Top ten players who earned their moves at the World Cup

Daniel Storey

10) Daniel Amokachi (Everton – USA ’94)
I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me. Amo, Amokachi. The man became a cult hero at Goodison Park despite having a fairly disastrous scoring record in England. In April 1995, during a FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham, the Nigerian decided to bring himself on as a substitute when Paul Rideout went down injured. Rideout was fine to continue and Joe Royle never instructed Amokachi to come on. All’s well that ends well – he scored twice to send Everton to Wembley.

Amokachi was bought for £3m after impressing at USA ’94 in Nigeria’s first ever World Cup appearance. He scored twice – against Bulgaria and Greece – including a stupendous individual goal that was followed by his customary corner flag dance. It prompted reported interest from Juventus, but Everton eventually won the race to import him from Belgian football. He scored ten times in 43 league games, but joined Besiktas in 1996.


9) Asamoah Gyan (Sunderland – South Africa ’10)
A jobbing 25-year-old forward heading into the World Cup in South Africa, Gyan actually became more famous for his eventual failure in that tournament than successes, despite scoring goals in three of Ghana’s first four matches. In the quarter-final against Uruguay, Gyan hit the crossbar with a penalty that would have made Ghana the first ever African team to reach a World Cup semi-final. He scored in the subsequent shootout, but Ghana crashed out regardless.

Still, Gyan had impressed enough for Sunderland to pay a club-record fee of £13m to sign him. It didn’t work out particularly well, but Sunderland did at least receive £6m when Gyan was loaned to Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates for a season. Funnily enough, he scored far more regularly in the UAE Pro-League. Currently plays for Kayserispor in Turkey.


8) Marcos Rojo (Manchester United – Brazil ’14)
The point when you realise Manchester United have an awful lot of central defenders. Monday brought claims that Jose Mourinho has an eight-man shortlist to boost his central defensive options. This is a club that has bought Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof for a combined £60m in the last two years, and already had Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Daley Blind.

Oh, and Marcos Rojo. Rojo was a revelation at the World Cup in 2014, scoring the winner against Nigeria and helping Argentina to the final. That prompted Louis van Gaal to sign him from Sporting CP for £16m – thus making him cheaper than six of Manchester United’s other defenders.

Rojo has never truly impressed at Old Trafford, flitting in and out of the side. While his effort has never been in doubt, nor too has his propensity to make annoying gaffes. He played only 642 league minutes last season.


7) Oleg Salenko (Rangers – USA ’94)
Oleg Salenko, famous for scoring five times in a World Cup match for Russia and being sodding brilliant on Championship Manager 2 for Rangers. One of them probably means more to him than the other, I grant you.

Salenko is a perfect entrant for this list, a striker who had never scored regularly at club level and never played regularly for his country before the 1994 World Cup. He then scored 83% of his entire career total of international goals in the space of 60 minutes against Cameroon in a dead rubber group game, which persuaded Rangers to pay £2.5m for him despite Salenko carrying an injury.

“I signed only because I believed they had a chance of winning the Champions League,” Salenko said in 2014. “But it was very boring. The standard was very low, especially compared with Spain. What made it worse was that you had to play the same teams four times.” You only played 16 matches, fella.


6) Stephane Guivarc’h (Newcastle United – France ’98)
Looking through this list, the general rule is that performing brilliantly for their country over a three-week period is no guarantee that giving a player a three-year deal at club level is a good idea. Nobody fits that theory quite like Stephane ‘The Floating Apostrophe’ Guivarc’h.

Guivarc’h’s reputation was not solely built on those glorious four weeks in France in 1998. He top-scored in Ligue 1 two seasons in a row either side of a move from Rennes to Auxerre, and was also the top scorer in the UEFA Cup in 1997/98, ahead of both Inter’s Ronaldo and Dundee United’s Gary McSwegan. The 1990s was a magnificent time for football.

Bu after the World Cup in ’98, Guivarc’h joined Newcastle for a fee of £3.5m and got royally shafted. He played four league games, two as substitute, and scored against Liverpool. Then Kenny Dalglish got sacked, Ruud Gullit came in and effectively banished him. He’d later join Rangers.


5) Alan Ball (Everton – England ’66)
Ball was a surprise call-up for England in May 1965. He was playing for struggling Blackpool, but Alf Ramsey was impressed by his stamina in central midfield and picked him in a 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia when Ball was just 19.

