The 2014 World Cup provides us with two classic, all-time world soccer matchups: Brazil vs. Germany on Tuesday and Argentina vs. the Netherlands on Wednesday. Both are rematches of former World Cup finals. Brazil, Germany and Argentina have combined to win 10 of the previous 19 tournaments.
With the tournament down to four teams, I thought it would be useful to examine the club makeup of the semifinalists. The contrast here is fascinating. Argentina and Brazil are traditionally two of the largest exporters of players around the globe, while Germany is still primarily domestic-based with players from its Bundesliga. The Netherlands is somewhere in the middle. Historically the Dutch produced star players from Johan Cruyff to Ruud Gullit to Dennis Bergkamp to Robin van Persie, who wound up playing for the biggest clubs in Europe. However this version of the Oranje has a distinct Eredivisie flavor.
Let’s take a look at the leagues involved in the semifinals. The Premier League in England trumpets itself as the best in the world. Although it hasn’t helped the England National Team all that much in recent times, it will be well-represented among the last four nations standing. Granted, less than 10 EPL players might start in the semifinals and the league hasn’t exactly produced a “star” performance in Brazil, as Barney Ronay writes in the Guardian today.
- The English/Barclay’s Premier League and Italy’s Serie A are the only leagues represented on all four semifinalists.
- David Luiz finished a move from Chelsea to PSG, but he’s included as an Premier League player rather than Ligue 1.
- Argentina doesn’t have a player based in Germany, while the Dutch do not have a Spanish-based club player.
- Four years ago third-place finisher Uruguay didn’t have a Premier League-based player.
- Brazil’s Serie A is the most represented “other” league with four players in the Brazil squad.
- MLS has one player, Brazil goalie Julio Cesar on-loan at Toronto FC represented.
- Mexico’s Liga MX has one player left, Monterrey’s Jose Maria Basanta of Argentina.
- Biggest trend: four years ago the only England-based player in the Brazil team was back-up keeper Gomes. Thanks mainly to Chelsea that’s changed with Ramires, Oscar, Willian and formerly Luiz in the 23-man roster. Paulinho (Spurs) and Fernandinho (Manchester City) round out six Brazil-based EPL players. Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winners, also coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari featured only one England-based player, Juninho.
- All three Argentine EPL players — Sergio Agüero, Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta — play for Manchester City.
- Three of the four German EPL players — Mesut Özil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Poldolski — play at Arsenal. The fourth, Andre Schürrle plays for Chelsea.
- The Netherlands and Brazil each features six EPL-based players.
Next, I wanted to look at which clubs are the most represented in the semifinals. Listed in the following graph is any club with more than one player on the final four 23-man rosters and or any club that participated in the Champions League group stage in 2013-14.
Some of this is a little quirky. Inter Milan has fallen on hard times since it won the Champions League in 2010, yet has the same amount of players represented at this stage as Barcelona and one more than Real Madrid. On the subject of quirks, Atletico Madrid, which won the Spanish Primera and reached the Champions League final doesn’t have a single player in the final four rosters.
- Bayern Munich is represented on each of the four semifinalists except Argentina. Seven players from Bayern are on the German roster, the same total as in 2010. Dante (Brazil) and Arjen Robben (the Netherlands) are the other two Bayern players remaining.
- Barcelona had the most players at the World Cup at the start with 16, followed by Manchester United and Bayern with 14.
- Manchester United’s one player in the final four — Robin van Persie — is a step up from 2010 when it didn’t have a player on the Netherlands, Spain, Uruguay or Germany.
- Four years ago four Liverpool players were in the semifinals: Fernando Torres, Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt and Ryan Babel. This year there are none.
- Manchester City only had one player represented four years ago — Nigel de Jong. Now he’s the only AC Milan player still standing, although the Dutch midfielder is injured and will not play again this tournament.
- Oddly enough mid-table EPL teams Newcastle United (Tim Krul); Norwich City (Leroy Fer) and Aston Villa (Ron Vlaar) have as much representation as Manchester United, while Swansea City (Jonathan de Guzman, Michel Vorm) has more.
Lastly, it was worth noting how much the final four of the 2014 World Cup were represented by domestic-based club players. Granted, this is skewed since, as aforementioned, Brazil and Argentina send so many players abroad, whereas Germany leans on Bayern Munich for the core of its team. Since so many American fans are hung up on MLS and how it applies to the USMNT, I’ve included it as well.
- Four years ago Germany’s entire 23-man roster was domestic-based.
- Brazil had three domestic based players in 2010, while Argentina had six.
- Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning squad featured 12 domestic-based players.
- Of the 32 teams in Brazil for the World Cup, England had the most domestic players with only reserve keeper Fraser Forster not based in the Premier League. Italy came in with 20/23 in Serie A.
- MLS and the Dutch Eredivisie each produced 10 players for its respective National Teams. In total MLS sent 21 players to the World Cup, the Eredivisie, 18.
- For the sake of comparison, Miguel Herrera’s Mexico team had 15 Liga MX players included in the 23.
That’s the data.
Are there conclusions to be drawn? The Eredivisie is going to remain a “selling league” and by mid-August it’s a safe bet more than half of its 10 domestic-based players will be signing paychecks outside the Netherlands. Serie A’s presence in Europe has waned and it’s been passed by the Bundesliga in terms of Champions League spots. Although Italian clubs are represented in the last four, those players probably won’t play that much of a role, save perhaps Miroslav Klose for Germany.
If Spain or Italy made it this far, La Liga and Serie A would dominate the charts. France beating Germany would have helped Ligue 1’s status a bit, although only eight of Les Bleus players for the 2014 tournament were domestically-based. Had Belgium defeated Argentina, it would have given the Premier League directors more to crow about with 11 players from the Red Devils based in England.
As noted, the biggest trend is more Brazilian players flocking to the cash rich clubs in England, even though Luiz moved to PSG for aroud $80+ million.