Top 10 great players who play for small nations, generous guys

There are some players who have never won a World Cup, or even continental championships (Euro, CAN or Copa America) even though they are football legends. But when you’re (almost) alone in your team, it’s complicated to do everything. It may be hard for others, but you have to face reality: not all players are in the same boat.

Here are 10 examples of players who will / have struggled to win internationally, but we can’t blame them too much.

1. Zlatan

The great Zlatan has always played for Sweden. Ouch. We could have said to ourselves “he still has Bosnia” (his father is of Bosnian origin), but you will agree that it is not so much better, or even worse. Suddenly Zlatan’s national team record is not crazy crazy. On the other hand, he shone in his team and was always the leader. In 2012, it was thanks to Zlatan that Sweden scored their first goal against Germany in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, otherwise apart from that, Sweden is mostly a lot of play-offs.

2. Aubameyang

Aubameyang, who has dual Franco-Gabonese nationality, has always chosen to play for Gabon. And yet Aubameyang has evolved almost his entire career in French clubs, notably at AS St-Etienne. After his departure from France he frequented the biggest European clubs like Dortmund, Arsenal and today Barça. At club level he has received many accolades, he is Dortmund’s top foreign goalscorer, he won a Europa League with Arsenal, and he was also the Premier League’s top scorer in 2018 and 2019, so it’s not horrible. But Gabon have never gone further than the quarter-finals in the Africa Cup of Nations, and that was ten years ago. Moreover, in the World Cup Gabon has never gone beyond the preliminary qualifying stages…

3. Lewandowski

Lewandowski is one of the best European players to date, he should clearly have won the Golden Ball last year but that is another debate. In 2020, he becomes the first Polish player to be voted the best FIFA footballer. He is widely imposed in the Bundesliga, let us also remember that he was the top scorer in all the competitions in which he participated in 2020, that is to say in the German Cup and in the Champions League. It is with Lewandowski that Poland qualified for the first time in its history in the round of 16 at the European Championship in 2016. Yes, the Poles were a great footballing nation in the 20th century, with in particular two medals bronze in the World Cup (in 1974 and 1982), but if you look at the last World Cups, that is no longer the case.

4. Erling Haaland

Haaland is very young, he is only 21, so we shouldn’t condemn him too quickly, we don’t know what Norway can become in 10 years. He has been playing in Dortmund since 2020, and he is the Norwegian team’s greatest hope. We are going to give him time to grow up before saying that he is one of the best European players, but we already know his potential, let’s check if he will make the difference with Norway.

5. Gheorghe Hagi

The Romanian was nicknamed the “Maradona of the Carpathians”, that means a lot. Hagi played between the 80s and the 2000s, and he is a legend of Romanian football. He went through Galatasaray, Real, or even Barça, but the club with which he shone the most remains the Turkish club. With Galatasaray, he won a UEFA Cup, four national titles, and was named best Romanian footballer of the century.

6. Hidetoshi Nakata

Nakata is considered the best Asian player of all time. Evolving with the Japan team, he did not really impose himself with his national team internationally. On the other hand, in club it is another story, between the end of the 90s and 2006, he spent most of his career in Italy, in big clubs like AS Roma or Fiorentina. He is the only Asian player to have been in the top 100 of the FIFA rankings and to be in the list of 125 players of all time that the great Pelé had made on the occasion of 100 years of FIFA.

So Nakata is someone but it’s true that Japan is not a great footballing nation… that’s how it is, you can’t have everything.

7. George Weah

The current president of Liberia started off as one of the greatest African players of all time. He is revealed in France in Paris and AS Monaco with which he wins 2 championships, and he is in particular the only African player who wins a golden ball (in 1995, the year when he will be top scorer in the League of Champions and voted best footballer of the year by FIFA). Unfortunately Liberia has never won either in Africa, with the CAN, or in the World Cup, where they have never qualified.

8. Riyad Mahrez (I see the haters coming)

I laugh (half). You have to see the positive, I am saying that Riyad Mahrez is a great player, which is true. Winner of the CAN in 2019, he is also one of Manchester City’s most important players. Algeria is a great footballing nation, it must be said…well, it was especially before CAN 2022…and before qualifying for the World Cup too. Sorry Algerians, I still love you.

Top 10 great players who play for small nations, generous guys
Photo credits (CC BY 2.0): Ben Sutherland from Crystal Palace, London, UK

9. Ryan Giggs

Giggs has played almost his entire career at Manchester United, which is not a small team, so far we agree. On the other hand, as far as the national team is concerned, he had decided to play for Wales when he could have started for England. Giggs chose his nation and although he didn’t win much he was a true Welsh legend.

10. Martin Odegaard

Another little Norwegian genius, is Norway really such a small nation? Odegaard tried to prove himself at Real, without too much success and he was loaned to Arsenal where he shines much more, he even became captain at only 22 years old. Now 23 years old, Odegaard is also one of the great hopes of the Norway team which is getting stronger and stronger.

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