As prestigious and glamorous as it is to play for a big European club, nothing can ever beat the feeling of laying your palm over your homeland's crest, beneath which lies your heart, beating rhythmically to the tune of the national anthem.
There is a sense of pride involved in representing your national team that is greater than any other football can offer. While most top players turn up in equally good spirit for both club and country, there is always an odd bloke or two who ups his game to an unforeseeable level, as long as his national team endeavours are concerned.
Mexico's 2014 World Cup hero Guillermo Ochoa is a fine example of a player who never quite managed to replicate his national team form for any club with consistency.
Chilean Mauricio Isla is a mainstay at right wing-back for La Roja, but has been flipped by one club too many since he left Udinese for Juventus. He has therefore failed to make as much of a mark for any club as he did for the Chile national team.
Today we will be looking at five of the finest examples of such national heroes who could never really hit the same heights at club level. While different players have created different legacies for their respective nations, there is one thing common to all - they absolutely adore international breaks!
#5 Mario Yepes (Colombia)
To be fair to Yepes, he was considered one of the better defenders in the world around the middle of the first decade of the millennium when he played for PSG in France. However, his greatness in club football would not last long.
He moved to Italy in 2008, where he stayed till 2014, playing for three different clubs including AC Milan. However, he never managed to feature for Milan in more than half of their league matches in any of the three seasons he was part of the Rossoneri. All in all, he was just another brick in the wall.
The same cannot be said about his international career, which ended in 2014. Mario Alberto Yepes Díaz retired as one of the greatest representatives Colombia has ever had in the world of football. He represented Colombia on the global stage a staggering 102 times, only bettered by Carlos Valderrama.
He was a part of the 2001 Colombia squad that won the Copa America. He also captained them to their best ever World Cup finish in 2014, where they bowed out to Brazil in the quarter-final.
There's no denying that Yepes enjoyed a respectable club career, but his greatness will always be measured by his national team heroics, and rightfully so.
#4 Lukas Podolski (Germany)
Lukas Podolski's club career was by no means unimportant, but his contribution for the national team was so much greater that it far overshadowed everything he did at the club level.
He is 3rd in appearances for the Germans. The players around him are Lothar Matthaus, Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm. That alone is proof enough of his greatness. To add to that, he is also 3rd in the list of goalscorers for Germany, with 49.
Compared to that, his club level CV makes for interesting reading, with clubs like Bayern Munich and Arsenal amongst others. However, as long as major honours are concerned, he only managed to win a Bundesliga title, to go with an FA Cup and one DFB Pokal.
Furthermore, he wasn't either club's go-to star man. Clearly his club career is a shadow of his international career at best.
To think he was rejected by Poland in his youth when he was still eligible to represent them, is quite baffling now that we think about it. Podolski played for Germany in four Euros and three World Cups, and won the 2014 edition.
A true grit-and-grind player who had a hammer of a left foot, he called it quits against England in 2016, fittingly after scoring the winner in an enthralling encounter.
#3 Sergio Romero (Argentina)
Clean Sheets: 47
Despite being a goalkeeper, Sergio Romero has not made more league appearances for any club in his career so far than he has won caps for Argentina.
Admittedly, he played at a time when Argentina were only blessed at the forward spot and he perhaps did not have to face extreme competition for his place in the national team. Having said that, Romero did a fantastic job once he did get the starting role, though, keeping nearly a clean-sheet every other game.
He, just like his Argentine peers, is perhaps unlucky to not have won anything except the 2008 Olympic gold, despite coming very close a number of times. He has always been a very dependable presence under the post for La Albiceleste, and although it cannot be said he was poor for any of his club sides, he was certainly not the same player.
He was an important part of the AZ team that won the 2008-09 Eredivisie, and an important understudy of David de Gea at Manchester United. Obviously, though, his club achievements are a far cry from his international ones.
#2 Eduardo Vargas (Chile)
When we talk about legendary Chilean strikers, Marcelo Salas and Ivan Zamorano come to mind. Eduardo Vargas has more goals than both of them. Although that fact in itself is enough to prove Vargas' international legacy, there's an even more deciding factor.
Vargas was a very important figure in Chile's two back-to-back Copa America titles in 2015 and 2016. In comparison, neither Salas nor Zamorano managed to win a major trophy with their national team.
As long as his club career is concerned, it is hardly anything to boast about. He played only 19 league games for Napoli in three years, often going out on loan. One may also be forgiven for forgetting he played for Hoffenheim less than three years ago.
He has found some much needed stability with Tigres, and has played over 100 games for them now. However, there is no denying that when he hangs up his boots, it's his international career that people will talk about.
#1 Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)
Asamoah Gyan is the most capped Ghanaian player of all time, and the only one who went over the century mark for that matter. However, when you look at his peers just below him, including Richard Kingson and John Paintsil, it somewhat tarnishes the achievement.
He manages to shine much brighter than them, with a ridiculous strike rate of 51 goals in 109 appearances. He is by far the nation's highest goalscorer.
Gyan is quite possibly the greatest national team only player, because one would struggle to even name his former clubs, bar Sunderland, maybe. Including the English club, his record for Rennes and Udinese are quite impressive as well, and he scored at least 11 times for each club, despite playing less than 50 league games for any of them.
He sent shockwaves around Europe when he decided to leave European football, when he was clearly good enough to play there. He instead opted to cash in, and played for Al Ain, where he scored more goals than games he played. He most recently plied his trade for Indian Super League club North East United FC.
His international career on the other hand, is the greatest by any Ghanaian ever. He led his country to their best ever World Cup finish in 2010, scoring an extra-time winner against USA in the Round of 16.
Then, in the quarter final against Uruguay, he made history for all the wrong reasons, and missed the penalty that would have surely taken them to the semi final.
However, his legacy is unlikely to be tainted by those lows. He scored plenty of priceless goals for the Black Stars, and is also their highest ever World Cup goalscorer, scoring one more than Roger Milla.
In fact, he may further better those already amazing numbers, as he overturned his decision to retire from international football in 2019.
Published 13 Jun 2020, 11:08 IST