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Footballers who were better for country over club

Mitchell Wilks
Lukas Podolski was electric for Germany
Lukas Podolski was electric for Germany / Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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International football is a weird spectacle.

Plenty of teams are blessed with a roster of top level individuals ready to report for international duty whenever the time comes, but cannot find a way to get those players sparking together when the time is right - definitely not England and English players. Definitely not.

On the contrary, there are often circumstances where the international stage is lit up by a familiar name every few years, despite that player not actually amounting to much at club level. With an honourable mention to Gareth Bale who is great at club football but only in it for the Wales squads, here are the top 30 footballers who prefer national football to the domestic game.


30. Peter Crouch (England)

Peter Crouch
Crouch whipping out the robot / Clive Rose/Getty Images

Everyone's favourite bag of limbs Peter Crouch was a top class player, but nobody really appreciated him. A Premier League 100 club member, he is too good for this list, but he was a bit of a cult hero in an England shirt.

22 goals in 42 England caps is a rather impressive strike rate, and he boasts an iconic celebration in the robot. Robot for domestic clubs? No chance. But for England? All day Crouchy, you crack on mate.

29. Jermain Defoe (England)

Jermain Defoe
Underrated / Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

By no means was Jermain Defoe bad at club level. In fact, he was pretty damn good for West Ham and Tottenham. For whatever reason, though, he was never a team's top option or wanted by England's greatest sides. Never held in top regard.

When he pulled on the Three Lions shirt, though, he continually proved that he was more than capable. Defoe was a reliable hand and bagged 20 goals from 57 caps.

28. Jordan Pickford (England)

Jordan Pickford
Pickford is a different player for England / Alex Morton/Getty Images

Gareth Southgate must be using different milk for Jordan Pickford's cereal and protein shakes at St. George's Park.

At club level, Pickford is fine at best for Everton, yet error-prone and inconsistent. But with the Three Lions, he finds a new gear and becomes the reliable, modernised keeper that the Toffees thought they'd bought in 2017.

27. Andrej Kramaric (Croatia)

Andrej Kramaric
Kramaric flopped in England / Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

After flopping at Leicester following his 2014 move to the Midlands, nobody really thought they'd hear much of Croatian striker Andrej Kramaric again.

Since then, he's been great at a mid-to-low level in the Bundesliga, but turns into a world beater for Croatia. Kramaric is always in the national team squad without fail and is regularly turned to when needed to put in a shift for his nation.

26. David Healy (Northern Ireland)

David Healy
Healy and Lewandowski, make it happen / Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Breaking through at Manchester United, David Healy made one league appearance for the Red Devils before setting off on a career path that was never really higher than bottom of the top flight/mid-range second tier.

Compare that mediocre looking CV to his Northern Ireland exploits and you'll be shocked. Healy is the country's leading scorer with 36 goals from 95 caps and shares a record for most goals scored in a Euros qualifying campaign (13) with Robert Lewandowski.

25. Junichi Inamoto (Japan)

Junichi Inamoto
Cracking boots and gloves combo / Junko Kimura/Getty Images

A bright start to his career in Japan saw Junichi Inamoto briefly sign for Arsenal in 2001, but the fact you're scratching your head to remember tells you how that one panned out.

Inamoto travelled around Europe as a journeyman player and has only really found success in Japan, but was an absolute hit with the national team. He has been capped 83 times by his country and scored twice at the 2002 World Cup.

24. Robbie Keane (Republic of Ireland)

Robbie Keane
The man with the celebration / Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

At a glance, it's a bit of a shock to see Robbie Keane here. But aside from a blistering spell with Spurs and a half decent stint in an inevitable move to the MLS towards the end of his career, he wasn't a world beater.

While average at club level, Keane was a captain, leader and bagsman at international level. He remains the Republic of Ireland's top scorer and most capped player, firing regularly for his country to the delight of the Irish.

23. Kieffer Moore (Wales)

Kieffer Moore
Chief Kief / Tolga Bozoglu - Pool/Getty Images

EFL fans will have been aware of Kieffer Moore, but for many, Euro 2020 has been the coming out party for the 6'5 striker.

Starting his career in non-league, Moore was a lifeguard and a personal trainer on the side. And while he now boasts a respectable career in the EFL, nobody would've expected him to become the number one target man for the Wales national team, linking up with the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

22. Egido Arevalo Rios (Uruguay)

Uruguay v England - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
Arevalo challenges Wayne Rooney / Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Nicknamed El Cacha, the Uruguayan defensive midfielder has never actually ventured into football's limelight and come over to Europe.

