10 World Cup stars who play better for country than club

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Some players are simply more effective in their national colours

“He doesn’t do that for his club.” How many times have you heard someone shout that while watching an international match?

The enigma of how some footballers perform far better for their country than club has been going on for decades, and the World Cup in Russia has been no different.

Why does this happen? Perhaps it is the chemistry of the team working in their favour, or maybe they are playing for a manager who has more faith. Or it could be that they find greater inspiration when they pull on their national team jersey, rather than playing for a club to which they have little connection – except for the huge salary that drops into their bank account each month.

Here are 10 players who turn it on more often for their country than their club:

 

Xherdan Shaqiri

epa06832259 Switzerland's midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri celebrates the victory during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group E preliminary round soccer match between Switzerland and Serbia at the Arena Baltika Stadium in Kaliningrad, Russia, 22 June 2018. EPA/LAURENT GILLIERONThe diminutive Swiss suffered the embarrassment of relegation from the Premier League with Stoke City at the end of the season. It is almost certain he will move to a new club in the summer, with Liverpool having been linked, but the previous eight months battling near the bottom of the table in a woeful team did no favours to his reputation. He was never a standout player at Bayern Munich or Inter Milan, but has been the leading light for Switzerland for eight years now, winning 72 caps and scoring 21 goals, including the late winner against Serbia last week.

 

Javier Hernandez

ROSTOV-ON-DON, RUSSIA - JUNE 23: Javier Hernandez of Mexico and Jang Hyun-Soo of Korea Republic in action during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group F match between Korea Republic and Mexico at Rostov Arena on June 23, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
Like Shaqiri, Hernandez endured a frustrating campaign in the Premier League, spending much of it on the bench at West Ham United. He was regarded mostly as a super-sub at Manchester United, played a bit-part role at Real Madrid, but did well at Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga before his return to England. For Mexico however, he is their record goalscorer, having netted 50 times in 104 caps after his goal against South Korea, and has now scored in three World Cup finals.

 

Keisuke Honda

epa06836905 Keisuke Honda of Japan celebrates scoring the 2-2 goal during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group H preliminary round soccer match between Japan and Senegal in Ekaterinburg, Russia, 24 June 2018. (RESTRICTIONS APPLY: Editorial Use Only, not used in association with any commercial entity - Images must not be used in any form of alert service or push service of any kind including via mobile alert services, downloads to mobile devices or MMS messaging - Images must appear as still images and must not emulate match action video footage - No alteration is made to, and no text or image is superimposed over, any published image which: (a) intentionally obscures or removes a sponsor identification image; or (b) adds or overlays the commercial identification of any third party which is not officially associated with the FIFA World Cup) EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY EDITORIAL USE ONLY EDITORIAL USE ONLY
An icon in his homeland, Honda became the highest-scoring Asian in World Cup finals after his goal for Japan against Senegal on Sunday, and was also the first Japanese player to score in three different World Cup finals. Much of his club career has been spent in Europe at VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands, CSKA Moscow and AC Milan, without having the same impact that he’s enjoyed at international level. He’s currently playing in the Mexican league for Pachuca.

 

Aleksandar Mitrovic

KALININGRAD, RUSSIA - JUNE 22: Aleksandar Mitrovic of Serbia is shown a yellow card by referee Felix Brych during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group E match between Serbia and Switzerland at Kaliningrad Stadium on June 22, 2018 in Kaliningrad, Russia. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
The Serbian striker has, at times, caused chaos among defences at this World Cup. “He can occupy two centre halves with his presence and he can hold up the ball for others to come from behind him,” former England defender Rio Ferdinand said. His international record is decent – 17 goals in 39 appearances, including six in his past six and an impressive header against Switzerland on Saturday. In contrast, his career at Newcastle United imploded. He scored just four goals in the second tier in 2016/17, and was overlooked last season until he was farmed out on loan to Championship side Fulham, where he regained his scoring touch as they won promotion via the play-offs.

