Country Over Club: Players Remembered For Their National Team Greatness

Some footballers turn into a different player when they put their national team jersey on.

There’s always an age-old debate among football fans about club versus country. National pride or local tribalism. The argument extends to players as well, although many don’t have the same deeply rooted sense of locality as fans do, maybe with the exception of Francesco Totti.

Even still, club football takes center stage for the most part, given that it’s more regular than international tournaments. Over time, however, football has seen some players who’ve not lived up to expectations on the club level, but have thrived in an international setting. Maybe it’s because the approach to international football is different, and maybe that national identity unleashes a different type of confidence in certain players. On the cusp of a big summer of international football, this is a list of players more synonymous with their country than any club.

James Rodriguez

@fifaworldcup When @James Rodríguez hits them, they stay hit. 🇨🇴 #James #jamesrodriguez #Volley #Colombia #JamesVolley #Puskas ♬ KILL EM (FEAT. KYRAL X BANKO) – SoDown

When the Colombian broke onto the scene, his ceiling was said to be massive. And, in the early stages, he was a wonderful player. He first made a name for himself during his time at Porto, before AS Monaco signed him in 2013 for a hefty €45 million fee.

But it wasn’t until the 2014 World Cup that he broke out onto the global stage. A superb performance that earned him golden boot honors put him on the radar of just about every football fan, and he’d land a coveted transfer to Real Madrid. While he’s won multiple Champions League trophies and league titles, he never found consistent playing time, only appearing in 25 league matches twice in the 10 seasons since his move to Madrid. A rogue jaunt to Everton was particularly unsuccessful, and it’s unlikely Rodriguez will ever match the magic of that summer in Brazil.

If selected by manager Nestor Lorenzo, he’ll have another chance with Colombia at the 2024 Copa America, where he’ll be looking for a poetic resurgence a decade removed from his coming out party.

Fabio Grosso

When you think of Fabio Grosso, you probably think of one moment — that celebration in the semifinal of the 2006 World Cup following his winner. There’s also his crucial penalty in the final, which the Azzurri would of course go on to win. If you’re not a huge calcio nerd (like me), you probably don’t know much more about him. With one Scudetto with Juventus and a few trophies with Lyon, Grosso never set the club game alight, but he still goes down in folklore because of that moment for Italy. Cult status.

Asamoah Gyan

Asamoah Gyan is probably most remembered for his missed penalty in Ghana’s 2010 World Cup match against Uruguay, following that infamous Luis Suarez handball.

And while that is an iconic moment (for the wrong reasons in Gyan’s case), he’s much more than that to the Black Stars. He’s been much better in the national jersey than he ever was for Udinese, Sunderland, or Rennes. He’s scored 51 goals for Ghana in 106 matches, including games across multiple World Cup tournaments. Hero status in his home country despite one unfortunate moment.

Joel Campbell

Joel Campbell was high on the radar of many as he broke through the ranks at Arsenal. He then went out on loan six times and faded from the spotlight, currently plying his trade in the top division of Costa Rica. And it’s Costa Rica that he’s most known for, helping them reach the last eight of the 2014 World Cup — a humungous feat for the country. With over 100 caps for his nation, Campbell is well and truly a legend in their ranks, despite not completely fulfilling his potential at the club level.

Lukas Podolski

The likes of Koln and Arsenal might disagree, but Lukas Podolski’s work for the national team cements him in this list. And before the fans of those clubs come for me, I’m not denying his influence with them. But looking back into the annals of modern-day football history, nine times out of 10, you’re discussing Podolski and Germany together rather than anyone else. He’s got 49 goals for his nation and one World Cup medal. Apart from an FA Cup and a Bundesliga title, there’s not much else of note on the club side of things, and certainly nothing beats his national team achievements.

Joan Capdevila

Now, some of you out there might have just muttered, “Who?” to yourself when reading that name but those who know, know. A cult hero in football, for sure. The only player in Spain’s 2010 World Cup final starting XI that wasn’t employed by Real Madrid or Barcelona, Capdevila featured in every minute of the triumphant Spanish campaign in South Africa, while also playing a major role in the country’s 2008 EURO title as well. There’s nothing close to those achievements on the club side (sorry, Deportivo fans), and you can see why he’s a national team hero over anything else.

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