National sides draw on club connections
It is well known that football and logic rarely mix. Yet when a national team shines on the world stage just as one of the country’s club sides is enjoying a rich spell of success, it is hard to write it off as pure coincidence. FIFA.com takes a look at some of the clubs that have famously fed national teams with talent over the years.
The group phase of UEFA EURO 2012 has at times had a UEFA Champions League feel to it. Italy, for instance, started their Group C opener with six players who had won the Serie A title with Juventus just a few weeks before. Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo, Emanuele Giaccherini and Leonardo Bonucci were all in the starting line-up, and used their understanding gained during the season to good effect to earn a 1-1 draw with Spain.
Spain, meanwhile, put out a side with a sizeable Barcelona contingent, as they have done for the best part of four years. As well as having Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas in his starting XI, coach Vicente Del Bosque had Victor Valdes and Pedro on the bench, while Carles Puyol and David Villa – both first-choice when fit – were ruled out of the tournament with injuries. It was with this same Catalan core that Spain became world champions in 2010.
As Brazilian great Pele observed, the Barcelona/Spain success story is not unprecedented. “This Barcelona side are like Santos were in my heyday: the standard setters of the moment,” O Rei Pele told FIFA.com a few weeks ago. “Barça provide the spine of the Spanish national team. There’s a direct connection between Barça’s success and that of the Spanish team – just as there was between Ajax and the Dutch national team in the past, and between Santos and Brazil.”
Santos’ Seleção, Ajax’s Oranje
Pele certainly has a sharp memory. O Rei, along with Pepe and Zito, was one of three Santos players who helped Brazil to their very first FIFA World Cup™ triumph in 1958. They were joined by the Peixe quartet of Gilmar, Mauro, Mengalvio and Coutinho in the squad that defended the crown four years later. Another sextuplet of Santos stars – Gilmar, Orlando Pecanha, Lima, Zito, Edu and Pele – formed the spine of the side that went out in the first round of the 1966 competition. And Santos were well represented on the world stage again in 1970, with Carlos Alberto, Joel Camargo, Clodoaldo, Edu and Pele all featuring.
Over the same period, Santos enjoyed a successful spell of their own at domestic level. Their achievements included Campeonato Paulista titles in 1955, 1956, 1958, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968 and 1969, as well as back-to-back Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup triumphs in 1962 and 1963.
Across the Atlantic in Europe, it has been less a case of one-team domination and more a series of cycles, with club success coinciding with golden eras for certain national teams. One such cycle benefited Portugal, who achieved their best-ever FIFA World Cup finish of third place in 1966. They did so with a nucleus of Benfica players who had reached three European Cup finals between 1961 and 1963, lifting the trophy on two of those occasions.
Similarly, the Netherlands reached the 1974 FIFA World Cup Final following Ajax’s three European triumphs in 1971, ’72 and ’73. Not only did that Dutch side feature several Ajax players, it was also led by the Amsterdam club's legendary former coach, Rinus Michels, with his ‘total football’ philosophy.
The Oranje lost the 1974 decider to Germany, who for their part resembled the Bayern Munich side that succeeded Ajax as European champions in 1974, ’75 and ’76, and provided the national team with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Paul Breitner, Uli Hoeness, Sepp Maier and Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck.
It is perhaps no coincidence, then, that Germany won their first three matches at EURO 2012 with no fewer than seven Bayern players in their starting line-up: Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Philipp Lahm, Holger Badstuber, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez. Also in the starting XI were former Bayern player Lukas Podolski and youth academy graduate Mats Hummels, with Miroslav Klose, who spent four seasons with the Bavarian club, and current playmaker Toni Kroos both coming off the bench.
Dynamo Russia, Barracuda Antigua
Russia’s squad at Poland/Ukraine featured seven players from recently crowned national champions Zenit St Petersburg, inspired perhaps by the past achievements of iconic coach Valeriy Lobanovskyi. Lobanovskyi led the Soviet Union at Mexico 1986 and took with him 12 of his own Dynamo Kyiv players, who had won the European Cup Winners’ Cup the same year. Among them were Ballon d’Or winners Igor Belanov and Oleg Blokhin, defenders Sergei Baltacha, Pavlo Yakovenko and Anatoliy Demyanenko, and playmaker Alekandr Zavarov, who would go on to play for Juventus.
Antigua and Barbuda may not have quite that level of talent in their national squad, but they are hoping the same method will help them reach their first ever FIFA World Cup finals. Indeed, 17 players from Barracuda FC, the archipelago’s only professional football club, which competes in the United States’ third tier, were in the 25-strong squad that heroically beat Haiti to reach the third round of CONCACAF qualifying for Brazil 2014.
“Barracuda is the best thing that could have happened to our national football team,” George Dublin, one of eight players from the club in the starting line-up against Haiti, told FIFA.com. What is more, the national team not only boasts many of Barracuda’s players, but it also shares their coach, Tom Curtis. “It’s a huge advantage,” Dublin added. “Our playing style, system and priorities never change.”