During the Premier League season there is an almost universal sense of disappointment when an international break rolls around. Supporters wait impatiently for England to unspectacularly dispose of some minor footballing nation, all the while counting down the days until club football returns. It is by no means uncommon to hear sentiments such as ‘no-one cares that England are about to qualify for the World Cup’[i].
Then the World Cup arrives. And it’s brilliant. And it’s almost impossible not to get carried away. The World Cup remains the pinnacle of football. It also therefore remains the biggest stage on which a footballer can perform. A stage where legends are made and reputations are forged. The ultimate footballing shop window. A chairman’s dream! Dozens of potential new stars of the Premier League!
Then suddenly it is late September and you realise signing El Hadji Diouf wasn’t such a great idea after all.
Every World Cup has its breakout stars. Just four years ago Monaco’s rising star, James Rodriguez, fired his way to the golden boot award with six goals; amongst them was the tournament’s definitive strike against Uruguay in the last 16. Rodriguez; young, handsome and marketable, became a ‘Galactico’ the moment his volley found the net via the underside of the crossbar. Fast forward a month and he was signing for Real Madrid for a fee upwards of £60m. Madrid have since realised that no player can reproduce that type of goal on a regular basis and Rodriguez has been loaned, at a great expense, to Bayern Munich.
It would be too harsh and too early to say that this transfer was a failure but it was almost certainly sped up and made more costly by Rodriguez’s stellar showing at football’s premier tournament.
We are now arriving at the stage of the tournament at which we are likely to see a similar story. Somebody will score a wonder-goal in the knockout stages. Someone may save a vital late penalty. There is a player currently completely unaware that their standing in the game is about to skyrocket.
The magic of the World Cup is that none on us, not even the players themselves, know who it will be. So whilst World Cup inspired signings have a very mixed set of previous results, it is extremely difficult for even the most knowledgeable football money-men to ignore the hype. There is at least one footballer a matter of days away from doing something life changing. When they do, don’t be surprised to see them holding up a new club jersey before too long.
In the mean-time all we can do is sit back and wait, hoping it is not a Colombian stealing the show again this time round.