The World Cup's League of Nations: For the first time more than 100 non-English Premier League players will feature in the finals this summer
That's at least one from each club and one for every country except Russia
Sunday 23 March 2014
There is an easy solution for football fans waiting impatiently for this summer's World Cup to start – just pop to your nearest Premier League ground, because you are guaranteed to see at least one potential star of the tournament in action right now. The 2014 finals will be the first World Cup featuring more than 100 non-English Premier League players, dwarfing the number from any other league and underlining the global power and appeal of England's top flight.
Indeed, such is the multi-national make-up of today's Premier League that it is likely only one of the 32 competing squads in Brazil – Russia – will be without a footballer based in this country. Barring injuries, there will be players from all 20 Premier League clubs at the tournament, with Manchester City potentially sending a dozen from their cosmopolitan squad.
And it is not just the top division – nine Championship sides have players vying for World Cup spots and there is even one League One player dreaming of Brazil, Swindon Town's Massimo Luongo, who made his debut for Australia this month. The combined total from the Premier League and Football League could be as high as 121.
It is a far cry from 20 years ago when the first World Cup of the Premier League era, USA 94, featured just 16 England-based footballers from beyond the British Isles – and 10 of those were Norwegian. Today, by contrast, even a mid-table Premier League game like this afternoon's meeting of Aston Villa and Stoke City could involve as many as seven players who will have the eyes of the world on them in June – from Villa's Belgium striker Christian Benteke to Stoke's Bosnia-Herzegovina goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
The World Cup may still be 11 weeks away but Stoke's American full-back Geoff Cameron is already thinking how a victory over Villa today would ensure bragging rights over Brad Guzan when the pair join up with the United States squad in May. "You can head into World Cup camp and have a smile on your face and say, 'Hey, we beat you twice'," he says of his banter with the burly Villa goalkeeper whom he calls "The Bear". There could be up to 11 England-based players in Jürgen Klinsmann's US squad – a total only Belgium and France are expected to match – and this is illustrative of the reality of life for many players in the modern game: rivals one week, brothers-in-arms the next.
For the football fan of a certain age, it is tempting to feel nostalgia for the days when World Cup heroes came out of nowhere, exploding on to our TV screens with a stunning goal, a rare piece of skill or perhaps just a silly celebration.
In his fine book on the 1990 World Cup, All Played Out, author Pete Davies asked the question, "And who were these guys Argentina were playing?" of the Cameroon side who stunned Diego Maradona's holders in the opening match. If that were now, Roger Milla's dance would have been seen regularly in the Champions League, while Cyrille Makanaky might have pitched up at Wigan.
Travelling further back in time, the late Tom Finney confessed he "had never seen anything like it" when watching Brazil at the first World Cup they hosted in 1950, but for a player like Cameron, the shrinking of Planet Football has its pluses.
He will be part of a US defence charged with stifling Portugal and Germany in successive group matches and at the Britannia Stadium recently got to size up Arsenal's Mesut Özil. He admits to making mental notes.
"It might be different in the World Cup where you have other players [and] there might be differences tactically," he says, "but you can pick up the habits that he uses as a player – dribbling tactics or his tendencies. You keep that in your mind so that hopefully when I do play against him in the summer, I will be able to remember, 'OK, this is where his tendencies are, this and that'."
As for the physical preparations, Cameron came back from the Americans' last friendly against Ukraine with firm instructions to get some rest. "We were just talking about how it's a very hard and long season with the Premier League and the toll it takes on your body so make sure you rest as much as possible – on days off, just shut your body down and try to recover as fast."
While Cameron can already think ahead to Brazil, one potential opponent in the Americans' opening game in Natal is reluctant to do the same. For Middlesbrough's Ghana winger Albert Adomah, there is no guarantee of a place in the Black Stars' 23-man squad after he made just one start in qualifying. "I don't think about the World Cup too much because anything can happen," he tells The Independent on Sunday. "Hopefully I'll be one of the 30 players [named] and then they have to trim it down to 23, but there's a long way to go."
Adomah, one of 18 Football League players who could be Brazil-bound – from an Iranian at Charlton to a Honduran at Wigan – could feasibly finish his club campaign at Yeovil Town's Huish Park and then play his next competitive match against the US in the World Cup spotlight of Brazil. He cites one factor in his favour when it comes to getting picked: "Most of the [Ghana] wingers are left-footed, I am the only right-footer so hopefully if I get selected there is a chance I can be involved. It would really be a dream come true."
Those well-worn words ring true in this instance. The Lambeth-born 26-year-old recounts how four years ago, while waiting for a transfer to Bristol City, he watched the World Cup in London while popping out for kickabouts in Ravenscourt Park. "I was playing football in the park and watching Ghana on the television." It could be some change of fortune, though his Boro team-mates are keeping his feet on the ground. "If I shank a ball in training they say 'Look at this guy, he's off to the World Cup'." He will not be the only one.
Aston Villa v Stoke is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
Our boys for Brazil
Number of World Cup-bound possibles from the English game:
11Belgium, France, USA
7 Brazil, Nigeria, Holland
5 Australia, Ivory Coast, South Korea
4 Algeria, Argentina, Germany
3 Cameroon, Croatia, Honduras, Uruguay
2 Bosnia-H, Chile, Greece, Iran, Japan
1 Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, Portugal, Switzerland
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