By the time the World Cup began 14 months later, Ball was still the youngest player in England’s squad and easily the most inexperienced. Yet he established himself as one of his country’s key performers. Ball’s display in the final, constantly running and hassling Germany’s midfielders even into extra-time with his socks rolled down, became a lasting image of the success.

Unsurprisingly, Ball was suddenly subject to interest from higher-profile clubs than Blackpool. Everton won the race, paying £112,000 in August 1966 and slotting him into a midfield containing Colin Harvey and Howard Kendall. He would win the league title in 1969/70.


4) Christian Vieri (Lazio – France ’98)
If you were going to pick a player’s career for yourself, Vieri’s would certainly come under consideration. Italian players have never been afraid to move clubs with impressive regularity, but Vieri takes the biscotti. His 18-year career covered Torino, Atalanta, Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina, Inter, Milan, Pisa, Ravenna and Venezia, taking in some of Italy’s most beautiful cities. Then throw in Atletico Madrid and Monaco just for good measure.

The biggest move of Vieri’s career actually came in 1999 when Inter paid Lazio £32m and broke the world transfer record to sign him. But a year earlier, Vieri’s five goals – and Silver Boot – at World Cup ’98 persuaded Lazio to pay €25m to bring him back to Serie A. Vieri had scored 24 goals in 24 league games in Spain, but failed to win a trophy with Atletico.

It worked out very nicely indeed. Vieri only scored 14 goals in that sole Lazio season, but he won the Cup Winners’ Cup and was sold for a whacking great profit. Lazio then bought Fabrizio Ravanelli, Diego Simeone, Juan Sebastian Veron, Nestor Sensini, Kennet Andersson and Simone Inzaghi with the proceeds and promptly won the Scudetto.


3) James Rodriguez (Real Madrid – Brazil ’14)
Four years later, it’s still hard to quite believe just how impressive James Rodriguez was at the 2014 World Cup. At a time when we felt that football had less mystique than ever before, a South American burst onto the international stage and guaranteed his lasting fame.

Rodriguez was hardly a complete unknown. He had already moved to Europe, shone at Porto and earned his Jorge Mendes-sponsored move to Monaco the summer before Brazil. Manchester United had made a move to sign him from Portugal, but their bid was less than Porto considered him to be worth.

But we still didn’t expect this. Rodriguez won the Golden Boot and should have won the Golden Ball too after dragging Colombia to the quarter-finals. He was also later awarded the FIFA Puskas award for his astonishing volley against Uruguay, truly one of the greatest ever World Cup goals. That tournament would earn him a move to Real Madrid that made him the fourth-most expensive player in history.


2) Paul Gascoigne (Lazio – Italia ’90)
Paul Gascoigne’s move to Lazio might have come fully two years after Italia ’90, but there is no doubt that it was inspired by Gascoigne’s performances in that tournament. He first signed a deal to move to Rome in 1991, but devastating injury in the FA Cup final was followed by further physical harm after Gazza was punched in a nightclub when saying goodbye to his friends before leaving for Italy.

It was in the World Cup that Gazzamania was truly born. He represented a new dawn for English football, proof that it could create a player whose passion and hunger lay not in demonstrative displays of chest-beating leadership but in the ability to produce world-class skill in the clutch moments.

Most of all, Gascoigne’s personality helped Lazio fall in love. He was one of them: a street footballer who was more comfortable laughing and joking among a throng of supporters than signing autographs for them. If only there was an audiobook you could buy at a very reasonable price all about the move. Shameless.


1) Gary Lineker (Barcelona – Mexico ’86)
Lineker was already an established international-class striker when England went to the 1986 World Cup, but he would propel his career further in Mexico. No other England player had ever won the World Cup Golden Boot, but Lineker doubled his international goal tally in the space of 12 days. A hat-trick against Poland was followed by two goals against Paraguay and one more in the quarter-final against Argentina.

Lineker had scored 24 goals in 1984/85 and 30 in 1985/86 having moved to Everton from Leicester, but his performances in the World Cup led to Terry Venables persuading Barcelona to part with £2.8m to sign him alongside fellow Brit Mark Hughes. The move enabled Lineker to play in European competition despite the ban on English clubs, but the high point was a hat-trick against Real Madrid in a 3-2 win.

Daniel Storey