position Pep Guardiola chooses to field him in the Bayern Munich side, Muller remains one of the most consistent players in the modern game.
Then: Relied upon to carry a nation, Brazil’s Neymar was doing a pretty good job of that until a painful injury to his back in their quarter-final victory over Colombia put an end to his tournament and sent a country into a meltdown from which it couldn't recover. Neymar received the Bronze Boot for being the third-highest goalscorer at the tournament.
Now: One third of Barcelona's feared MSN with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, Neymar continues to make his way as one of the superstars of the modern game. The exciting thing is that you always suspect there’s more to come.
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
Then: Considered worthy of the Bronze Ball for the third-best player of the tournament, Arjen Robben helped the World Cup explode into life with his starring role and two goals in the Netherlands’ remarkable 5-1 victory over Spain in their opening game. He controversially won a penalty in a round-of-16 game against Mexico but was unable to inspire his side past the semi-finals, where they lost to Argentina on penalties.
Now: Having a prolific season in front of goal at Bayern Munich, Robben is on course to completely smash his previous goalscoring records and seems to be that rare breed of footballer who gets better and faster with age.
James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Then: The World Cup’s Golden Boot winner, James Rodriguez really came to the world’s attention in Brazil, where he was nevertheless unable to help his side past the quarter-finals. His second round stunner against Uruguay was voted as the goal of the tournament and FIFA’s Goal of the Year.
Now: As is usually the case when you’ve become a world superstar, Real Madrid want to buy you, and James completed his move to the Bernabeu soon after the tournament finished. He’s quickly clicked into gear at the Bernabeu and become one of the side’s most important players.
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
Then: Costa Rica were undoubtedly one of the feel-good stories of the tournament, as they emerged from a group containing three previous World Cup winners in England, Italy and Uruguay. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas was key to that, and his shootout heroics against Greece then took them into the last eight, where they were unable to repeat the feat against the Netherlands. Navas was nominated for the Golden Glove award for best goalkeeper.
Now: Navas had impressed at Spanish side Levante before the World Cup. Following the tournament, he saw his buyout clause triggered by Real Madrid, where he has largely stayed on the bench because the reigning European champions have remained loyal to Iker Casillas.
Manuel Neuer (Germany)
Then: A goalkeeper whose stature seemingly grew in each one of his games at the World Cup, Manuel Neuer refused to be beaten as Germany edged out Argentina thanks to Mario Gotze’s extra-time winner. He earned the Golden Glove award for the best stopper at the tournament, and rightly so.
Now: Despite a couple of uncharacteristic recent errors, Neuer is still regarded by many as the best goalkeeper in the world, and he became just the third stopper to finish in the top three of the Ballon d’Or this decade.
Sergio Romero (Argentina)
Then: Goalkeeper Sergio Romero earned a nomination for the Golden Glove award after being the last line of the defence that helped Argentina to the World Cup final. He didn’t concede a goal in the second round, quarter-finals and semi-finals and was a penalty shootout hero in the latter.
Now: After returning to Sampdoria from a loan spell at Monaco, Romero enjoyed a run in the team from October to December but has had to get used to bench duties behind Emiliano Viviano since and looks likely to move on in the summer.
Paul Pogba (France)
Then: Officially voted the tournament’s best young player, Paul Pogba had an impressive World Cup for France and was heavily involved in big wins over Honduras and Switzerland in the group stage. He scored a crucial goal in the second round against Nigeria but was unable to help his side past Germany in the quarters.
Now: A player with a price tag that seemingly goes up by the week, Pogba’s midfield displays for Juventus have attracted a host of admirers, and there is little doubt that he is one of the primary players in his position today.
Marcos Rojo (Argentina)
Then: Somewhat surprisingly rated pretty highly in the Castrol rankings, Argentina defender Marcos Rojo nonetheless had a good tournament and scored in the 3-2 group-stage win over Nigeria. Like the rest of his team-mates however, he was left disappointed in the final.
Now: Rojo was the first of three high-profile South American summer arrivals at Manchester United ahead of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, and like those two he has struggled somewhat. He still has youth and promise on his side, though, as well as the goodwill of United fans.
Thiago Silva (Brazil)
Then: Seen as the man destined to lift the World Cup as Brazil captain on Brazil soil, Thiago Silva was an impressive influence at the back and popped up with a goal in the quarter-final win over Colombia. However, a booking in that match led to his suspension for the semi-final clash against Germany, and we all know what happened in that.
