The World Cup in Brazil is still one year away but it will likely be at the forefront of the minds of players as they consider their options in this summer’s transfer market.
Playing for your country in a World Cup is the pinnacle of achievement for professional footballers and as such, the movers and shakers of this summer’s transfer window will be thinking ahead as they weigh up the pros and cons of coming and going.
For example, with England, the likes of Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Ryan Shawcross and Chris Smalling will all be hoping to make it on the plane to Brazil with Roy Hodgson’s squad but not all of them will be able to do that.
Regular first-team football at club level is the first thing the national team boss will look at when he makes his assessment next summer, then he’ll look at performance-based analysis after that but it’s hard to earn a call up if you’re not first-choice in your position at your club.
Smalling’s chances, for example grow slimmer by the day as I outlined last week – the emergence of Phil Jones at Manchester United makes his position for both club and country somewhat precarious. Shawcross recently renewed his contract with Stoke City where is the captain and the first name on the teamsheet every week.
Leighton Baines is a target of Manchester United’s reportedly and he’ll be vying with Ashley Cole and Kieran Gibbs for the left-back spot but if Patrice Evra remains at Old Trafford, would a move there be advisable for him?
Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney has found himself on the bench more often than he’d like this season and Andy Carroll is expected to sign for West Ham where he’ll play week in week out. If Rooney stays at United, he’ll still be behind Robin van Persie in the pecking order but if he goes, for example, to Paris Saint-Germain, he’ll have the same problem with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
In Spain, every position in the team has quality competition – could Pepe Reina move up in the pecking order if he leaves Liverpool? Probably not, now that Victor Valdes looks set to stay at Barcelona and now that Jose Mourinho has left Real Madrid Iker Casillas can probably return to the team as captain.
Meanwhile, Fernando Torres and David Villa are not assured to be part of Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain squad next year in their current form – Villa could be a regular first-team starter at Tottenham or Arsenal but he’s unlikely to be for the Catalans.
Much the same can be said for Cesc Fabregas who will be vying with the likes of Isco, and Thiago Alcantara for even just a place in the squad, never mind the team. That ought to be something he considers whilst he reportedly has interest from Manchester United and former club Arsenal this summer.
Arsenal target Rene Adler will be hoping to oust Manuel Neuer from the number one spot. Whilst Arsenal’s Lukas Podolski was the most substituted player this term and he’ll need to compete with the likes of new Chelsea signing Andre Schurrle, Kevin Grosskreutz, Marco Reus and Tottenham’s Lewis Holtby for his place even on the wing or in attacking midfield whilst Lars Bender will be looking to move ahead of Sven Bender in the Germany pecking order.
And what of the likes of Arsenal’s Andre Santos and Manchester United’s Fabio? They’ll be unlikely to break into the Brazil squad if they can’t get games for their clubs next term.
Much the same can be said of Paulinho and Bernard who are Premier League targets reportedly. Fernandinho has signed for Manchester City but he’ll have to fight with some of the best players in the world to get in Manuel Pellegrini’s midfield, never mind Brazil’s.
Neymar will likely be first-choice up front for both Brazil and Barcelona but Leandro Damiao for example will need to be firing on all cylinders just to make the squad – he could likely achieve that at Tottenham in the Premier League, where as a player like Hulk is unlikely to improve his chances at Zenit. Could that weigh on his mind if an offer came in from Chelsea?
Fulham have just signed Holland’s Maarten Stekelenburg who’ll be competing with Newcastle’s Tim Krul and Swansea’s Michel Vorm, both of whom are interesting other Premier League clubs whilst Kevin Strootman and Wesley Sneijder are also eyeing moves this summer.
Ricky van Wolfswinkel has just signed for Norwich City where he’ll likely be first-choice forward, which could be something that incites Barcelona’s Ibrahim Afellay to move on.
Belgium’s team will be one of the most fiercely contested squads - Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen has been frozen out this year and he has big problems in the form of Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen and Ajax’s Toby Alderweireld who is also a transfer target of numerous clubs on the continent this summer, never mind City’s Vincent Kompany.
Simon Mignolet should consider that he has Chelsea’s Courtois to compete with - and a big move could really assist him - while the midfield and forward fight for places between Marouane Fellaini, Axel Witsel, Kevin De Bruyne, and Eden Hazard should be interesting along with Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku who have Kevin Mirallas to watch out for.
If, for example, Lukaku remains at Stamford Bridge, it’s hard to see him gaining access to regular starts where if Benteke stays at Aston Villa, he’d likely be guaranteed just that.
Italy’s Stephan El Shaarawy is linked with a move to Manchester City but would he improve his national team status behind Mario Balotelli if he goes to the Etihad this summer or if he remains alongside Balotelli at AC Milan?
Argentina’s Ezequiel Garay has reportedly already agreed a ‘deal’ to move to Manchester United but will he be first choice will David Moyes’ wealth of options ahead of Fabricio Coloccini who now looks to be staying at Newcastle.
Meanwhile, Angel Di Maria will struggle to make the national team ahead of Lionel Messi, and Sergio Aguero, who will be competing with Arsenal and Juventus target Gonzalo Higuain as well as PSG’s Ezequiel Lavezzi who may need to move away from the French capital to get out of Ibrahimovich’s shadow at the Parc des Princes.
Whilst players will likely consider their bank balances before anything else, they should be thinking ahead to next summer as they play their game of musical chairs this summer. Players considering making ‘big moves’ to big clubs should consider whether they’ll be on the bench behind bigger superstars before they put pen to paper.
Perhaps for players who are already in that position at big clubs should consider taking a step down to a club where they’ll be of a higher status and playing week in week out. Players on the fringes of the national team may find they can boost their reputations and their chances of becoming regulars at international level if they move to more established clubs and leagues.
Who do you think will move on for the sake of their international career this summer?
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