Lists

9 players who've been far better for their country than clubs

Lukas Podolski Germany

How can you shine at World Cups yet look hapless at QPR? Michael Yokhin profiles the men who've starred at international level, but underperformed through their club careers

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Lukas Podolski (Germany)

The obvious one. Poldi might not have been a total failure for Bayern Munich and Arsenal – far from it. He's also a local legend at Cologne, the club that nurtured him. And yet, judging by his club career, he most definitely doesn't deserve to be considered one of the best German players in history.

That's what the stats show, however. Incredibly, the versatile winger/striker has 130 caps for Germany, putting him third in all-time rankings – just behind Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose. He's also their third-highest scorer behind Klose and Gerd Muller with 49 goals. A firm favourite with coach Joachim Low, and a big joker in the dressing room, he won the 2014 World Cup without playing in the knockout phase.

The current World Cup is Die Mannschaft's first major tournament without Podolski since 2002. 

Eduardo Vargas (Chile)

"I have no idea why I'm playing better for the national team," Vargas once said. One of the most popular players in Chile, he rarely disappointed when putting the red shirt on. The striker was crowned Copa America top scorer twice in a row, in 2015 and 2016 – and the Chileans won both tournaments, having failed to do so previously in their entire history. Vargas had a very solid 2014 World Cup too, scoring in a crucial 2-0 win over Spain.

Overall, he has 35 goals in 82 international fixtures, but his club career in Europe has been a disaster. The Chilean failed miserably at Napoli, Valencia, QPR and Hoffenheim, winning few admirers in Italy, Spain, England and Germany. He now plays for Tigres in Mexico and is unlikely to return to Europe.

Mauricio Isla (Chile)

It's hard not to put another Chilean on the list, because Isla had the potential to become one of the top players in the world in his position. The now-30-year-old showed outstanding promise as a right-back and right-sided midfielder for Udinese at the beginning of his career, and the national team enjoyed his services. Isla has 100 caps, was prominent at two World Cup tournaments and – just like Vargas – was crucial to their historic Copa America titles in 2015 and 2016.

His club career went downhill after he left Udinese in 2012, however. Isla was a bench-warmer at Juventus, was relegated with QPR, and wasn't popular at Marseille either. He's now at Fenerbahce after a mediocre season at Cagliari; a sad state of affairs for a player who had so much potential.

Angelos Charisteas (Greece)

Charisteas will be remembered as a Greek legend for generations to come, having scored the winning goal against Portugal in the Euro 2014 Final. The burly striker netted the winner against France in the quarter-finals, and was on target against Spain too, earning his place in history.

With 25 goals for his country, he is Greece's second-top scorer of all time – and only four of his strikes came in friendlies. Charisteas was always reliable for the national team but never managed to convince at his clubs. In fact, he only netted nine times in his best season for Werder Bremen in 2002/03. Things got worse later on, and the Greek had very disappointing spells at Ajax, Feyenoord, Nuremberg, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke, not to mention a short and bizarre adventure at French side Arles-Avignon.

Aljosa Asanovic (Croatia)

Ask any Croatian football fan, and they will tell you how great Asanovic was. This elegant midfielder was at the very heart of everything the national team did in the late 1990s. His passing was immaculate, and he made the team tick when they reached the quarter-finals at Euro '96 and then finished third at the 1998 World Cup.

He definitely didn't feel inferior to star players Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki, Alen Boksic, Davor Suker and Robert Jarni – and rightly so. Mention his name to your average fan outside of Croatia, however, and they wouldn't know who Asanovic was at all. His club career at the likes of Montpellier, Derby, Napoli and Panathinaikos among others only saw him fulfil a fraction of his potential – and that's a great shame.