But despite him never really appearing on the radar or European football fans, he's been a regular on the world stage with Uruguay and been capped 90 times for the national side.

21. Jonny Williams (Wales)

Jonny Williams
Williams is there for vibes and nothing more, surely / Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Jonny Williams spends his time hopping between clubs in League One and the Championship, testing out who has the best treatment table for his never ending injuries.

He's always a shoo-in for the Wales squad though, and makes the most of it too. No, he doesn't score goals for fun, but he's a reliable pair of hands, works hard for the team and adds bite to the side.

20. David Platt (England)

David Platt
David Platt's England exploits gave his career a boost / Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

It was David Platt's form in an England shirt at Italia 90 that gave his club career the unexpected boost it needed.

Before the tournament, Platt was a regular for Aston Villa, but his last minute volleyed winner against Belgium catapulted him into a few years playing in Serie A. And playing in Serie A in the 1990s was nothing short of football royalty.

19. Denis Cheryshev (Russia)

Denis Cheryshev
Cheryshev was different gravy at the 2018 World Cup / Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Emerging from the youth academy at Real Madrid hasn't exactly assured Denis Cheryshev a solid domestic career. He's been a La Liga regular for the most part, but barely.

It's different for Russia, though. Cheryshev becomes a star player for his nation when the time comes and thrives on the occasion, bagging four times as Russia reached the last eight at the 2018 World Cup.

18. Dedryck Boyata (Belgium)

Dedryck Boyata
Boyata is always in the Belgium squad / Clive Rose/Getty Images

An incredible chant at Manchester City is still the best thing to come out of Dedryck Boyata's club career.

Boyata spent time as a rotation arm with Celtic before moving to Hertha Berlin on a free. But when you realise he's regularly picked for Belgium - a number one ranked team in the FIFA rankings - it makes for slightly skewed reading.

17. Michael Krohn-Dehli (Denmark)

Michael Krohn-Dehli
Krohn-Dehli's best work came for the Danes / Francois Nel/Getty Images

A midfielder by trade, neutrals will recognise Michael Krohn-Dehli for his performances in a Danish shirt throughout the late 2000s and 2010s.

Beyond that, though, his domestic career has been rather quiet. His strongest spells were at Brondby and Celta Vigo, nothing more.

16. Alijosa Asanovic (Croatia)

CUP-FR98-FRA-CRO-ASANOVIC-DJORKAEFF
Asanovic battles with Youri Djorkaeff / PASCAL GEORGE/Getty Images

A single season with Derby County is about as good as it got at club level for Alijosa Asanovic in terms of reaching households.

But for Croatia, the midfielder was a hero. He was one of the side's most important and relied upon players following their formation and was influential as they finished third at the 1998 World Cup.

15. Hal Robson-Kanu (Wales)

Hal Robson-Kanu
Euro 2016 Robson-Kanu was unbelievable / Clive Rose/Getty Images

Heading into Euro 2016, Hal Robson-Kanu had been released from Reading and was without a club.

His performances for Wales were completely different to his at club level, though, and he was a different beast in qualifying for the Euros and when they got there. Robson-Kanu was the man for the big occasion, scoring a Puskas Award winning goal against Belgium and firing Wales to the semi-final.

14. Stern John (Trinidad and Tobago)

Stern John
John's best bits were definitely for country over club / Christopher Lee/Getty Images

After lighting up with the Columbus Crew in those murky, early years of the MLS, Stern John headed to England with Nottingham Forest in 1999.

From there on, John was a journeyman in the country and continually moved sides quietly. While doing so, though, John was firing himself to Trinidadian hero status and is their second most capped player, famously helping them qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

13. John Heitinga (Netherlands)

John Heitinga
Heitinga was always around for the Dutch / Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

John Heitinga's successful five year stint with Everton was about as good as it got for him at club level, having left Ajax in 2008.

But while he was never really rated as anything by many, he was always picked in the Dutch national team. The defender has 87 caps for the Oranje and played at a handful of major tournaments.

12. Jozy Altidore (USA)

Jozy Altidore
Sunderland legend. Obviously. / Jamie Squire/Getty Images

European/English football fans remember Jozy Altidore for costing Sunderland around £9m in 2013 and scoring one league goal from 42 games.

Put him in a Toronto shirt and he'll do fine, but put him in a USA shirt and he'll turn into a prime Gerd Muller. Altidore was a hit for his national side and has 42 goals from 115 caps.

