A show­case of the great­est play­ers? Not en­tirely true

Financial Chronicle - - DEEP DIVE -

THE World Cup is typ­i­cally seen as a show­case of the world’s great­est play­ers on the global stage. That is true, but also not, as there are a large num­ber of ar­guably world-class play­ers who will not be go­ing to Rus­sia this sum­mer be­cause their coun­try did not qual­ify, they are in­jured, or for rea­sons other than their foot­balling abil­ity.

Be­low, we nom­i­nate a squad of 23 ‘fail­ures’ who we think would be more than able to com­pete for the ul­ti­mate prize this sum­mer, if only they were there. In­deed, on pa­per the fic­tive World Cup squad be­low looks in many ways stronger than the ones at­tend­ing the event this sum­mer. Our start­ing XI would look some­thing like this:

Goal­keeper

Jan Oblak, Slo­vakia & Atletico Madrid (17 caps, £63mn) Slo­vakia and Ateltico Madrid keeper Jan Oblak won the Europa League with Atletico a few weeks ago, and in La Liga Atletico con­ceded only 22 goals, and much of that can be cred­ited to their goal­keeper.

Left-back

David Alaba, Aus­tria & Bay­ern Mu­nich (61 caps, £45mn) Pretty much has it all. The en­ergy and stamina to run up and down the left wing, two good feet, but also ca­pa­ble of head­ing, tack­ling and in­ter­cept­ing. Of­ten plays in cen­tral mid­field for his coun­try.

Cen­tre-backs

Ge­or­gio Chiellini, Italy & Ju­ven­tus (96 caps, £9mn) Seems to get bet­ter with age, but un­for­tu­nately called an end to his Italy career af­ter not qual­i­fy­ing for the tour­na­ment in Rus­sia. His per­for­mances are typ­i­cally a mas­ter­class of or­gan­i­sa­tion and re­silience. Vir­gil van Dijk, Nether­lands & Liver­pool (18 caps, £45mn) Played a key role for Liver­pool in se­cur­ing a top-four fin­ish and reach­ing the fi­nal of the Cham­pi­ons League. Very calm and com­fort­able on the ball and at 6’4” he also brings for­mi­da­ble phys­i­cal pres­ence. A com­plete de­fender.

Right-back

Hec­tor Bel­lerin, Spain & Ar­se­nal (14 caps, £36.00mn) Be­gan his foot­balling ed­u­ca­tion as a for­ward at the Barcelona academy but was con­verted into a wing back when he ar­rived at Ar­se­nal. His strength is in get­ting for­ward and im­pact in the fi­nal third, ei­ther through a cross or cut­ting into more cen­tral ar­eas.

Left wing

Leroy Sane, Ger­many & Manch­ester City (11 caps, £81mn) The 22 year-old PFA Young Player of the Year scored 15 goals and as­sisted an­other 18 over 58 ap­pear­ances for ti­tle-win­ning Manch­ester City this sea­son. A shock omis­sion from a Ger­man squad that if any­thing looks some­what short of at­tack­ing tal­ent.

Cen­tral mid­field

Marco Ver­ratti, Italy & PSG (25 caps, £63mn) With the vi­sion and tech­nique to ex­e­cute the per­fect pass, Ver­ratti is the ful­crum at the cen­tre of PSG’s mid­field and has taken over from An­drea Pirlo as the deep-lay­ing play­maker for Italy. Naby Keita, Guinea & Red Bull Leipzig (29 caps, £58mn) Keita’s stats from his sea­sons in the Bun­desliga show he is play­ing with high in­ten­sity and phys­i­cal­ity but that he is also very ver­sa­tile. Tack­ling and in­ter­cep­tions are strengths of his, but so is drib­bling, sug­gest­ing Liver­pool has bought a mas­ter of all trades.

Right-wing

Gareth Bale, Wales & Real Madrid (70 caps, £63mn) There are few play­ers in world foot­ball ca­pa­ble of run­ning box-to-box as quickly as Bale. His abil­ity to bring the ball, and the en­tire team, for­ward to the op­po­si­tion penalty box in sec­onds is un­ri­valled.

