11 footballers who were better for country over club

International football is a completely different ball park to the club game.

Be it the pool of talent a country has available due to their size and stature, the quality of the football within that country, the access they’ve got to funding – everything matters and effects how they play.

And with the international game much less frequent, but also reliant on tournament style formats rather than drawn out seasons, it’s difficult for managers to implement various different styles of football. Often, those who can get along with their players and keep the football simple will thrive.

Certain players also feel the difference. The status quo for major countries and big players is often that international breaks can be a hinderance to their domestic season, but there are actually just as many players who relish those international breaks and camps, be it as an escape to find form, or simply because they live for the international game.

Perhaps one of the strangest quirks in football is seeing a player frequently star on the international stage, but consistently amount to very little when club football comes back around. GIVEMESPORT has picked out 11 of the best examples of players who thrived only on the international call-up.

11. Sergio Romero – Argentina

Before his stint as Manchester United number two, Romero’s club football highlights weren’t all that special. He’d floated from AZ Alkmaar to Sampdoria without amounting to much, but he was always the man between the sticks for Argentina, where he would suddenly look world class. He currently sits on 96 caps and is only just winding down after being their go-to goalkeeper for so long.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL – JULY 09: Sergio Romero of Argentina celebrates defeating the Netherlands in a shootout during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between the Netherlands and Argentina at Arena de Sao Paulo on July 9, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

Manchester United eyeing Raphinha (Football Terrace)

10. Asamoah Gyan – Ghana

Remembered by most Premier League fans for his spell with Sunderland, Gyan was very much a streets won’t forget caliber forward, despite commanding a then-club record fee in 2010.

It was on the international stage where Gyan consistently looked like a talisman, though, having scored 51 goals in 109 games for Ghana and notably scoring twice at the 2014 World Cup. By that point, Gyan had assumed journeyman status at club level.

Gyan was a force for Ghana, but not so much for his domestic clubs
FORTALEZA, BRAZIL – JUNE 21: Asamoah Gyan of Ghana celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Germany and Ghana at Castelao on June 21, 2014 in Fortaleza, Brazil. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images)

9. Hal Robson-Kanu – Wales

Failing to break through at Arsenal as a youngster, Reading was as good as it got for Robson-Kanu, and when he was released in 2016, you would’ve been forgiven for not batting an eyelid.

In the same summer he became a free agent, he was included in the Wales squad for Euro 2016 and proved instrumental by scoring against Slovakia and Belgium in their historic run to the semi-finals. The striker remained a regular for Wales, but would remain a quiet man at club level with West Brom.

Robson-Kanu was immense for Wales
LILLE, FRANCE – JULY 01: Hal Robson-Kanu (L) of Wales celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA EURO 2016 quarter final match between Wales and Belgium at Stade Pierre-Mauroy on July 1, 2016 in Lille, France. (Photo by Clive Rose / Getty Images)

8. Eduardo Vargas – Chile

Vargas finished as tournament top scorer when Chile secured the Copa America in 2015, and had gone on a record-breaking run of scoring in six consecutive games for his country two years prior to that.

At club level, though, Vargas struggled to show the same ruthlessness that people expected of him. Napoli shipped him off on loan several times, the final of which was a loan to QPR, where again he failed to impress in the Premier League.

Vargas flopped in the Premier League after starring for Chile
CUIABA, BRAZIL – JUNE 21: Eduardo Vargas of Chile celebrates after scoring the first goal of his team during a group A match between Uruguay and Chile as part of Conmebol Copa America Brazil 2021 at Arena Pantanal on June 21, 2021 in Cuiaba, Brazil. (Photo by Miguel Schincariol / Getty Images)

7. Joan Capdevila – Spain

Winning 60 caps for Spain in one of the greatest ever iterations of the national team, you’d have thought just about everyone in that Spain setup from 2008 to 2012 was a superstar.

Left-back Capdevila certainly played like one for his country, having won a World Cup, European Championship and Olympic silver medal, but he couldn’t replicate it at club level. While not a bad player, Capdevila was merely an average La Liga full back; a far cry from what he looked like with Spain.

Capdevila is a forgotten member of Spain's international success
PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – JUNE 25: Joan Capdevila of Spain is challenged by Alexis Sanchez of Chile during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group H match between Chile and Spain at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on June 25, 2010 in Tshwane / Pretoria, South Africa . (Photo by Martin Rose / Getty Images)

6. Keisuke Honda – Japan

Honda has had one of the strangest careers known to man, and continues to do so.

