When a club side inadvertently becomes overloaded in a specific position, say at centre-back, but has very little in the way of firepower up front, it is only natural that they may look to offload their third or fourth choice central defender and strengthen in attacking areas in the transfer market. National teams have no such luxury, however. Within the weird and wonderful world of international football, you have a pool of players that only alters as youngsters break through into the game and others retire.
This can seem particularly unfortunate for some of the smaller nations, such as Slovenia, who’s two best players for a number of years were goalkeepers Samir Handanovic and Jan Oblak, before Handanovic retired from international football. It’s a similar story at left-back for Scotland, with a case to be made for Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney being the Tartan Army’s two finest players but both sharing a position.
In this seven, which was suggested to us by Lennart on Twitter, I’ll be looking for national teams even more overloaded in just one position than the aforementioned duo.
Here are seven national teams that are overloaded in one position:
7. France – Right Wing
You could make a case for France being overpowered in almost every position, with the strength in depth available to the world champions right now being quite extraordinary. One position in which Didier Deschamps has particular strength, however, is on the right flank. 2018 French Footballer of the Year Kylian Mbappe, former Borussia Dortmund star Ousmane Dembele, serial winner Kingsley Coman and Marseille star Florian Thauvin all compete from that right wing berth in the France squad.
It is true that Mbappe can also play as a centre-forward, whilst the other three can play on the left flank and Thauvin can also play through the middle, but with the debatable exception of Mbappe, right wing is the preferred role of all four. In terms of caps, despite being the youngest of the quartet, it is Mbappe who comes out on top. The PSG star has already won 34 caps for Les Bleus, whilst Dembele and Coman have both won 21, and Thauvin only 10.
Coman spent 19 months out of the France squad following numerous injury struggles, but he has returned in 2019 to score three goals from six caps. More recently it has been Dembele who has been shunned, with his most recent cap having come more than a year ago. Thauvin was a much later arrival to the France squad compared to the three starlets, and he has been a regular in Didier Deschamps’ squads, but not his starting XI. The Marseille star has won three caps in 2019, and along with Mbappe and Dembele, he was part of the French squad that won the World Cup in Russia.
6. Spain – Central Midfield
It has become borderline cliche over the last couple of decades that Spain have produced the finest central and attacking midfielders in world football. The likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Silva may no longer be a part of Spain’s international setups, but the three-time European champions are still awash with quality in the middle of the park.
Spain have such extraordinary depth in midfield that I couldn’t possibly acknowledge everyone, but Luis Enrique’s most recent squad included the likes of Sergio Busquets, Santi Cazorla, Thiago Alcantara, Saul, Rodri and Fabian. In terms of recent inclusions who missed out, I could mention Dani Ceballos, Dani Parejo, Sergi Roberto and arguably even Isco.
I haven’t even brought up the likes of Asier Illaramendi, Ander Herrera or Koke yet, but perhaps the best indication of Spain’s embarrassment of riches in central midfield is the fact that Atletico’s Marcos Llorente, Bilbao regular Dani Garcia and Valencia favourite Carlos Soler are yet to win a single cap for the Spanish national team, yet all would be regulars for the vast majority of international outfits.
5. Brazil – Left-Back
Brazil is the nation that really brought attack-minded full-backs into prominence in the late 1950’s, and it took most of the world a fair amount of time to catch up. They have been churning out quality full-backs ever since, and I would suggest that a number of the world’s finest current left-backs are Brazilians.
Marcelo is the outstanding candidate even from an impressive bunch, as the best left-back of his generation. The Real Madrid star, who has made the FIFPro World XI six times, has still only won 58 caps for Brazil since making his debut in 2006. One could make a good case for Juventus’ Alex Sandro now having overtaken Marcelo in the pecking order following four very impressive seasons in Turin, and he has played more games for Brazil at left-back than any other player in 2019.
Beyond those two, you then have Alex Telles, who has been sensational for Porto but has remarkably only won one cap for Brazil at the age of 26. That’s one cap more than Shakhtar Donetsk star Ismaily, who was called up by Tite in March 2018 having previously expressed an interest in representing Ukraine, but didn’t manage to get on the pitch. Fifth and finally, Filipe Luis has been a terrific left-back for more than a decade, and he has racked up 44 caps for Brazil. He may be 33 now, but he still warrants a mention and puts a fine exclamation point on the strength Brazil have in the left-back position.