Strik­ers

Pierre-Em­m­er­ick Aubameyang, Gabon & Ar­se­nal (49 caps, £67.50mn) De­spite what many has con­sid­ered a lack-lus­tre be­gin­ning to his Ar­se­nal career, his goal ra­tio at Ar­se­nal is 0.77, which rep­re­sents an im­prove­ment from his Borus­sia days (0.68). Alexis Sanchez, Chile & Manch­ester United (121 caps, £63mn) Miss­ing the World Cup will at least give the Manch­ester United striker some much-needed rest and the op­por­tu­nity to re­dis­cover his best form at club level af­ter a dis­ap­point­ing sea­son.

And to com­plete the 23-man squad we add: Gianluigi Buf­fon, Ju­ven­tus & Italy (176 caps, £1.80mn, 176 caps); Gianluigi Don­narumma, Italy & AC Mi­lan (6 caps, £36.00mn); Leonardo Bonucci, Italy & AC Mi­lan (89 caps, £31.50mn); Aymeric La­porte, France & Manch­ester City (0 caps, £36mn); Alex San­dro, Brazil & Ju­ven­tus (10 caps, £45mn); Alessan­dro Florenzi, Italy & Roma (28 caps, £22.5mn); Mi­ralem Pjanic, Bos­nia & Ju­ven­tus (81 caps, £58.50mn); Marek Ham­sik, Slo­vakia & Napoli (102 caps, £36mn); Riyad Mahrez, Al­ge­ria & Le­ices­ter (37 caps, £45mn); An­thony Mar­tial, France & Manch­ester United (18 caps, £58.50mn); Mauro Icardi, Ar­gentina & In­ter (4 caps, £67.50mn); Ciro Im­mo­bile, Italy & Lazio (32 caps, £40.50mn).

The 23-man fic­tive World Cup squad above is val­ued at a to­tal of £1,082mn by Trans­fer­markt, which com­pares with a to­tal val­u­a­tion of £1,075mn for the most highly val­ued squad at the World Cup, France, and also com­pares favourably with World Cup favourites Ger­many and Brazil (£872mn and £950mn re­spec­tively).

Fur­ther­more, goal­keeper Oblak has 21 clean sheets in 34 ap­pear­ances for Atletico Madrid this sea­son, and con­ceded an av­er­age of 0.53 goals per match. Com­par­ing this with the top goal­keep­ers go­ing to Rus­sia this sum­mer, only Ger­many’s ter Ste­gen comes close this sea­son with 18 clean sheets in 33 ap­pear­ances for Barcelona (18/33) and an av­er­age of 0.58 goals con­ceded per match.

Oth­ers in­clude Brazil’s Eder­son 16/37 and 0.70 for Manch­ester City, 15/36 and 0.75 for Spain/Manch­ester United’s de Gea, 15/34 and 0.79 for Brazil/Roma keeper Alis­son, and 15/39 and 0.89 re­spec­tively for Bel­gium/Chelsea goal­keeper Cour­tois.

The above squad has ac­cu­mu­lated some 1085 caps, or an av­er­age of 47.2 caps per player. Again this com­pares favourably with all the main con­tenders in this sum­mer’s tour­na­ment. Book­maker favourites Brazil and Ger­many have squads av­er­ag­ing 29 and 40 caps per player re­spec­tively.

In other words, No­mura’s fic­tive World Cup squad is worth more, has more in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence, and con­cedes fewer goals than any of the teams par­tic­i­pat­ing in the World Cup this sum­mer. Mean­while, in the goalscor­ing depart­ment only Ar­gentina has scored more goals. While in­creas­ing rev­enues is likely the main rea­son why FIFA has de­cide to ex­pand the World Cup to 48 teams from the 2026 tour­na­ment, the above would sug­gest that it is also pos­si­ble to make the case for a big­ger tour­na­ment in or­der to make sure that more of the world’s best play­ers will be there. Af­ter all, the World Cup only comes around every fourth year and should be a show­case of the world’s great­est play­ers.

Slo­vakia and Ateltico Madrid keeper Jan Oblak

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