Bale, Pogba, Pickford: Which stars play better for their countries than for their clubs?

Players better at international football than club football

The international break we are currently entrenched in is always the most unpalatable. 

Indeed, just as domestic football returns, we’re subjected to either meaningless friendlies or World Cup Qualifiers that lead to existential debates as to whether one country should even be allowed to share the same pitch as the world’s perceived superpowers. 

Still, as grating as many of us find these national team jaunts, there are some who excel. 

England midfielder Jesse Lingard, for example, has played only four minutes of Premier League football since returning to Manchester United after a loan spell at West Ham but showed little sign of ring rust by scoring twice in a recent win over Andorra. 

Granted, the level of the opposition will be called into question but few would doubt that Lingard often seems to impress for Gareth Southgate even when he’s not involved at club level. 

With that in mind, GIVEMESPORT have taken a look at some of the other players who tend to put the day-to-day struggles of club football and excel for their countries. 

Olivier Giroud – France 

Olivier Giroud lifts the 2018 World Cup with France in Russia

Clearly, Olivier Giroud has had the kind of career at club most would envy. 

Across spells at Montpellier, Arsenal and Chelsea, he’s won the Ligue 1 title, three FA Cups, the Europa League and the Champions League, earning a move to AC Milan earlier this summer. 

Still, the French national team appears to get the best out of him. Often lamented for his lack of pace and tendency to miss chances in the Premier League, Giroud is the second-highest Frenchman of all-time and played a crucial role in winning the 2018 World Cup. 

Jordan Pickford – England

Jordan Pickford celebrates saving Jorginho's penalty for England against Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley

Few would doubt Jordan Pickford‘s ability with his feet but, frankly, the Everton goalkeeper has made too many high profile mistakes in the Premier League to fully convince just yet. 

It’s a different story when the 27-year-old pulls on the white shirt of England, however. The hero of their famed penalty shoot-out win over Colombia in 2018, Pickford also won the Golden Gloves Award at Euro 2020 and so nearly kept the Italian out in the dramatic finale. 

Granit Xhaka – Switzerland 

Granit Xhaka celebrates after Switzerland beat France at Euro 2020

One of the most divisive figures in the Premier League, Granit Xhaka‘s lack of discipline in midfield has often symbolised the struggles Arsenal have gone through of late. 

Interestingly though, the kind of hot-headed and reckless streak so prevalent in his club career appears to cool down when Xhaka dons Switzerland’s colours. A composed presence during their impressive run to the Euro 2020 quarter-finals, life away from The Emirates appears to be much easier for the 28-year-old. 

Fabio Grosso – Italy 

Fabio Grosso scores the winning penalty for Italy against France in the 2006 World Cup final held in Germany

Representing the likes of Inter Milan, Lyon and Juventus over the course of a 17-year professional career is undoubtedly an incredible achievement. 

Fabio Grosso might not have been a complete unknown but, even despite those exploits, his form for Italy during a golden generation was generally much better than for his various clubs.

The scorer of the World Cup-winning penalty in 2006, Grosso is much more of a national icon than he is a club legend. 

Lukas Podolski – Germany 

Lukasz Podolski celebrates winning the 2014 World Cup with Germany in Brazil

Aside from two spells with boyhood club FC Köln, Lukas Podolski was rarely a first-choice when moving up to traditional super clubs such as Arsenal and Bayern Munich

Despite struggling to make the step up, the striker did not let that impact his international career. Capped 130 times by Germany, he won the World Cup in 2014 and trails behind only Miroslav Klose and Gerd Muller in their all-time goalscoring charts.

Gareth Bale – Wales

Gareth Bale training with Wales

Gareth Bale might be one of the most successful footballers of the modern era after a trophy-laden time at Real Madrid but his struggles to be fully accepted in the Spanish capital are well documented. 

Even when cast aside by Zinedine Zidane in the Spanish capital, however, Bale barely put a foot wrong with Wales as they continue to make an impact at major tournaments. 

Paul Pogba – France 

Paul Pogba celebrates after France beat Croatia in the 2018 World Cup final held in Russia

Paul Pogba has attracted so much (largely unfair) criticism since moving to Manchester United that just isn’t as apparent when he plays for France. 

A leader in the team, the midfielder’s positional discipline was part of the reason Les Bleus triumphed in Russia and, even at Euro 2020, Pogba stood out.

Having started the season well at Old Trafford, perhaps he can finally prove the doubters wrong. 

Jesse Lingard – England 

Jesse Lingard does the Cristiano Ronaldo celebration after scoring for England against Andorra at Wembley

Trusted to perform by Gareth Southgate even when cast out into the proverbial wilderness at United, Jesse Lingard formed a huge part of the England squad who reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. 

Back in contention now, it’d seem to silly to bet against him making the cut for Qatar 2022. 

Ali Daei – Iran 

Ali Daei of Iran playing against Angola at the 2006 World Cup in Russia

Only recently overtaken by the top scorer in international football by Cristiano Ronaldo, it seems crazy to think that a man who bagged 109 times for Iran flopped for Bayern Munich and struggled at Hertha Berlin. 

A record-holder for so many years thanks to his international exploits, Daei’s brief stint in European football was wholly forgettable. 

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