Ranking the Top 6 Stars Who Played Better for Country Than Club

Ranking the Top 6 Stars Who Played Better for Country Than Club

Isaac Darko
updated at March 23, 2024 at 4:28 PM
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Harry Maguire logo
Manchester United logoDEngland logo
Asamoah Gyan logo
A. Gyan
Legon Cities FC logoFGhana logo
Lukas Podolski logo
L. Podolski
Gornik Zabrze logoMGermany logo
Miroslav Klose logo
M. Klose
-FGermany logo
Keisuke Honda logo
K. Honda
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  • Many players shine internationally but underperform at the club level
  • Harry Maguire has impressed for England despite his difficulties at United
  • Here are five other players who have excelled solely on the international scene

There are a host of footballers – both from past eras and current times – who have encountered difficulty replicating their stellar international performances at the domestic level. Several factors contribute to this phenomenon.

Some players excel in the international arena, finding it more conducive to their style of play, whereas the demands of club football, characterised by tightly packed schedules and relentless competition, prove challenging for them to maintain their form.

Sports Brief has picked out 12 of the best examples of players who thrived only for their country.
Sports Brief has picked out 12 of the best examples of players who thrived only for their country. Photos by David Bustamante/Lefty Shivambu/Chris Brunskill Ltd
Source: Getty Images

One of the peculiarities of football lies in witnessing players shine consistently on the international stage but falter when it comes to club football.

Sports Brief has highlighted six prime examples of players who have excelled solely on the international scene.

Footballers who played better for country than club

Harry Maguire (England)

During the last season, Maguire played more minutes for England than for Manchester United, mainly due to Varane and Martinez becoming Ten Hag's preferred duo. Despite his limited club minutes, Southgate consistently selects Maguire to partner with Stones for the Three Lions.

With 62 caps and seven goals, Maguire holds the record for most goals by an England defender and consistently performs at his best on the international stage. He was named in the Team of the Tournament for both Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup.

Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)

Most Premier League fans remember Asamoah Gyan for his time at Sunderland, where he left a lasting impression as a striker of memorable calibre. Despite his stint with the Black Cats being overshadowed by a crucial penalty miss during the 2010 World Cup due to Luis Suarez's handball, Gyan consistently showcased his talismanic abilities on the international stage.

With 51 goals in 106 appearances for Ghana, including two goals at the 2014 World Cup, Gyan solidified his place in his nation's football folklore. However, by that time, he had become a journeyman at the club level, representing teams like Stade Rennais and Udinese.

Lukas Podolski (Germany)

Lukas Podolski, known for his powerful left foot, excelled when representing Germany but fell short of expectations at club level, despite spells with Bayern Munich and Arsenal. Despite his popularity in Cologne, where he is considered a legend, Podolski never reached the anticipated heights domestically.

Despite his significant contributions to the German national team, including being the third-most capped player and third-highest scorer, and his pivotal role in the 2014 World Cup, it remains puzzling why he didn't achieve similar world-class status at the club level.

Keisuke Honda (Japan)

Keisuke Honda's career took an unusual path. Despite earning cult hero status for his long-range shots and set-piece prowess, except for a successful stint with CSKA Moscow, he struggled to make a significant impact at the club level, including a forgettable time at AC Milan. He then became a journeyman, balancing playing in the Lithuanian top flight with managerial duties in Cambodia.

However, at the international level between 2008 and 2018, Honda's story was vastly different. He amassed 60 goal contributions (37 goals and 23 assists) from 98 caps and will be remembered as a Japanese legend. Instrumental in three World Cups and winning the Asian Cup in 2011, Honda left an indelible mark on Japanese football.

Ali Daei (Iran)

Ali Daei, renowned for keeping Cristiano Ronaldo from the top of the international scoring charts for as long as possible, amassed an incredible 109 goals for Iran from 1992 to 2006. However, he has now been surpassed by the Portuguese icon.

While Daei's club career began strongly in Asia, his move to Germany in 1997 with Armenia Bielefeld and later Bayern Munich in 1998 saw him struggle at the top level of European club football. By 2002, he was in the UAE, and he never made a significant impact in Europe again. It's astonishing considering his dominance at the international level.

Miroslav Klose (Germany)

Wrapping up the list is Miroslav Klose, a former striker who joins elite company as one of the few players to score at four different World Cups. While unassuming at the club level, Klose was a force to be reckoned with when representing his national team.

As Germany's all-time leading scorer, the team never lost a match in which Klose scored, a total of 71 times. He holds the record for the most goals scored at World Cup tournaments and has earned Olympic bronze, silver, and gold medals.

Although he was somewhat reliable for goals at the club level, Klose struggled to reach the pinnacle and was primarily a dependable player for Lazio during his best years.

Isaac Darko photo
Isaac Darko
Isaac Darko is a La Liga, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga editor at Sports Brief with a Degree in Journalism and Communications from Ghana Institute of Journalism (2010)