WHEN ARGENTINA won the controversial World Cup in Qatar, they used no less than 17 players in the final against France. The 17 were drawn from 13 different clubs across five countries; not a single player who featured in the final played for an Argentinian side. This highlights the global nature of modern football, but also the very mobile nature of Argentina’s players, from the great Lionel Messi, who has never played in Argentina as an adult, to the latest star to emerge, Juliàn Álvarez, who moved from River Plate to Manchester City and looks destined for great things.
In their total 26-man squad, only one player was employed by an Argentine club, goalkeeper Franco Armani, the 36 year-old River Plate veteran. Nine of the 26 were over 30 years of age, which doesn’t bode particularly well for the 2022 champions. With most of the manpower Europe-based, it does pose the question, how much of Argentina’s football is a reflection of the South American style. Indeed, does such a thing really exist anymore? Does it get driven out of players who are exported to Europe at a very young age?
Four years earlier, in 2018, France won the World Cup with another nomadic group, although there were far more playing in domestic football than Argentina 2022. But France’s first choice line-up included only two players employed by Ligue 1 clubs. French players are always in demand, as evidenced by the list of teams they turned out for: Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, among others. France used 14 players in their 4-2 victory against Croatia in Moscow, drawn from 12 different clubs. They really were scattered broadly across Europe.
This has not always been the case for World Cup winners, for obvious reasons. In the days when trans-Atlantic travel was a rarity and places like Montevideo and Rio de Janeiro were relatively inaccessible, footballers spent their entire careers in their homeland. Others were paid well enough to keep them at home. Some were simply not allowed to leave.
Argentina were the 10th South American winners of the World Cup and the first from that continent since 2002. They were arguably the most workmanlike of the past champions, despite having Messi in their team. But they were also the most “international” of past winners of the competition from South America.
In 1930, Uruguay’s champions were all playing for Uruguayan clubs and of their 22-man squad, 16 were born in Montevideo and 14 played for the country’s big two, Peñarol and Nacional. Twenty years on, Uruguay’s winning team was also home-based.
Do teams built around a core from one club fare well? For Germany, that seems to have largely been the case. In 1954, West Germany’s miracle-makers in Bern included, in the final, five players from Kaiserslautern, while in 1974, Helmut Schön’s champions had six Bayern Munich players – Maier, Schwarzenbeck, Beckenbauer, Breitner, Hoeneß and Müller. In 2014, Bayern provided no less than seven of the 14 who turned out in the final for Germany against Argentina. Four years earlier, Spain’s World Cup winners included six Barcelona players in their 1-0 win against the Dutch.
Interestingly, when England won the World Cup in 1966, the team in the final came from eight different clubs, including Fulham and Blackpool. West Ham United provided three – Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst. Overall, 15 clubs were called upon, with Manchester United and Liverpool also well represented with three apiece.
Brazil’s squads down the years have illustrated the changing dynamics within football. In 1970, their glorious team came from eight Brazilian clubs, including three players – Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo and Pelé – from Santos. In their finals of 1958 and 1962, Botafogo were the most prominent club side. But by 1994, their team was split between home-based and exported players. The 2022 squad of 26 included only two players playing in Brazil, while 12 were from the Premier League and five from La Liga.
Exporting players is clearly an important part of football business in South America and it is recognised that in order to make Brazilian and Argentinian football more competitive, there has to be a way to keep players longer, which essentially boils down to money. Until that happens, these countries will continue to be nurseries for Europe, which makes European leagues stronger and weakens the top clubs in Argentina, Brazil et al.
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