Surprise World Cup stars
There are over 100 Premier League players flying the flag for England’s top division at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, while Championship outfits Aston Villa, West Brom, Wigan, QPR, Millwall, Hull, Ipswich, Brentford, Reading, Bristol City and Stoke – not to mention League One Sunderland – are also represented.
But what about surprise selections from previous editions of the tournament? In this slideshow, we pick out 16 Premier League stars you won’t believe played in a World Cup.
Sami Al-Jaber (Saudi Arabia)
Wolves fans must have been stunned to see Al-Jaber score against Tunisia at the 2006 World Cup. The Saudi striker had last been seen at Molineux back in 2000/01 but hadn’t looked remotely like he was capable of playing, let alone scoring, on the biggest stage of all.
Snapped up from Al-Hilal in a complex loan deal that included an option to buy the forward for £1.2m, Al-Jaber went on to play only four league matches as international commitments, injuries and homesickness resulted in the deal being cut short. Yet despite all that, his goal in 2006 was his third in three different World Cups – not bad going for a player who looked out of his depth in England’s second tier.
Andreas Andersson (Sweden)
Andersson was signed from Milan by Kenny Dalglish as a replacement for cult hero Tino Asprilla, but Newcastle fans didn’t take to the Swede (or, for that matter, the Scot). He pitched up for an ineffective Premier League debut against Aston Villa, and the attacker – resplendent with his long, flowing locks – earned the nickname 'Pamela' among the Toon faithful.
It took Andersson nine games to score his first goal for the club, and though he added three more that season, he returned to Sweden with AIK after a year in the northeast. Fast-forward to 2002 and Andersson’s AIK form earned him a call-up to Sweden’s World Cup squad, where he featured as a substitute in four games – including an ineffectual cameo against England.
Winston Bogarde (Chelsea)
When Bogarde arrived at Chelsea in 2000, most Blues supporters thought they were getting a defender worthy of his status as a former Ajax, Milan and Barcelona player with World Cup experience for the Netherlands. But that impressive playing CV didn’t tell the full story.
Bogarde had played no part in Ajax’s 1995 Champions League Final win and only managed three Serie A appearances for the Rossoneri. Injuries also curtailed his impact at Barcelona, while his World Cup action amounted to two substitute appearances in the group stage of the 1998 edition – and no minutes at all in the knockout round as the Netherlands reached the last four.
Philipp Degen (Switzerland)
In retrospect, Liverpool followers must have been stunned by the fact Degen played every minute of Switzerland’s World Cup campaign in 2006. Then again, most were shocked when he even managed to get on the pitch at Liverpool.
When Rafa Benitez brought the winger to Merseyside on a free in 2008, he told fans they would be gaining “an offensive player with great energy and a winning mentality”. As it turned out, the only offensive thing about Degen was the fact he managed seven risible league appearances in two injury-hit seasons at the club.
Agustin Delgado (Ecuador)
Barring bizarre Gordon Strachan comparisons to yoghurt, most Southampton supporters would struggle to recall much from Delgado’s underwhelming time at St Mary’s – but Sol Campbell might. He played a key role in Delgado’s only standout showing for Saints against Arsenal, bringing the Ecuadorian down as he was through on goal and being shown a red card.
Delgado went on to find the net in a 3-2 Southampton success, but that was as good as it got. Often injured and isolated by a refusal to learn any English, Delgado surprised many Saints fans as he turned up at the 2002 World Cup, even scoring against Mexico.
Bernard Diomede (France)
World Cup winner Diomede almost made the perfect start to life at Anfield after arriving from Auxerre in 2002. Facing Sunderland on his Liverpool debut, the winger appeared to have opened his account with a superb overhead kick – but the referee had failed to spot his strike crossing the line, and Diomede was denied his dream start.
Injuries and poor form restricted the Frenchman to just five outings in two years. It seems astonishing, in retrospect, that Diomede had played three games for France in their triumphant World Cup campaign in 1998.
Comfortably the worst signing of Damien Comolli’s three-year spell in charge of recruitment at Spurs, Gilberto arrived from Hertha Berlin at the start of 2008 and wasted little time in making a poor impression. The left-back made just six starts and three substitute appearances for Spurs and was taken off at half-time on three separate occasions.
Brazil manager Carlos Alberto Parreira clearly saw something in him, though: he included Gilberto in his travelling party for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where the defender played twice and even scored – the fourth against Japan after the Selecao had already wrapped up qualification for the knockout rounds.
Brett Holman (Australia)
Holman's arrival at Villa Park in summer 2012 brought a lukewarm response from those on the terraces – and it quickly became clear why. The Villans required goalscoring reinforcements under the conservative Alex McLeish and the Australian didn’t exactly fit the bill, having made the net bulge just seven times in 42 matches during his final campaign in the Netherlands.
