11 players that earned a big move after shining at a major tournament

Quick Reads

These days, the biggest football clubs have such extensive scouting and analytics departments that they’re unlikely to judge a player purely off some impressive performances in a summer international tournament.

But that wasn’t always the case, and in years gone by, certain players have burst onto the scene and made a name for themselves at a Euros or World Cup, earning a career-defining transfer off the back of those displays.

We’ve taken a look at 14 players that made a move after lighting up the biggest international stage.

Marcelo Salas

Chilean legend Salas scored as many goals as Ronaldo Nazario at the 1998 World Cup, scoring three times in the group stage before adding a fourth with a consolation in a 4-1 round of 16 defeat to Brazil.

Any scout worth their salt should have been aware of the bagfuls of goals he scored in South America for Universidad de Chile and River Plate (Sir Alex Ferguson famously made a 14,000-mile round-trip to watch him), but it was the World Cup that put Salas on the map. Four days after Chile’s exit, he secured a move across the Atlantic, signing for Lazio.

He went on to score 49 goals in three seasons in the Italian capital, playing a major role as the Biancocelesti won a Serie A and Coppa Italia Double in 1999-00.

Hidetoshi Nakata

His distinctive flame-dyed hair helped Nakata stand out at the 1998 World Cup for Japan, even as they were eliminated with three defeats in the group stage.

But there was much more to the midfielder than just his style, as his career in Italy demonstrated. It all started with France 98, a €4million move to Perugia, before he called time on it early on his own terms. Icon.

READ: A celebration of Hidetoshi Nakata, Serie A cult hero and fashionista icon

Gilberto Silva

Nowadays the standout talents from South American club football move to Europe early in their careers, but two decades ago things were a bit different – a 25-year-old Gilberto Silva at Atletico Mineiro was a testament to that.

Having played every minute for Brazil as they won the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. A couple of weeks after lifting the trophy, he made a £4.5million switch to Arsenal that’s since proven one of the Premier League’s great bargain signings – an essential cog for Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles in 2003-04.

Wayne Rooney

Rooney’s couple of breakout seasons at boyhood club Everton meant he was always destined for the top. But it was his legendary performances for England at Euro 2004 that definitively established his status as a future world-beater.

The player himself turned down a big-money contract extension at Goodison and reportedly handed in a transfer request. A £20million bid from Newcastle was rejected before he sealed a £25million switch to Manchester United.

READ: Yearning for the Wayne Rooney that we all fell in love with at Euro 2004

Fabio Cannavaro

Cannavaro was always destined to leave Juventus after the Calciopoli scandal saw the club punished with relegation to Serie B and their last two league titles revoked. But his destination was up in the air as he focused on Italy’s 2006 World Cup campaign.

His astonishing performances in the heart of the Azzurri’s defence as they won the tournament catapulted the centre-back to Galactico status (he later won that year’s Ballon d’Or), making Real Madrid his natural next port of call.

Sami Khedira

Khedira had already caught the eye by playing role in Stuttgart’s surprise 2006-07 Bundesliga title, his breakthrough season, and he remained at his boyhood club for another three years.

But it was his performances for a young, dynamic, new-look Germany side at the 2010 World Cup that convinced Real Madrid to make the move. He wasn’t the only player in that side to do so…

Mesut Ozil

Ozil already had just over 100 Bundesliga appearances under his belt between Schalke and Werder Bremen by the time the 2010 World Cup came around, but it was in South Africa that the wider world sat up and took notice of the playmaker’s astonishing bag of tricks. Gareth Barry still has nightmares about chasing Ozil’s shadow.

He joined his compatriot Khedira at Real Madrid and went on to register 80 assists and 27 goals in 159  appearances in three seasons under Jose Mourinho at the Bernabeu.

Asamoah Gyan

One of the best and most fun players at the 2010 World Cup, Gyan fired Ghana’s run to the quarter-finals, so it was a cruel twist of fate when his missed penalty against Uruguay denied them the honour of becoming the first African side to make it to a semi-final.

Later that summer he made a club-record £13million move from Rennes to Sunderland on transfer deadline day and picked up where he left off in South Africa.

Gyan scored on his Premier League debut and notched 10 goals and five assists in his one and only full Premier League campaign, controversially ditching Steve Bruce’s Black Cats for Abu Dhabi club Al Ain after just a year on Wearside.

James Rodriguez

As was becoming tradition, Florentino Perez seemingly needed the shiniest new plaything from every World Cup.

Top scorer with six goals in 2014, Colombia’s James Rodriguez – the name is Bond, James Rodriguez… – was pure box office in Brazil. After his goal against Uruguay, it’s no wonder Madrid sanctioned £63million for his signature from Monaco.

Alexis Sanchez

As with others in this list, Sanchez was already hot property by the time the tournament kicked off, having outgrown a club of Udinese’s means. But his performances for Jorge Sampaoli’s all-action Chile at Brazil 2014 alleviated any doubts over his quality.

He starred as Chile knocked holders Spain out at the group stage and scored as they pushed hosts Brazil all the way to a penalty shootout in the round of 16. No wonder Barcelona soon came calling.

Aleksandr Golovin

Other standout individuals from the 2018 World Cup, Harry Maguire and Benjamin Pavard in particular, were made to wait a year for their big moves, but Monaco acted swiftly to sign Russian talisman Golovin from CSKA Moscow.

The attacking midfielder was one of the hosts’ standout players as they upset the odds to reach the quarter-finals, knocking out Spain en route, before pushing eventual runners-up Croatia to penalties in the quarters.

He’s since taken time to make an impact in the principality, but has gradually become a useful player – he averaged a goal or assist every 76 minutes as Niko Kovac’s Monaco pushed for the Ligue 1 title in 2020-21.


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