Twenty players have won the World Cup while playing for a Premier League club. Ranking them in terms of importance in victory places a Man Utd outcast high.
20) Pepe Reina, Liverpool (Spain 2010)
Didn’t play a single minute in South Africa but excelled in his usual role as master of ceremonies during the celebrations.
19) Benjamin Mendy, Manchester City (France 2018)
Only managed a 40-minute substitute cameo for France at the 2018 World Cup – and that was in a group-stage dead rubber.
18) Lukas Podolski, Arsenal (Germany 2014)
Five outfielders had less game time than Lukas Podolski for the victorious Germans in 2014. The forward played his part in ensuring a glittering international career had its tangible reward, featuring as a substitute in the opening win over Portugal and being handed a start in the final group game against the United States – when he was taken off at half-time and not seen again for the remainder of the tournament.
17) Patrick Vieira, Arsenal (France 1998)
When the Didier Deschamps and Emmanuel Petit midfield partnership was broken up at France ’98, it was Alain Boghossian who was called upon. Christian Karembeu then came into the side mid-tournament to complement a diamond which had Zinedine Zidane at its tip. A 22-year-old Patrick Vieira started against Denmark in the last group game, before assisting Petit’s clinching goal in the final.
16) Lisandro Martinez, Man Utd (Argentina 2022)
Too small for Man Utd in the Premier League, but a world champion in his own right. Lisandro Martinez did not feature in that phenomenal final, nor the decisive group match against Poland, but he was otherwise called upon fairly regularly in Qatar.
15) Per Mertesacker, Arsenal (Germany 2014)
Fresh from chasing Matty Fryatt around in the 2014 FA Cup final, Per Mertesacker travelled to Brazil as an unexpected half of Germany’s starting centre-half pairing. He and Mats Hummels navigated the group, before Jerome Boateng replaced the ill latter against Algeria. Mertesacker’s interview after that extra-time last-16 win, when it was put to him that Germany were “cumbersome and vulnerable” at the back, was regarded as a psychological turning point for the squad. A knackered Mertesacker presumably watched the quarter-final from his ice bath, before being given a 45-minute stroll against a shellshocked Brazil and a stoppage-time cameo in the final – his last cap before international retirement.
14) Fernando Torres, Liverpool (Spain 2010)
A knee problem which curtailed Fernando Torres’ Liverpool season put his World Cup place at risk in 2010. Vicente del Bosque backed the forward, named him in his squad and did not hesitate to call upon him when things went south in the tournament opener against Switzerland. Torres featured in every game of the competition but could not manage more than 70 minutes in any of his four starts, nor did he score.
13) Frank Leboeuf, Chelsea (France 1998)
“I simply got changed and went onto the field. Ten minutes of playing, I had not touched the ball but the reality dawned on me. If we won the game, I would be playing in a World Cup final and I started to get scared.”
When France needed Frank Leboeuf, he stepped up. A red card for Laurent Blanc in the 1998 semi-final against Croatia acted as a sort of warm-up for the ultimate showdown with Ronaldo and friends four days later. Leboeuf thrived under pressure and had an excellent final.
12) Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal (Spain 2010)
Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso, Xavi and Andres Iniesta proved to be quite the collective obstacle to those with prospects of breaking into Spain’s midfield for the 2010 World Cup. Cesc Fabregas had to make do with four substitute appearances in seven games but he maximised those minutes, culminating in an assist for Iniesta’s trophy-sealing strike.
11) Emmanuel Petit, Arsenal (France 1998)
The third World Cup final goalscorer to be playing their club football in England at the time, behind Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. It was quite the tournament for Emmanuel Petit, who started six of seven matches and did not miss a minute from the quarter-final onwards.
10) Andre Schurrle, Chelsea (Germany 2014)
Absolutely textbook from the sport’s apex substitute: played six of seven games without starting any and still ended up with three goals and two assists. Andre Schurrle scored in the 2-1 extra-time last-16 win over Algeria, then helped himself to two against Brazil in the semi-final before setting up Mario Gotze to win it all and condemn Lionel Messi to a career of never winning the big one.
9) Olivier Giroud, Chelsea (France 2018)
It was quite the tribute act to Stephane Guivarc’h. Olivier Giroud played every game of the 2018 World Cup – a substitute for the first game, he started the rest and only missed a cumulative 14 minutes – without scoring. But his role as the foil to Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann was played to gilded perfection.
8) Hugo Lloris, Tottenham (France 2018)
Did that really weird thing in the final to restore some credibility for Croatia, but was otherwise an imperious captain and keeper. Probably because it didn’t go to penalties.
Emi Martinez is absolutely the bloke you want in the pegs for a penalty shoot out
Hugo LLoris is absolutely not#ARGFRA #WorldCup #WorldCupFinal
— Adam Catterall (@AdamCatterall) December 18, 2022
7) Cristian Romero, Tottenham (Argentina 2022)
Said before the quarter-final against the Netherlands that he wouldn’t hesitate to “hit” Harry Kane if Argentina crossed paths with England. Proved he was a man of his word by sticking an elbow into Lloris’ ribs in the final. An absolute rascal who played every game for La Albiceleste.
6) Mesut Ozil, Arsenal (Germany 2014)
“I don’t take the shirt from many players, but I’d love to have yours. It’d be an honour,” the UEFA president said to Mesut Ozil after Germany’s trophy presentation. That would ordinarily be a striking recognition of a player’s brilliance but it turns out Michel Platini just liked being gifted stuff. Nevertheless, Ozil was excellent in Brazil, almost ever-present and popping up with that huge goal against Algeria.
5) Julian Alvarez, Manchester City (Argentina 2022)
If Lautaro Martinez was 2022’s Gonzalo Higuain then Julian Alvarez made a passable Sergio Aguero. The Manchester City forward grew into the tournament, playing 58 substitute minutes over the first two games before he started the rest, scored four goals and ran loads.
4) Alexis Mac Allister, Brighton (Argentina 2022)
Another who started on the sidelines but finished centre stage as Lionel Scaloni soon realised he needed the luck of an Irish descendant in his side. Mac Allister started every match after the opener, scored against Poland, set up Angel di Maria’s glorious effort in the final and ran loads.
3) Paul Pogba, Man Utd (France 2018)
Would presumably be happy to put his medals on the table if a) he knew who Graeme Souness was and b) his World Cup winner’s one wasn’t stolen earlier this year. That’s deeply unfortunate. Paul Pogba will at least retain all the memories of a tournament he dominated in the France midfield, scoring in the final and answering that age-old question: how do Man Utd unlock him?
2) N’Golo Kante, Chelsea (France 2018)
By putting N’Golo Kante next to him. It worked for Pogba. It worked for Danny Drinkwater. It bloody well worked for any team who played in blue for a good few years. Kante didn’t miss a minute of the 2018 World Cup until he was taken off in the final – with France leading – because he was on a booking.
1) Emiliano Martinez, Aston Villa (Argentina 2022)
Recency bias? Very possibly. But Emi Martinez kept three clean sheets in seven games, prevented a last-minute equaliser from Australia in the round of 16, made perhaps the most important save in World Cup history from Randal Kolo Muani in extra-time stoppage-time of the final and set up penalty shoot-out camp in the minds of both the Netherlands and France. Then there’s the whole using-the-Golden-Glove-as-a-penis thing which will frankly be difficult to ever top.