5 Football League Players Coming to a World Cup Television Near You
In the run up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, we ran a series of profiles of Football League players who had been named in their countries’ squads. Hence, the likes of Middlesbrough’s Rhys Williams (Australia), Ipswich’s Tommy Smith (New Zealand) and West Brom’s Gonzalo Jara (Chile) featured in our coverage.
Four years on and the list of players with current Football League connections is curiously longer. Sure, the presence of the Championship among Europe’s best paid leagues will be a factor in that but it’s a testament to the strength of the competition that so many have been called up.
A number of these are currently passing through the revolving door back in to the Premier League of course – with no fewer than four men due to swap a Bank Holiday saturday at Wembley with a flight to the land of caipirinha and feijoada.
Hence, we can’t really regard QPR duo Yun Suk-young (South Korea) and Benoît Assou-Ekotto (Cameroon) as second tier players even if that is the division they have operated in for the past nine months while that’s even less the case with Júlio César (Brazil) and Stéphane Mbia (also Cameroon) – both having spent a large tranche of the 2013-4 campaign on loan at Toronto FC and Sevilla respectively.
Ditto Leicester City’s Jeffrey Schlupp (Ghana) and Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), both fantastically impressive as the Foxes marched to the Football League title although Mahrez may miss out on the final squad when it is announced.
One should also properly discount players who have spent portions of the past year on loan to Championship teams – in this category, we’d place Watford’s fish out of water Essaïd Belkalem (Algeria, on loan from Granada) and Park Chu-Young (South Korea, a 62-minute signing from Arsenal), Nottingham Forest’s Rafik Djebbour (Algeria, on loan from Olympiacos) and Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough and Nigeria, on loan from Chelsea).
In addition, there is another group of players who have suddenly woken up from the nightmare of relegation to the second tier. Many will be looking for moves and among their number, we can spot Leroy Fer (Norwich and the Netherlands), the tough tackling Gary Medel (Cardiff City and Chile), Fulham’s Greek duo of Giorgos Karagounis and the hapless Konstantinos Mitroglou, Costa Rica forward Bryan Ruiz who will be hoping to extend his loan spell at PSV Eindhoven from the Cottagers, Pajtim Kasami and Ashkan Dejagah (Swiss and Iranian internationals respectively and also on the books at Craven Cottage), Kim Bo-Kyung of Cardiff City and South Korea, and Joseph Yobo (on loan at Norwich from Fenerbahçe).
That leaves a rump of Championship staffers who will be plying their trade away from the milk and honey of the Premier League next season having already done so this. Here we pick out five:
Bailey Wright (Preston North End and Australia)
Wright is a surprise call-up indeed although Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou has wasted no time putting an untried stamp on a golden generation which looked seriously over the hill four years ago in South Africa. A quite frankly impossible draw will have helped him with his decision making of course – with the tough challenge of being thrown together with both the finalists from 2010 as well as one of the world’s most talented and attacking squads in Chile surely too much for the Australians, whoever they pick.
So it’s a wise move to blood the youngsters rather than allowing the superannuated likes of Lucas Neill another pay day and only Tim Cahill, Josh Kennedy and former Bristol City man Luke Wilkshire of the old guard remain. The result is a squad that resembles more the naïfs that graced the stage in West Germany in 1974 than the highly dangerous opponents that also took to Teutonic fields in 2006. A 4-3 defeat against Ecuador and an unremarkable 1-1 draw with South Africa have highlighted the problems. Postecoglou has largely drawn on A League performers to signal the entry of the new guard so Wright’s reward for a consistent season at Preston is well earned.
That said, he may suffer from the memory of a play-off semi-final that saw him largely at fault for failing to cover Alex Revell’s unchallenged run and the Australian squad still needs to be trimmed further to bring it down to the regulation 23 by June 2. Wright is just 21 years old, a truly committed defender and already has the attitude of a leader. He remains an intriguing call up.
Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton Athletic and Iran)
There is nothing more irritating than a hackneyed old pundit bemoaning the pronunciation of a player’s name – the kind of narrative that will sit comfortably with the quarter of you who voted purple and yellow last week. Still, with Ghoochannejihad, they may for once have a point.
