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5 players who performed better for their country than their club

  • Some players become legends at club level, but these 5 saw far more success with their international sides.
  • Miroslav Klose and Asamoah Gyan are just 2 players who became legends for their respective countries.
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 20 Mar 2020, 02:32 IST

Angelos Charisteas helped Greece win Euro 2004 despite an underwhelming club career
Angelos Charisteas helped Greece win Euro 2004 despite an underwhelming club career

With this week’s announcement that Euro 2020 has been postponed until the summer of 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’ll now be well over a year before we get the next big international tournament, which is hugely frustrating.

Sure, many fans of football may place the importance of the club game over the international one these days, but for others, there’s nothing quite like watching a big international tournament and supporting your country.

Those fans would’ve felt plenty of frustration when watching players who performed better for their club than their country – but the following 5 players did things the other way around, and performed far better on the international stage than they did on the club one.

#1 Miroslav Klose

Nobody has scored more World Cup goals than Miroslav Klose
Nobody has scored more World Cup goals than Miroslav Klose

If you judged German striker Miroslav Klose by his club record, you’d probably come away feeling pretty underwhelmed; he ended his career following the 2015-16 season with a total of 231 goals in 599 games – not even an average of a goal every other game – with his best season being 2005-06, a campaign that saw him score 25 goals in 26 games for Bundesliga side Werder Bremen.

Outside of that, though? Klose averaged 11 league goals a season, and the 2010-11 campaign saw him manage just a single league goal in 20 matches for Bayern Munich. However, rather than being remembered by German fans as a bang-average striker, the Polish-born hitman is instead recognised as a true legend.

That’s because of his incredible exploits at international level. Klose broke into Germany’s senior side in March 2001 after turning down the opportunity to play for Poland, and quickly began to score goals, including 2 against Greece in a World Cup 2002 qualifier.

But it was the World Cup that saw him really make a mark – the German striker hit 5 goals to share the Golden Boot alongside Rivaldo as Die Mannschaft finished runners-up behind Brazil.

And from there, Klose’s legend at international level continued; he scored another 5 World Cup goals to take his second Golden Boot in 2006, netted another 4 in the 2010 World Cup, and then managed to hit 2 more in the 2014 tournament – which Germany would win – to become the World Cup’s all-time top goalscorer with 16 strikes.

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With 71 goals in 137 games, Klose remains Germany’s all-time top goalscorer, and to sum up his impact on the team, Die Mannschaft never lost a game in which he scored.

#2 Eduardo Vargas

Eduardo Vargas scored plenty of goals for Chile despite underperforming at club level
Eduardo Vargas scored plenty of goals for Chile despite underperforming at club level

Few players can boast of being the top scorer at a major international tournament, but Chilean international Eduardo Vargas managed it twice, scoring 4 goals in the 2015 Copa America to help his side win the tournament, and then hitting 6 goals in 2016’s Copa America Centenario, another tournament won by La Roja.

The striker, who made his debut for Chile in 2009, also scored a goal in the 2014 World Cup against Spain, and in 2013, he broke the Chilean record for goals in consecutive matches – previously held by the legendary Marcelo Salas - by scoring 9 goals in 6 straight games.

Essentially, with 38 goals in 91 games, he was one of the 2010s' most consistent international strikers.

At club level though, Vargas never came close to replicating the form he showed for Chile, despite travelling to Europe’s top four leagues – Italy’s Serie A, Spain’s La Liga, England’s Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga. In fact, it’d be hard to call any of his spells in Europe anything but a disaster.

Two seasons at Napoli saw a return of zero league goals, while a season in Spain with Valencia was hardly better; he scored just 3 goals in 17 matches. A run with QPR in 2014-15 was even worse; the Chilean scored just 4 goals in 21 games as the team were relegated into the EFL Championship. And at 1899 Hoffenheim, he scored just 2 goals in 24 games.

Vargas now plays for Mexican side Tigres UANL – and while his record looks a bit better there, with 26 goals in 106 games, it’s still disappointing considering his international exploits.

#3 Angelos Charisteas

Angelos Charisteas remains a legend in Greek football despite a journeyman
Angelos Charisteas remains a legend in Greek football despite a journeyman's club career

A true journeyman at club level, Greek forward Angelos Charisteas made the move into Europe’s big leagues in 2002-03 with German side Werder Bremen. Over the course of a decade, he made 8 moves across the continent, playing for sides in the Bundesliga, Eredivisie and Ligue 1 before heading back to Greece towards the end of his career.

