The World Cup is by far the best shop window for players who want to earn themselves a big-money move. In Russia this summer, scouts will have been keeping a beady eye on a number of hidden gems. As well as household names such as Eden Hazard, the likes of Hirving Lozano, Ante Rebic and Benjamin Pavard have all been tipped for transfers after their impressive performances on the biggest stage of all.
At times, players don’t even need to do well for the whole tournament to be linked with a club switch. One game is sometimes enough – just ask Oleg Salenko. The Russian striker hit six goals in three appearances at USA 94, five of which came against Cameroon – still a World Cup record for the most goals in a single match – landing him the joint-top scorer honour alongside Bulgaria legend Hristo Stoichkov.
Valencia promptly snapped him up after the competition, but he made just 25 league appearances for the club before joining Rangers. Despite scoring a respectable seven goals in 16 league games in Scotland, he was soon shipped off to Istanbulspor in Turkey.
Stéphane Guivarc’h also joined the Gers later in his career, but only after he had impressed Newcastle boss Kenny Dalglish at France ’98. After starring for Auxerre before the tournament, Guivarc’h was given the No.9 shirt and started in front of Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet for Les Bleus on home soil.
Bizarrely, he was subbed for Christophe Dugarry in the 29th minute of the opening game against South Africa, which France won 3-0, and didn’t play in the next match, a 4-0 defeat of Saudi Arabia. He sneaked back into the team thereafter, though, starting in the quarter-final, semi-final and final.
Guivarc’h lasted little over an hour in each game and didn’t score a single goal all tournament, despite France’s success. Still, Dalglish clearly saw something he liked and duly snapped the striker up for £3.6 million.
Guivarc’h scored on his debut against Liverpool just three days after new manager Ruud Gullit had replaced Dalglish, but he wasn’t a scoring success in the Premier League. After three more Premier League outings without a goal, the Frenchman moved to Ibrox.
Another who struggled on English shores, who some believe was only signed because of one bright World Cup moment, was Daniel Amokachi. Everton snapped up the Nigerian from Club Brugge for a then-club record £3 million after USA 94, but he is mainly remembered in England for one brace.
His standout moment of the World Cup was a thunderbolt strike from outside the box against Greece, but Amokachi only managed 10 goals in 43 league appearances for the Toffees.
However, he still became a cult hero with Everton fans. Much to manager Joe Royle’s rage, Amokachi – mistakenly thinking Paul Rideout was injured – subbed himself onto the pitch with 20 minutes to go in the Merseysiders’ FA semi-final against Tottenham. Fortunately, the striker netted twice to seal a 4-1 victory for Everton, who went on to win the trophy.
“Daniel wandered onto the pitch, the fourth official held up the board, and that was it,” Royle said after the game. “[It was] the best substitution I never made.”
Amokachi’s self-subbing and Premier League struggles probably wouldn’t have happened had Everton had Billy Beane in charge. The Oakland Athletics baseball team manager devised an economic approach to managing the club under financial constraints, which we now know as Moneyball.
“The issue with signing players after international tournaments is that they are usually over-valued by their clubs if they do well, or feel they should command a higher wage, based on the exposure a good World Cup brings,” Alex Stewart, who penned the Football Manager meets Moneyball series, said.
“The issue with that is it’s a tiny sample size under conditions that don’t match league football. In addition, it’s with a group of players and quite probably in a system that’s not going to be replicated at club level.
“So, you end up paying over the odds for the guy who scored one amazing goal in a tiny set of games, with other players around him and in another formation, and then are shocked when it doesn’t work out. World Cup goals stick in the mind, which means you pay – unwisely – more attention to them than a league performance over a season. It’ll happen, but it’s not good business.”
There are exceptions, though; Coventry City, for instance, did some excellent business after France ’98. The Sky Blues pulled off a real coup by signing Croatian left-back Robert Jarni from Real Betis for £2.6 million after the full-back impressed at the tournament, playing in all seven of his nation’s games on their way to a third-place finish.
Yet the defender never played for Coventry. Real Madrid paid £3.4 million for his services just one month later, which led many conspiracy theorists to claim the deal was pre-arranged because Betis didn’t want to sell one of their stars directly to a domestic rival.
Coventry weren’t so fortunate four years earlier at USA 94, when they had high hopes for American star Cobi Jones. Upon signing the winger, Coventry chairman Bryan Richardson described Jones as “box office material”, and said he hoped the midfielder would “bring a spark to the place”.