4. France – Centre-Forward
France is the only national team to feature twice in this seven, but in truth it could have been more. From centre-back to centre-forward, Les Bleus are blessed with class all over the park. One could make a good case for centre-forward still being the position in which France has the most depth, despite the fact it has sometimes been cited as a problem position for Didier Deschamps.
A former World Cup winner himself as a player, Deschamps has always been fond of having a big target man up front. That is why Olivier Giroud has tended to be his first choice through the middle, and France won the World Cup in 2018 despite Giroud failing to score a single goal. Do not be fooled into thinking France don’t have alternatives aplenty to Giroud, however, and I will mention a few here.
I talked about Kylian Mbappe on the right wing, but he is just as capable up front. Antoine Griezmann has been one of France’s star men at both Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, Karim Benzema is among the finest forwards of his generation despite being frozen out by Deschamps since 2015, Arsenal star Alexandre Lacazette hasn’t won a cap since 2017 and Anthony Martial has made just three appearances for his country in the last three years.
3. Germany – Goalkeeper
Germany’s goalkeeping options have to feature in this seven, with Joachim Low having two of the best goalkeepers on the planet at his disposal, in addition to a number of very capable deputies. The two I’m referring to are of course Manuel Neuer and Marc-Andre ter Stegen, arguably the outstanding goalkeeper of the last ten years and the finest in the world right now.
Neuer has had a pretty firm grasp of the number one shirt despite Ter Stegen’s heroics at Barcelona, and the four-time Spanish champion has won the majority of his 24 caps when Neuer has been out injured. It is easy to see why Neuer has reigned supreme with 92 caps to his name to date, having been absolutely outstanding for the best part of a decade, and particularly impressive around the time of Germany’s World Cup win in 2014. Outside of those two, Germany can still call upon the likes of Bernd Leno, Kevin Trapp, Oliver Baumann, Sven Ulreich and Timo Horn. My apologies go to Loris Karius, but off the back of the last few years, I think it’d be disingenuous to mention you here.
2. England – Right-Back
It’s an unusual situation England seem to have found themselves in with regard to the right-back position over the last couple of years. Since Gary Neville’s international career came to an end around 15 years ago, it hasn’t been a particularly strong position for the Three Lions. Glen Johnson won 54 caps there, with the likes of Micah Richards, Nathaniel Clyne and Kyle Walker all threatening to make the position their own at times.
Walker did so with the most success, having won 48 caps to date, but he has now been left out of Gareth Southgate’s last few squads. The England boss has instead opted to go with Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, although Wan-Bissaka pulled out of the last squad through injury. All of England’s right-backs offer something slightly different, and there is plenty of debate about who should make the cut.
Walker is the finest athlete, possessing explosive pace and raw strength which can be a real weapon going forwards and in terms of defending counter-attacks. Trent Alexander-Arnold is among the best crossers of the ball in world football, but defensively he has room to improve. Kieran Trippier is a bit of a mix of the two, as an excellent crosser of the ball and set piece taker, whose defensive credentials should only improve at Atletico Madrid. Aaron Wan-Bissaka is often contrasted with Alexander-Arnold, since in possession he is nowhere near as much of a threat, but defensively and in one-on-one situations, he is almost flawless. To emphasise England’s class at right-back, I haven’t even mentioned the likes of Max Aarons, Reece James or Calum Chambers.
1. Argentina – Centre-Forward
Argentina has long been an absurdly top heavy team, with Nicolas Otamendi being arguably their most solid defensive option, whilst being able to leave Mauro Icardi out of their 2018 World Cup squad. That omission is a mark of Argentina’s disproportionate strength in attacking areas, and even following Gonzalo Higuain’s retirement from international football, La Albiceleste take top spot in this one for me. Argentina’s most potent attacking weapon, and indeed the most potent in all of world football, is of course Lionel Messi. Messi can play wide on the right, or in a free role centrally, but he still has to be considered as an option through the middle.
Next up we’ve Sergio Aguero, who is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the world and has won 97 caps for Argentina despite intense competition. Mauro Icardi has remarkably only won eight caps for Argentina, and the current PSG loanee has been replaced by another brilliant Argentina forward at his parent club Inter Milan. That man is Lautaro Martinez, who has scored 13 goals in 19 games this season and has already won 17 caps for Argentina. Without rambling on for too long, I am still yet to mention Giovanni Simeone, Paulo Dybala, Dario Benedetto and Lucas Pratto.