Throughout that period, Charisteas’ goal record was poor, particularly for a striker; he never reached double figures in a single season, with 9 league goals in a campaign being his best return. Despite winning a Bundesliga title in 2003-04, it’d be hard to label his career at club level as anything but forgettable.

The same definitely can’t be said for his international career, though. With 25 goals in 88 games, Charisteas remains the second-highest goalscorer in the history of the Greek national side, and incredibly, 20 of those goals came in competitive matches.

The striker never scored a goal at a World Cup – he failed to find the net in the 2010 tournament as Greece were eliminated in the group stage – but the European Championship was a different story entirely.

Charisteas scored 3 goals in Euro 2004, including the winner against France in the quarter-final and Portugal in the final, as Greece stormed to an unlikely victory, springing one of the biggest upsets in international football in the process.

His performances meant he was named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament, ensuring his name would be remembered in Greece forever despite his shabby club record.

#4 Anders Svensson

Midfielder Anders Svensson remains Sweden
Midfielder Anders Svensson remains Sweden's most-capped player

A glance at Anders Svensson’s club career would lead any observer to come to the conclusion that the Swede was a completely underwhelming player. The midfielder played for Swedish side IF Elfsborg for the majority of his career, spending a total of 17 seasons at the club and ending his career with an unspectacular return of 72 goals in 421 games after debuting for them as a teenager.

In fact, the only period that Svensson spent away from Elfsborg saw him play for Southampton in the Premier League for 4 seasons, where he scored 10 goals in 140 appearances. During his time on the South Coast, the Swede was a solid but unremarkable player, with his high point being a run to the FA Cup final in 2002-03.

At international level though, his career took an entirely different path. Svensson broke into the Swedish national side in 1999 after playing in the U-21 team for three years, and shot to fame in the 2002 World Cup, when his spectacular free-kick in the group stage against Argentina practically eliminated the highly-favoured South Americans from the tournament.

Despite his lacklustre club career, Svensson continued to represent Sweden at the highest level for over a decade; he ended up representing the Scandinavians in 4 more major tournaments – the 2004, 2008 and 2012 European Championships and the 2006 World Cup – and eventually retired from international duty in 2013 after amassing a Swedish record 143 caps.

Incredibly, he remains the 8th-most capped European player in history, behind only true legends like Lothar Matthaus, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gianluigi Buffon.

#5 Asamoah Gyan

Asamoah Gyan shot to fame in the 2010 World Cup with Ghana
Asamoah Gyan shot to fame in the 2010 World Cup with Ghana

In terms of African legends, they don’t get much bigger than Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan. The former captain of the Black Stars, Gyan retired from international football in May 2019 after becoming Ghana’s all-time top goalscorer with an impressive record of 51 goals in 109 games, putting him above both Abedi Pele and Tony Yeboah.

Along the way he scored goals in 6 Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and found the back of the net in 3 successive World Cups – 2006, 2010 and 2014.

It was, of course, the 2010 tournament – held in South Africa – that saw Gyan really shoot to fame, as he scored the winning goals in games against Serbia and the USA, but unfortunately, went onto miss the penalty that would’ve sent Ghana past Uruguay in the quarter-finals to become the first African semi-finalists.

However, despite his success on the international stage, Gyan never quite delivered at club level. He moved to Europe with Serie A side Udinese in 2003-04, and spent 5 unproductive seasons in Italy – 2 on loan at Serie B side Modena – where he scored just 26 goals overall.

Moves to French side Rennes and Premier League team Sunderland were equally underwhelming; Gyan was a big signing for the Black Cats after his 2010 World Cup exploits, but he only scored 10 goals in his debut season in England and quickly departed in September 2011 for UAE club Al Ain.

While Gyan’s goal record in the UAE was strong – he actually scored 95 goals in 83 games – it’s hard to make a big deal of success in such a weak league, and when he returned to Europe in 2017-18 with Turkish side Kayserispor, his record immediately dropped back to its previous standard – 5 goals across 2 seasons. 

Published 20 Mar 2020, 02:32 IST
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