Now: The Paris Saint-Germain captain remains one of the leading centre-backs in the world and showed that he hasn't lost his appetite for scoring crucial goals when he headed a dramatic Champions League tie-winner against Chelsea recently.
Stefan de Vrij (Netherlands)
Then: A goalscorer in the 5-1 hammering of Spain in the Netherlands’ first match, defender Stefan de Vrij was lauded by the Castrol Index, which claimed that he was the third-best player at the tournament. He played every minute of the Netherlands' campaign as they made their way to the semi-finals.
Now: The centre-back earned a move from Feyenoord to Lazio off the back of his displays at the tournament, and he’s been a consistent presence in their defence during his first season in Serie A.
Then: Oscar got Brazil’s opening night off to the perfect start when he scored the late third in the 3-1 win over Croatia, but his next goal at the tournament couldn’t have arrived in more different circumstances—the consolation in the 7-1 defeat to Germany. He was highly rated by the Castrol Index, who gave his tournament a 9.57 out of 10.
Now: Part of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea machine, Oscar has had to get used to life in and out of the team, but he’s still weighed in with some crucial goals and remains a vital player.
Then: Users of FIFA.com were asked to vote for their team of the tournament, and despite kicking it off with an own goal in the win over Croatia, Brazil left-back Marcelo made it in. He ended it with that Germany defeat, of course, but he was a steady and impressive influence for the hosts in between.
Now: Still a vital player at Real Madrid, Marcelo combines efficient defending with an ability to get forward and assist in Real’s attacking moves, making him every inch an excellent modern left-back.
David Luiz (Brazil)
Then: We all know what’s coming, but David Luiz was, for a while, the unlikely symbol of Brazil’s World Cup challenge. He scored a stunning free-kick against Colombia to follow up on a goal against Chile in the second round. The horrors of the Germany game weren’t enough to keep him out of the FIFA.com Team of the Tournament—or FIFA’s Team of the Year.
Now: A staggering £50 million move to Paris Saint-Germain had been completed before the tournament, and the former Chelsea man came back to haunt his old employers with a goal in a recent Champions League tie at Stamford Bridge.
Memphis Depay (Netherlands)
Then: Memphis Depay’s goalscoring impact off the bench for the Netherlands at the World Cup earned him a nomination for the best young player award, with his strikes against Australia and Chile and his pace impressing everyone.
Now: Now, as then, at PSV Eindhoven, the 21-year-old would appear to be ready to make the step up to one of Europe’s major leagues following a prolific season in which his game has both evolved and improved. Watch this space.
Raphael Varane (France)
Then: The third of three nominees for the best young player award, France centre-back Raphael Varane was in imperious form throughout the tournament, establishing his reputation as one of the best young defenders in the world.
Now: Having been spotted early by Real Madrid, Varane continues to fulfil his potential at the European champions, although he remains a target for a lot of clubs who’d love to play him more regularly.
Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
Then: Four assists at the tournament ensured that Colombia winger Juan Cuadrado shared the accolade of the tournament’s best creator alongside Germany’s Toni Kroos, while he also scored one goal against Japan from the penalty spot.
Now: Having just completed a move from Fiorentina to Chelsea, Cuadrado can be forgiven for taking time to get used to his new surroundings, and with the Blues not exactly playing a system that suits him, it might be next season before fans see the best of him.
Karim Benzema (France)
Then: Three goals and two assists in 450 minutes of football made for a pretty impressive World Cup for Karim Benzema, who showcased his talents and demonstrated just why he’s relatively underrated. He was unable to inspire France past the quarter-finals, but his reputation was certainly enhanced.
Now: As one of Real Madrid’s BBC, the Frenchman enjoys life as third on the bill behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, but he’s still a fantastic forward and one who would probably be celebrated even more in other eras.
Andre Schurrle (Germany)
Then: If you aren’t going to score the goal that wins the World Cup, then setting it up is surely the next best thing. That’s exactly what Andre Schurrle did for Mario Gotze in extra time at the Maracana. That goal made it one assist and three goals at the tournament for the forward, a pretty impressive feat, given that he only featured for 244 minutes.
Now: Despite his World Cup joy, Schurrle found only frustration back at Chelsea. After an up and down season, he returned to the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg in January.