11. Kim Kallstrom (Sweden)

Kim Kallstrom
Still confused by his move to Arsenal / Mikael Sjoberg/Ombrello/Getty Images

Famous for a random loan move to Arsenal in 2014 despite them finding him to have a back injury in his medical, Kim Kallstrom's club career peaked with that - and a decent spell at Lyon.

But when not making random loan moves with a dodgy back, Kallstrom was busy becoming Sweden's fourth most capped player of all time and turning out for them at four different European Championships. And a World Cup. Standard.

10. Joan Capdevilla (Spain)

Joan Capdevila, Alexis Sanchez
Capdevilla was actually a real player, yes / Martin Rose/Getty Images

No, you're not in a fever dream. Joan Capdevilla does exist.

That name was one that quietly won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup with Spain during his career, while barely making any fuss at all at club level, spending the bulk of his time with declining Deportivo and Villarreal outfits.

9. Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)

Asamoah Gyan
Never forget that haircut / Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Aside from a rather 'streets won't forget'-esque spell with Sunderland in the late 2000s, Asamoah Gyan's club career was properly random and completely uninspiring.

He looked an entirely different player when it came to national duties, however. He remains Ghana's leading scorer and is the leading African scorer at the World Cup. Bizarre.

8. Ali Daei (Iran)

Ali Daei, Motohiro Yamaguchi
Ali Daei is a unique player / Etsuo Hara/Getty Images

The only reason you've heard of Ali Daei is because - somehow - he leads the way in goals scored at international level. Leads the way, like completely. Clear of everyone.

What did he do at club level? Aside from an uninspiring one season with Bayern Munich, he was a complete nobody at the top level.

7. Henri Camara (Senegal)

Henri Camara of Senegal
Camara moved around England a fair bit / Stu Forster/Getty Images

Henri Camara has played for more domestic football clubs than I've had hot dinners. Literally, he's gone from Switzerland, to Wolverhampton, to Greece.

Are we bothered? Not at all. Especially not considering he racked up 99 caps for Senegal and bagged 29 goals, two of which came at the 2002 World Cup. Cult hero.

6. Keisuke Honda (Japan)

Keisuke Honda
Honda always impressed for Japan / Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Every time Keisuke Honda turned out for Japan, he looked like an absolute world beater waiting to be gambled on.

The highlight of his club career, though, was a three year stint with Milan in some of their darkest years. Even more bizarrely, he took over as Cambodia manager in 2018. Proper Football Manager stuff.

5. Lukas Podolski (Germany)

Lukas Podolski
Podolski knocked it up a gear for Germany / Julian Finney/Getty Images

A fine spell with FC Koln was never quite matched at Bayern Munich or Arsenal, and a short-term loan to Inter going sideways was the best it got for Lukas Podolski at club level. Average at best.

The script is entirely different for Germany. As well as scoring the fastest goal in the national team's history, Podolski earned 130 caps for Die Mannschaft and bagged 49 goals, representing the nation at seven major tournaments.

4. Anders Svensson (Sweden)

Anders Svensson
Svensson was reliable for Sweden / Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

148 caps for his country means midfielder Anders Svensson is the most capped male Swedish player of all time.

A free-kick specialist, his set piece work came to the boil at the 2002 World Cup when he knocked out Argentina with his finishing move. How did he do at club level? A few years at Southampton between two spells at Swedish outfit Elfsborg.

3. Eduardo Vargas (Chile)

Eduardo Vargas
Vargas flopped at QPR / Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images

When turning out for Chile, Eduardo Vargas regularly impresses and lives up to the concept that he sounds like he should be a world beater.

Top scorer in the Copa America in both 2015 and 2016 as Chile won the tournament sounds great. Just don't look at his spells with Valencia and QPR, when everyone was actually convinced that he could be decent at the top level. It'll ruin the make believe.

2. Sergio Romero (Argentina)

Sergio Romero
Romero was known for his Argentina exploits before Manchester United / Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Younger heads might be a tad confused hearing that a man who earned the reputation of being one of the world's best backup goalkeepers with Manchester United qualifies for this list.

It's important to remember, though, that United got lucky with free transfer Sergio Romero in 2015. Before that, Romero was known purely for being the Argentina number one and having pretty low stock at domestic level having failed to impress at Sampdoria.

1. Miroslav Klose (Germany)

Miroslav Klose
Gunman / Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

Is it any surprise? The best it got at club level for Miroslav Klose was his spell with Lazio toward the end of his career, where he was always deemed reliable, but not that ruthless.

For Germany, it's a completely different story. Klose led the line from 2001 to 2014, scoring 71 goals from 137 caps and is the top scorer of all time at the World Cup. It's like watching two completely different players.

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