Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious according to Oscar Wilde, according to Sean Connery in The Rock. But to many footballers, patriotism is the only thing that gets them up in the morning. Obviously the vast majority of players love to perform for their country, but there are some who love it so much that they perform above and beyond the usual level they display for their clubs. They’re actually better in the madcap no man’s land of international football than the steady rhythm of the club game.
This isn’t just about one-shots who have brief moments of glory for their country, like Eder who scored the glorious tournament-winning goal for Portugal at Euro 2016, but players who perform regularly for their country. Who are these iron patriots?
Clubs: Colo-Colo, Real Sociedad, Barcelona, Manchester City
Manchester City thought they were signing the Claudio Bravo that plays for Chile. A calming captain and dominant presence between the sticks. Instead they got the Real Sociedad and Colo-Colo version, which is a nice passer who struggles to actually save shots. How Barcelona got Chile-Bravo to play for them is still a mystery.
Clubs: Cologne, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Inter, Galatasaray, Vissel Kobe
For years no one could figure out why Lukas Podolski kept getting picked by Germany despite underperforming for nearly every club he played for. The truth is simple: he was lights out for Die Mannshaft on a regular basis, constantly scoring the chances created by his more illustrious team-mates.
Clubs: Mainz, Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea, Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund
Another scoring winger in the Podolski mould, Schurrle has never really settled at any one club and delivered to his talent level. Put him in a Germany shirt, however, and watch him soar. Scored the dagger 6th and 7th in the 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, then set-up the winner in the final too.
Clubs: Porto, Farense, Vitoria Guimaraes, AEK Athens, Zenit Saint Petersburg, Fenerbache, Cagliari, Rangers
For clubs he is a slow-witted error-prone defender. But for his country Big Bruno Alves is a brutal bruiser who bestows beatings on beleaguered forwards who dare to challenge his defensive prowess.
Clubs: Sochaux, Roeselare, Club Brugge, Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Inter
It took nine years of professional football for Ivan Perisic to finally have a club season where he played to a similar level that he has been doing regularly for Croatia for six years. The two-footed winger is a deadly venom on the flanks in red and white.
Clubs: Arsenal, Birmingham, Sunderland, Juventus, Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, Rosenborg
At club level he’s little more than a meme come to life, or a cautionary tale about believing your own hype. For Denmark, however, he was a stalwart no. 9 and the focal point of their attack. Bendtner’s club woes are so severe, however, that they have taken him out his national squad for the last couple of years.
Clubs: FC Vilnius, LKS Lodz, Pao de Acucar, Bragantino, Corinthians, Spurs, Guangzhou Evergrande
A journeyman with the most bizarre journey, Paulinho only really shone for one season at Corinthians. Even out in China where he is lavishly paid, he doesn’t perform all that much. Put him in Brazil yellow, however, and you get a dynamic box-to-box midfielder that can kill you with his goalscoring.
Clubs: Flamengo, Bayer Leverkusen, Corinthians, Beijing Guoan
A supposedly talented winger, Renato Augusto has never set the world alight at club level despite copious amounts of hype. He’s now an average player in China. Yet for Tite’s new Brazil has emerged as a crucial member of midfield, the shuttling no. 8 who links defence and attack as much with energy as with skill. Was also key to Brazil’s 2016 Olympic Gold success.
Clubs: Burnley, Darlington, Rangers, Sion, Palermo, Norwich, Caykur Rizespor, Birmingham, Hearts
Country: Northern Ireland
Kyle’s club career has been something of a laugh. The striker has only twice scored double figures in a season. For Northern Ireland, however, the tall striker is a goal machine. He’s bagged 20 goals in his 62 caps and is the country’s second all-time top goalscorer.
Clubs: Atlas, Monaco, Barcelona, New York Red Bulls, León, Hellas Verona, Atlas
Rafael Márquez hasn’t played consistent top-level football at club level since about 2007, yet he’s amassed nearly 150 caps for Mexico over the years all the while playing superbly. The only man in the history of the sport to have captained his country at four separate FIFA World Cups, Rafael Márquez is an undoubted legend of international football.
Clubs: Liberty Professionals, Udinese, Modena, Rennes, Sunderland, Al Ain, Shanghai SIPG, Al Ahli Dubai
Gyan has had a career that can charitably be described as “journeyman” and more accurately as “mercenary” where he has consistently followed the money. His only consistent performances were in Abu Dhabi-based Al-Ain where he was so much better than the competition it was ridiculous. Everywhere else he’s been average, but for Ghana he is a stunningly effective striker who has 50 goals in his century plus of appearances, leading his nation’s history in both caps and goals.
Club: Almere City, AZ, Spurs
He’s barely played for his national side but Vincent Janssen has seven goals in his 13 appearances and has looked a danger every time he’s played. Meanwhile he couldn’t hit a barn door with a banjo from open play when playing for Spurs.
Clubs: Cobreloa, Universidad de Chile, Napoli, Gremio, Valencia, Queens Park Rangers, Hoffenheim, Tigres UANL
The best way to describe Eduardo Vargas at club level is that he’s a 90-rated FIFA player being controlled by an 8 year-old. All the skills are there but none of the production. Put him in a Chile shirt, however, and suddenly at the controls is a 22 year-old master and everybody is gettin’ smacked right in the face with some enormously clutch goals. He’s scored 65 goals in 270 games at club level, but despite playing 76 games for Chile he’s bagged over half his club total goals with 34.
Clubs: Universidad Católica, U. de Concepción, Servette, Gremio, Gent, Cobreloa, O’Higgins, América, Birmingham, Wigan, Colo-Colo, Universidad de Chile
Jean Beausejour has played for 12 clubs through his career and only at O’Higgins did he manage to score more goals than that. He’s a thoroughly average plodder for his clubs. But for Chile? For Chile he transforms into the dynamic all-action Chilean remake of Roberto Carlos (probably directed by Jodorowsky), tearing up and down the left touchline with a relentless authority. Was key to Chile’s back-to-back Copa América triumphs, and scored the penultimate penalty in La Roja’s shootout victory in 2016.