The hard working forward seems happiest somewhere in the hole between midfield and attack and can sometimes disappear from the game, coming across as lacking in confidence. Hence, he has had to content himself with a fair amount of time on the bench since arriving from Standard Liège in January.
Nor does a single strike indicate an ability to settle in London despite his family background which has largely been spent in Holland. That one goal was a wonder strike against Leeds and Charlton in the end took advantage of the poor form of those around them to preserve their Championship place – but there is a possibility that the 26 year old may once again be moved on against his will given Addicks’ owner Roland Duchâtelet’s tendency to play musical chairs with his staff.
In Brazil, Reza should feature but the patchy managerial record of Carlos Queiroz will need one of its upswings to affect progress against Nigeria, Argentina and newcomers Bosnia. The Iranians may well catch the often careless west Africans off guard in the first game but will really struggle against the latter two adversaries.
Albert Adomah (Middlesbrough and Ghana)
To say it’s been a mediocre couple of seasons for Boro would be an understatement as they continue to wrestle with the implications of the high spending years. Still, 2013-4 did bring a few green shoots of recovery and it was only in April that the club were finally ruled out of play-off contention.
Central to this has been Adomah, a capture from Bristol City and the Riverside’s top scorer with 12 goals. Whether that justifies a fee of a £1 million is debatable but he remains perhaps the club’s most convincing player and will be a major part of Aitor Karanka’s plans next season.
Whether he will feature in Kwesi Appiah’s final squad still hangs in the balance as some whittling down still needs to occur and the high profile likes of Michael Essien and Kevin Prince Boateng will likely need to be accommodated. If he does make the plane – and Appiah has always been supportive – a difficult section awaits. Ghana could well repeat their 2010 triumph over a rebuilt American team in the opening game – although Jürgen Klinsmann may have other ideas – but Germany and Portugal will surely be too strong.
Lee Chung-Yong (Bolton Wanderers and South Korea)
Lee burst on the scene in the autumn of 2010 when, alongside another young buck in American Stuart Holden, he briefly terrorised Premier League full-backs. That he is still at the Reebok is perhaps then a surprise although injury has played a part in that.
A 7-1 defeat against Reading in January in which Lee was one of many Bolton players to flitter around insignificantly was the nadir of a year which saw him pick up 6 yellow cards and just 3 goals – although two of these came in the last two matches – the efforts of a man seeking a move? Who can say?
Lee remains a talent but the dark horses of 2010 have given way to a far less frightening squad even if the winner’s mentality of coach Hong Myung-Bo will be key. The group the Koreans find themselves in is far from insurmountable but a flat qualifying campaign including a defeat against Ghoochannejihad’s Iran in Ulsan did not augur well. I would not expect the team to reach Round 2.
Gonzalo Jara (Nottingham Forest and Chile)
All of which leaves Gonzalo Jara whom we featured four years ago. In many ways, he has been a victim of his own versatility as well as success with West Bromwich Albion which saw him gain promotion and, as the Baggies established themselves as Premier League regulars, led him to be discarded.
Jara has played precious little football in recent years and this season’s tally of 28 is comfortably the most he has garnered for some time. Technically excellent and adept in the tackle as well with his passing, he does lack inches, forcing managers of various hues to deploy him across the back line and at the base of midfield. Involvement in a deeply underwhelming conclusion to the year at Forest will not have helped – the Tricky Trees conceded nine over two games against QPR and Bournemouth (Stop Press: Jara was indeed released by Forest while I was writing this post and thank you to Daniel Storey of Football 365 for the update)
Those problems could reoccur as the defence remains the one headache for manager Jorge Sampaoli, a devotee of the effervescent style introduced by 2010 predecessor Marcelo Bielsa. Still, unlike the Australians with whom they share a first round group, there is some cause for confidence – Spain will be fearsome of course but a Dutch team in temporary decline look there for the taking.
So, as you would expect, the chances of Football League based stars making it to the second round of the coming jamboree remain touch and go at best – and that also goes for Wigan trio Jean Beausejour (Chile), Roger Espinoza and Juan Carlos Garcia (both Honduras) and Massimo Luongo of Swindon Town and Australia.