The World Cup is the pinnacle of football competition. Only the best of the best get to play there. However, if you’re a football player representing your country in the World Cup, the tournament also comes with an unheralded incentive to perform well with the hopes of parlaying that play into a lucrative club deal.
The 2014 World Cup continued this trend with numerous players cashing in on incredible performances, with big-money moves to the most powerful club teams in Europe. It also helps that the tournament coincides with the opening of the summer transfer season, one of two times in the calendar year where owners are given freedom to flex their financial muscles, some more egregious than others.
Here is the list. Some of the players on the list that completely bombed at the World Cup but their transfers are significant enough to be mentioned).
1) James-don’t-call-me-James Rodriguez – The unquestioned golden boy of the World Cup saw his stock reach superstar levels with his performance for Colombia. Not only did he lead a Colombian team that many predicted would fall flat on its face without star striker Radamel Falcao but his otherworldly performance, highlighted by winning the Golden Boot award, endeared him to millions of football fans, not to mention the brass over at Real Madrid. His six-goal performance at the Cup eventually led him to a massive 63-million pound transfer deal to Real. Life is good for Ha-Mes.
2) Toni Kroos – Kroos didn’t explode at the World Cup the way Rodriguez did but he was one of the most influential stars that helped Germany win the World Cup. Club teams like those kind of players, especially when they appear to be underused the way Kroos was with Bayern Munich. Shoot, Kroos’ deal only cost 19 million pounds, a relative pittance for the bottomless wallet of the Galacticos. With Rodriguez and Kroos joining Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, Real Madrid have been penciled as the 5/6 favorites to win La Liga ahead of rival Barcelona, which also made its own splash signing.
3) Luis Suarez – Hate him all you want for his choice of dietary supplements but you can’t escape the fact that Suarez is still one of the most feared footballers in the world. Now that he has moved to Barcelona to feature alongside Lionel Messi and Neymar, the former Liverpool striker expected to star in arguably the scariest attacking line Barcelona has had since the glory days of the Eto’o-Ronaldinho-Messi triumvirate. The transfer cost Barcelona 73 million pounds but if Suarez can translate his dynamic play in La Liga while also changing his dental plan, Barca’s return to the top of the football world—they have 6/4 odds to win La Liga—could happen sooner than later.
4) Ivan Rakitic – Notice how the first four players on this list transferred to just two teams? For those who thought that the Madrid-Barcelona rivalry was contained on the pitch, guess again. Rakitic doesn’t carry the same cache as any of the three guys above him but he was arguably the best and most important player on a Croatia team that underperformed in the tournament. If he can replicate his World Cup performance and his 15-goal, 17-assist haul with Sevilla last season, Barcelona may have stumbled into a 14.3 million pound bargain.
5) David Luiz – It’s hard not to feel bad about the way David Luiz ended his World Cup bid. The man was an abomination when the games counted the most, often looking to do too much and leaving his real responsibilities exposed. Nevertheless, Luiz is still one of the best center backs in the world and PSG paid a 39.2 million premium to pry him away from Chelsea. Luiz’s new surroundings now give him a chance to team up with compatriot and fellow head banger Thiago Silva to form one of the more impressive defensive duos in Ligue 1. It’s no wonder that PSG are the overwhelming favorites at 1/6 odds to win the domestic title.
6) Alexis Sanchez – Fans will forever point to Brazil’s 7-1 humiliation against Germany as the game that broke the Selecao’s back, sending it spiraling into the depths of football hell. Brazil came ridiculously close to being sent home in the round of 32 against Chile. Arturo Vidal may get top billing as the star of that team but it was Sanchez who continue to run through Brazil’s back four in that game, culminating in his tying goal that ultimately sent the game to penalties. Sanchez’s performance netted him a 35-million pound move from Barcelona to Arsenal where he has to replicate his World Cup performance at the Etihad. If he can pull that off, Arsenal’s 6/1 odds to win the EPL will look an incredible steal.
7-9) Chelsea’s massive haul – I’m grouping three guys here because all were bought by a Chelsea team that has evolved in the modern-day football equivalent of a Jekyll-and-Hyde. Jose Mourinho’s return as manager last year brought back a semblance of order within the team and it’s no surprise that this transfer season also saw the Blues return to its freewheeling spending habits.
Atletico Madrid’s Diego Costa was the marquee signing, costing Chelsea 32 million pounds, despite completely whiffing at the World Cup. But Chelsea can justify that after seeing Costa lead Atletico to a La Liga title nobody saw coming.
That being said, you can make the case that Cesc Fabregas (27 million pounds) and Filipe Luis (20 million pounds) are the two players that could have the biggest impacts for their new team this coming season.
The addition of a true No.9 in Costa now gives the team an attacking threat when scoring opportunities run as dry as the Sahara. But in order for Costa to be able to get the ball, someone needs to get it to him. That’s a role Fabregas once thrived in with Barcelona and if he can return to that form, look for Cesc to be the biggest reason Chelsea justifies its pre-season favorites status (7/4 odds) to win the Premier League.
10) Robert Lewandowski – The Polish gunner didn’t play in the World Cup. So why is he on this list? Two things: he’s a world-class player who happens to play for merely decent national team and more importantly, he’s moving from Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich for a free transfer.
The rich get richer in the Bundesliga.