 

Granit Xhaka

KALININGRAD, RUSSIA - JUNE 22: Granit Xhaka of Switzerland scores his team's first goal during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group E match between Serbia and Switzerland at Kaliningrad Stadium on June 22, 2018 in Kaliningrad, Russia. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)Arsenal fans will tell you their club has needed a new midfield general for two season – and that’s despite spending in the region of £30 million on Xhaka in 2016. He has shown occasional flashes of his thunderbolt shooting, but has been mainly in the headlines for ill discipline and going missing on the pitch when his team need him most. For Switzerland though he has bossed their midfield for years, winning 64 caps and scoring 10 goals, including a rocket against Serbia.

 

Keylor Navas

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group E - Brazil vs Costa Rica - Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia - June 22, 2018 Costa Rica's Keylor Navas salutes their fans after the match REUTERS/Henry RomeroA controversial selection, possibly, but Navas is the standout performer in Costa Rica’s side and it was his heroics at the 2014 World Cup that helped them to the quarter-final stage – and him a transfer to Real Madrid. He has now won 82 caps, and has remained Madrid’s No 1, but that will surely change soon as the club are forever linked with the likes of David de Gea and Thibaut Courtois. He hasn’t done badly in club football, but doesn’t stand out in the way he does for his country.

 

Joel Campbell

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group E - Costa Rica vs Serbia - Samara Arena, Samara, Russia - June 17, 2018 Costa Rica's Joel Campbell in action with Serbia's Nikola Milenkovic REUTERS/Pilar OlivaresIf you had forgotten, Joel Campbell is still an Arsenal player. His club forgot after all, tweeting the other day that they had three players in action, when in fact they had four.

Arsenal FC

@Arsenal

We’ve got 3️⃣ players in action in Russia today…@alexiwobi‘s take on at 4pm (UK)@LichtsteinerSte and Granit’s face at 7pm (UK)

 

 

He has become a journeyman footballer, with six loan spells since 2011, and only 40 appearances for his parent club. For Costa Rica, he has scored 15 times in 78 games, and only turns 26 years old on June 26, so he should reach a century of international appearances before his career ends.

 

David Ospina

epa06837441 Goalkeeper David Ospina of Colombia clears the ball during the FIFA World Cup 2018 group H preliminary round soccer match between Poland and Colombia in Kazan, Russia, 24 June 2018. (RESTRICTIONS APPLY: Editorial Use Only, not used in association with any commercial entity - Images must not be used in any form of alert service or push service of any kind including via mobile alert services, downloads to mobile devices or MMS messaging - Images must appear as still images and must not emulate match action video footage - No alteration is made to, and no text or image is superimposed over, any published image which: (a) intentionally obscures or removes a sponsor identification image; or (b) adds or overlays the commercial identification of any third party which is not officially associated with the FIFA World Cup) EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Life as a goalkeeper can be frustrating. Ospina was signed by Arsenal in 2014 on the back of fine performances for Colombia at the 2014 World Cup, when they reached the quarter-finals. Since then, he has played more international matches than club games, as he sat on the bench watching Petr Cech keep goal, with varying degrees of success, at the Emirates Stadium. He is another closing in on a century of caps, reaching 86 so far.

 

Sergio Romero

Argentina's goalkeeper Sergio Romero stretches during a training session in Ezeiza, Buenos Aires, on May 22, 2018. Sergio Romero injured his right knee during a training session on Tuesday and will miss the FIFA 2018 World Cup starting next month in Russia. / AFP / Juan MABROMATA
Ok, so he didn’t make it to the World Cup, but Romero is an extraordinary case. He was set to be Argentina’s No 1 in Russia until he was hit by an untimely injury. His numbers make for fascinating reading – 94 international appearances at the age of 31, yet only seven league games for Manchester United in the past three seasons and less than 200 league appearances in his entire career.

Lukas Podolski

Former Germany forward Lukas Podolski, who plays for Japanese side Vissel Kobe, has been in touch with his lawyer. Alexander Hassenstein / Getty Images

Here’s a classic to add to the list. Hero-worshipped by many in his homeland having played 130 times for Germany, you would think he would be a Ballon d’Or contender year-in-year out. Instead, while enjoying a lengthy club career, he failed to reach the heights of his international achievements and has spent recent years playing in Turkey and Japan.

 

Arinze A/The National