Pearls or perils? Signing players based on World Cup form
In 2014, James Rodriguez came out of nowhere to win the World Cup Golden Boot in Brazil.
Nowhere to most readers will be AS Monaco. In fact, it’s Monaco by way of Colombian side Envigado, who sold the no.10 to Argentine club Banfield for £252,000. In turn, El Taladro shipped him to Porto for £6.62 million, and os Dragoes made more than a 550% profit by letting him go to the principality for £40.5 million. If there’s that much loot laying around in nowhere, I’m happy to be headed there. Regardless, Les Monagasques realised a return on their investment, too, when Real Madrid came in for him at £67.5 million after his exploits in the land of the Selecao.
As we all know, the Spanish capital is where the money train ground to a halt. James spent a season-and-a-half on the Merengues’ bench staring at the back of Zinedine Zidane’s bald head, weighing up whether it would be in his best interest to gnaw off his priceless left foot to escape the Bernabeu trap in which he was caught.
Finally, Zizou agreed to release the Colombian. Rodriguez is now enjoying life supporting Robert Lewandowski and pulling Bayern Munich’s attacking strings. If things continue to go swimmingly, die Roten can opt to take James on permanently for £42 million in 2019. With the original loan fee set at £11.7, Los Blancos will take a small loss on the deal if it goes through.
In the end, Rodriguez has proved an astute buy who had a history before the World Cup, but there are others who were snatched up for exorbitant fees based on short spells in major tournaments rather than their larger bodies of work.
Real Betis broke the world-record fee following the 1998 World Cup. Their £28.5 million bought 12 goals, two assists, 31 cautions and two straight red cards in 154 appearances over eight seasons from Brazilian winger Denilson.
Los Beticos were gambling against the odds on the signing. Denilson appeared in all seven Brazil matches in France, mostly as a substitute. His only full 90 came in the third group game against Norway after Mario Zagallo’s side had already guaranteed progression into the knockout phase. He assisted on the lone goal in a 2-1 loss. He came on for the second half against France in the final but made no difference in the 3-0 defeat. In all, he provided two assists in 259 minutes. That’s a productive rate but hardly enough to inspire a world-record signing.
In the move that may have precipitated Sunderland’s slow, painful decline, the Wearsiders signed Asamoah Gyan from Stade Rennes following the 2010 World Cup for £16 million. Gyan was far more talented than Denilson. He supplied 11 goals and five assists in 37 matches. Mackems were delighted. Where the club and fans went wrong was in assuming Gyan was. After that one season, he forced a move to Al Ain in the Emirates Gulf League and continued to follow the money to Shanghai SIPG in the Chinese Super League.
English fans don’t often relate to how difficult life can be in Africa or that finance means more than prestige and loyalty to many players from the continent. Nevertheless, Gyan’s penchant for moving every two years should have tipped Sunderland off he was more likely to go than stay.
Finally, injury has interfered with Hal Robson-Kanu and Marcos Rojo building on their respective Euro and World Cup success upon signing with West Brom and Manchester United.
The Welshman has only exceeded 30 league appearances twice, both in the Championship with Reading before Euro16. In two seasons, he’s made just 54 appearances in the Baggies’ first team. Luckily, he arrived on a free.
United weren’t so lucky with Marcos Rojo. After his stellar World Cup turn in 2014, Ed Woodward acquired him from Porto for £18 million. After 26 and 28 appearances in his first two Old Trafford campaigns, the Argentine seemed to break through with 41 in 2016/17. He and Eric Bailly ended the Europa League-winning season as Jose Mourinho’s preferred pairing in central defence. Injuries struck both, and Rojo was limited to a dozen caps in 2017/18.
There are bound to be pleasant performances from unheralded players in Russia this summer. Desperate and even not-so desperate teams will take notice. There will be bidding. The good work will pay off handsomely for those players. Unfortunately, the teams who invest are taking great risk with their money based on limited information. Sometimes the best deal is the one you leave on the table.
[All transfer and performance data sourced at Transfermarkt.com]