While he made 24 league appearances, the speedster struggled to get to grips with the English game and soon swapped the bright lights of the West Midlands for Rio de Janeiro, signing for Brazilian side Vasco da Gama.
Brazil is known for its Jogo Bonito – the beautiful game – but the South American nation doesn’t always produce players suited to the Premier League, as Alex Ferguson once found out to his cost.
In August 2003, the Manchester United manager spent £6.5 million for Kleberson – the same summer the Red Devils signed the then little-known Cristiano Ronaldo for £12 million – after the Selecao midfielder had impressed at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea a year earlier.
The likes of Barcelona and Leeds were chasing him immediately after the tournament, but Kleberson is said to have turned down a move to Yorkshire earlier in 2003 because he wanted to marry his girlfriend in Brazil, but had to wait until she turned 16.
Ferguson sold Juan Sebastián Verón to Chelsea to make way for Kleberson, and was delighted when he finally got his man. “He played in the World Cup final for Brazil, and his then-coach, Phil Scolari, said he was first choice every time in the team,” Ferguson said on the day Kleberson signed on the dotted line.
“The new Brazilian coach [Carlos Alberto] Parreira says the same. He is a young, athletic midfield player who can play in a number of positions. One of the reasons we sold Seba Veron was because we knew we were getting Kleberson – that shows how highly we regard his talent.”
Kleberson went on to make just 20 league appearances in two seasons for United, and was sold to Turkish side Besiktas for just £2.5 million after picking up an estimated £5 million in wages during his time in Manchester.
While United were keeping their eye on Kleberson in 2002, across the M62 Liverpool boss Gérard Houllier was eyeing up two stars from Senegal, the surprise package of the tournament.
The African nation stunned the globe on their World Cup debut when they beat reigning champions France 1-0, a victory masterminded by their French manager Bruno Metsu. But they had already made world news two days earlier when winger Khalilou Fadiga stole an 18-carat necklace from a South Korean jewellers after being dared to do so by El Hadji Diouf.
Following the bizarre incident, Metsu told his team: “The only way people can forget about this is to beat France. If you don’t win, this story carries on. But if you want to save your friend, you have to win this game. People will forget about it. Because if we win this game, it will be an earthquake in the world.”
Goal-getter Diouf and hard-working midfielder Salif Diao knuckled down to lead their nation to the quarter-finals, where they were knocked out by Turkey. Diouf had been heavily linked with a £10 million move to Liverpool before the World Cup, and a day after the France game confirmed he had signed a five-year deal at Anfield – where he was soon joined by Diao.
Liverpool fans were licking their lips in anticipation after Diouf’s exhilarating World Cup displays, but they should have saved their saliva – as should Diouf. The forward’s time with the Reds was shrouded in controversy, with Diouf falling out with star man Steven Gerrard and infamously spitting at a Celtic fan during a UEFA Cup tie in 2003. He was eventually offloaded to Bolton on loan two years later, before signing permanently in 2005. Diao, meanwhile, signed for Stoke in 2007 after making 37 league appearances for Liverpool.
Premier League clubs signing star players from World Cup surprise packages was nothing new in 2002. In the summer of 1994, Spurs splurged £2.6 million on Ilie Dumitrescu after his impressive displays for Romania at USA 94.
Sadly for Dumitrescu, he couldn’t reignite the spark that helped him fire his country to a World Cup quarter-final: he ended up playing just 18 Premier League games for the north London side before being offloaded to West Ham for £1.5 million. He flopped in east London too, making only 10 league appearances before leaving on a free.
Now aged 50, Dumitrescu, who had promised Spurs fans he would “add a nice patch of colour” to the Premier League, prefers his colour to be on canvas: he owns an art gallery in his native Bucharest.
West Ham’s Javier Margas also enjoyed a bit of colour, but on his head. The Chilean centre-back dyed his hair in his new club’s claret and blue colours after signing for the Hammers following France ’98. Let’s hope his London barber didn’t buy in bulk – Margas made just 30 appearances in three years before returning to Chile.
South Americans flopping in Europe after World Cups is nothing new. It’s been happening since the first ever tournament in 1930, when Argentine striker Guillermo Stábile landed a move to Genoa after top scoring at the tournament with eight goals.
After hitting a hat-trick against Bologna on his Genoa debut, the Infiltrator – as he was known – never really got going, partly because of two bad leg injuries. He got his career back on track at Red Star Paris and later returned to manage his former side Huracán, where he played a part in bringing through a talented youngster by the name of Alfredo Di Stéfano.