He earned cult hero status for his long-shots and set-piece abilities, but aside from a spell with CSKA Moscow, underwhelmed at club level and endured a forgettable spell with AC Milan. He’s since become a complete journeyman and balances playing in the Lithuanian top flight with Cambodia managerial duties, which isn’t a patch on his stellar work di lui with Japan, where he managed 37 goals from 98 caps.

Honda couldn't replicate his national team form at club level
LIEGE, BELGIUM – MARCH 27: Keisuke Honda of Japan in action during the International friendly match between Japan and Ukraine held at Stade Maurice Dufrasne on March 27, 2018 in Liege, Belgium. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos / Getty Images)

5. Angelos Charisteas – Greece

25 goals in 88 caps for Greece was a fine return for striker Charisteas, who famously scored the winner in the final of Euro 2004 against Portugal, a tournament which he starred in.

But while a legend for the national team and a continually reliable forward in the tournaments, Charisteas failed to make it count at club level. He moved around Europe after an okay spell with Werder Bremen, but for someone who made such a name for themselves in an international final, you would’ve assumed at least one top side would’ve taken a gamble on him at some point.

Charisteas scored the winner in the Euro 2004 final
LISBON, PORTUGAL – JULY 4: Angelos Charisteas of Greece celebrates scoring their first goal during the UEFA Euro 2004 Final match between Portugal and Greece at the Luz Stadium on July 4, 2004 in Lisbon, Portugal. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images)

4. Ali Daei – Iran

The man responsible for keeping Cristiano Ronaldo off the top of the international scoring records for as long as possible, Daei racked up an unbelievable 109 goals for Iran from 1993 to 2006.

His club career started strongly in Asia, but upon moving to Germany in 1997 with Armenia Bielefeld and then Bayern Munich a year later, he immediately struggled at the higher level. Daei was in the UAE by 2002, and never made a noise in Europe again. Astonishing considering how much of a different beast he was at international level.

Daei is the second-highest international scorer of all time
29 Nov 1997: Ali Daei of Iran is tackled by Craig Foster of Australia during the World Cup qualifier in Melbourne, Australia. The game ended 2-2 and Iran qualified on away goals. Mandatory Credit: Clive Mason / Allsport

3. Lukas Podolski – Germany

The man with one of the most vicious left foot longshots in all of football, Podolski turned into a different beast when it was time to pull on the Germany shirt.

Failing to break in at Bayern Munich in his earlier days, the winger’s most memorable club spell was with Arsenal from 2012 to 2015, where he was liked, but never really hit the heights expected. Considering he’s Die Mannschaft’s third-most capped player and third-highest scorer, having also been instrumental at the 2014 World Cup, it’s strange to think he wasn’t world class at club level.

Podolski was better for Germany than any of his clubs
DORTMUND, GERMANY – MARCH 22: Lukas Podolski of Germany shows appreciation to the fans after his last international match for Germany after the international friendly match between Germany and England at Signal Iduna Park on March 22, 2017 in Dortmund, Germany. (Photo by Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

2. Anders Svensson – Sweden

Assuming Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the most capped Swedish player of all time would be a fair guess, but an incorrect one. In fact, that crown belongs to Svensson, who captained the side on many occasions throughout his 148 caps and looked every bit a star.

The playmaking midfielder is actually the eighth-most capped European player in history, which would surely suggest that he was among the best in Europe in the club game too, right? No. Aside from a rather average four years with Southampton from 2001 to 2005, Svensson played his entire career with IF Elfsborg in his native Sweden.

Anders Svensson barely made an impression at club level
DUBLIN, IRELAND – SEPTEMBER 06: Anders Svensson of Sweden celebrates his goal during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group C match between Republic of Ireland and Sweden at Aviva Stadium on September 6, 2013 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Jamie McDonald / Getty Images)

1. Miroslav Klose – Germany

Topping the list, it just had to be Klose. A rather unassuming striker at club level, the guy was a cheat code when called up to national team duties.

Germany’s all-time leading scorer, the national team has never lost a game in which Klose has scored in – 71 times, that is. He’s scored the most goals at World Cup tournaments, and has won Olympic bronze, silver and gold. Klose was always somewhat reliable for a goal at club level, but he struggled to reach the top level and was merely an inoffensive servant to Lazio at his best di lui.

Klose was world class for country but not club
BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL – JULY 08: Miroslav Klose of Germany celebrates scoring his team’s second goal during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Semi Final match between Brazil and Germany at Estadio Mineirao on July 8, 2014 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. (Photo by Robert Cianflone ​​/ Getty Images)

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