Holman wasn’t helped when McLeish was dismissed just a few days into his time at the club, but a return of two goals in 29 appearances simply wasn’t good enough. All of which made the fact that Holmann had already struck twice for the Socceroos at the 2010 World Cup all the more bizarre.
Brazil’s painful lack of quality strikers was brought into focus at the 2014 World Cup, when Jo was named in the hosts’ 23-man squad. A nation that once boasted the likes of Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo competing for places was suddenly being forced to slum it with a player who previously managed one goal in 21 league matches for Manchester City.
The forward fared better during a loan stint at Everton but isn’t remembered too fondly by either of his English employers, partly thanks to some unsanctioned trips back to Brazil. His home country returned the favour by giving Jo three appearances at the 2014 World Cup, where he failed to score.
Eddie Johnson (USA)
Fulham garnered a reputation for spotting American talent in the 2000s, with Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey and Carlos Bocanegra all brought over from MLS to great acclaim. Eddie Johnson not so much.
Recruited from Kansas City Wizards in 2008, Johnson struggled in his six short appearances for the Cottagers that season and failed to score a single goal. The striker clearly wasn’t cut out for the Premier League and yet, a couple of years earlier, had been deemed good enough to go to the World Cup in Germany with the United States.
Jean Makoun (Cameroon)
Makoun actually made the cut for Cameroon at two World Cup finals. Mind you, the Indomitable Lions put in a tame showing at both the 2010 and 2014 tournaments, losing six out of six group games.
Makoun, signed by Gerard Houllier from Lyon for £6m in January 2011, was red-carded in only his second game for the club. His tackle on Blackpool’s DJ Campbell was so bad, in fact, that it earned him a three-game ban. After nine appearances at Villa Park he was shipped out on loan, never to return.
Silvio Maric (Croatia)
Back in the late 1990s, Maric was being tipped as an attacking midfielder for the future. But having arrived at Newcastle in 1999 from Dinamo Zagreb after some superb displays against the Magpies in a Champions League qualifier, the playmaker was unable to live up to the billing.
Sure enough, he was permitted to join Porto after a single season at St James’ Park. Most fans perhaps didn’t even realise Maric had played for the Croatia side who finished third at the 1998 World Cup, let alone feature in four matches in France.
Marko Marin (Germany)
Of all the players to come and go from Stamford Bridge in the Roman Abramovich era, few have been as forgettable as Marin. Highly rated in his youth, the winger arrived from Werder Bremen in 2012 but made little impact during his four years as a Chelsea player.
Marin appeared in just 143 minutes of Premier League football during that period, scoring one goal in his 16 outings for the west Londoners and spending most of the time out on loan (he had four separate temporary spells elsewhere.) The German made two forgettable substitute appearances in the group phase of the 2010 World Cup, which ended up being his last caps for the Mannschaft.
Gabriel Paletta (Italy)
Paletta may still have nightmares about his time with Liverpool in England, and one particularly torrid appearance in the League Cup against Arsenal. Julio Baptista ran the defender ragged that day in a 6-3 loss at Anfield in 2007, when the Brazilian bagged four goals.
That proved the final straw for Rafael Benitez, who sold Paletta to Boca Juniors the following summer. Most Liverpool fans must have been surprised, then, when the Argentina-born defender popped up in Italy’s line-up against England at the 2014 World Cup, having qualified for the Azzurri through his great grandfather. Paletta had the last laugh, helping Cesare Prandelli’s men to a 2-1 win in Manaus.
Danny Shittu (Nigeria)
Shittu was a fine Championship defender who was always sharp in the tackle and strong in the air. Any QPR fan would tell you that, after 191 games across two spells for the club.
Bolton supporters might disagree, though. Given the chance to step up to the Premier League with the Trotters in 2008, Shittu struggled and played just 12 games in 2008/09. But despite failing to make a single appearance for Bolton the following campaign, the centre-back still found himself called up to the Super Eagles squad for that summer’s World Cup, playing in four matches.
Frank Sinclair (Jamaica)
Sinclair’s top-flight career featured many memorable moments, good and bad. There was the time he celebrated scoring against Coventry in 1997 by dropping his shorts, his incredible knack for scoring own goals at Leicester, and a winning strike in the 1998 League Cup Final against Middlesborough.
Few could have predicted his career highlights would also include a World Cup with Jamaica, particularly as Sinclair had already been called up for England in 1995. He wasn’t brought on for the Three Lions, though, and when the Reggae Boyz came calling three years later the defender was only too happy to oblige.
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