Another Argentine who failed to adapt to European football was full-back Alberto Tarantini, who signed for Birmingham after impressing on home soil at the 1978 World Cup. Tarantini’s stint in England was overshadowed by a lack of discipline: he flattened Manchester United’s Brian Greenhoff during a game, and he effectively called time on his English-based career when he waded into the crowd and punched one of his own club’s fans.
Birmingham’s rivals Aston Villa welcomed another World Cup star 28 years later, when Togo’s Moustapha Salifou joined the Villans. Manager Martin O’Neill opted to sign the midfielder after swotting up on the tournament using his BBC World Cup guide.
“I remember when Togo played France as Salifou did well,” the BBC pundit said afterwards. “I had the book that the BBC gave us for all the players. I had to go back through my notes to see what I’d said about him.”
Football League clubs have also been known to pick up a World Cup bargain or two. Division One side Reading somehow managed to bolster their promotion-chasing 1994/95 side by spending £300,000 on goalkeeper Borislav ‘Bobby’ Mikhailov after he finished USA 94 as the second-best goalkeeper, starring for surprise semi-finalists Bulgaria.
But it wasn’t just Mikhailov’s hair-raising performances which made him well known. He started out bald during Bulgaria’s qualifying campaign and was the talk of the terraces when he turned up at the World Cup with tresses, after a £10,000 hair transplant. Despite high hopes, the glovesman played just 24 times in the league before returning to Bulgaria.
It’s not just at World Cups where players impress before crashing and burning domestically. Brazilian star Denilson wowed at the Copa America and Confederations Cup in 1997 – he won the Golden Ball award at the latter – resulting in Real Betis paying a world-record fee of £21.5 million for his services.
Denilson was supposed to be the attacking spark Betis needed to become title challengers, but instead they were relegated in his second season. He went back to Brazil on loan before returning to Spain when Betis returned to La Liga, but he was largely used as a substitute in his final few seasons in Seville, before joining Bordeaux in 2005.
Chile striker Eduardo Vargas isn’t known for being a world beater on the domestic stage, but he loves the Copa America. In the 2015 tournament, he was joint top scorer with four goals following an average season on loan at Queens Park Rangers, where he notched four in 22 matches.
But his poor Premier League performances didn’t put off German outfit Hoffenheim, who shelled out around £5 million. Vargas hit just two goals in 24 league games in the 2015/16 campaign, but once again turned up back in the Americas, plundering six goals at the Copa America Centenario in the United States.
For all the flops, there have been plenty of success stories when it comes to post-World Cup transfers. Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas moved to Real Madrid after his brilliant displays at the 2014 World Cup, where he helped his country make history by reaching the quarter-finals for the first time. He joined Madrid for less than £10 million and has won three Champions League titles since then.
Los Blancos snapped up Italian defender Fabio Cannavaro for a bargain fee of £7 million after he tasted glory with Italy at the 2006 World Cup, and then did the same in 2010 when they bought Germany’s Mesut Ozil for £15 million. After three seasons of Ozil pulling the strings, Madrid made a huge profit on him when he was sold to Arsenal for £42.5 million in 2013.
In the Premier League, Ferguson made one of the best signings of his Manchester United tenure when he paid £10.6 million for Dutch centre-back Jaap Stam after his impressive World Cup performances at France ’98. The transfer, made on the day the Netherlands lost 2-1 to Croatia in the third-place play-off, meant Stam became the most expensive defender in history.
The defender was an instrumental part of United’s 1999 treble-winning team, and won three Premier League titles in three seasons before being offloaded to Lazio. Rumours at the time claimed the decision was made because of comments Stam made in his book, alleging Ferguson had approached him illegally while he was still a PSV player. The Scot has since denied this, insisting he sold Stam because Lazio’s offer of £15.3 million was too good to refuse, but he’s since admitted it was a mistake to let him go so early.
“When I think of disappointments, obviously Jaap Stam was always a disappointment to me, I made a bad decision there,” Ferguson told MUTV.
Ferguson’s rival Arsene Wenger also snaffled a bargain when he brought Brazilian Gilberto Silva to Arsenal in 2002 for £4.5 million. Unlike Kleberson, his midfield partner for Brazil, Gilberto thrived in the Premier League and was a huge figure in the Invincibles season of 2003/04.
But for every Gilberto and Stam, there are far too many Dioufs, Diaos and Denilsons in the world of post-international tournament transfers. Now that the World Cup is over, club managers and chairmen would be wise to look beyond the last few weeks when identifying their transfer targets ahead of the new campaign.