English clubs send the most players to the World Cup

Updated: 1682 Football

English clubs send the most players to the World Cup

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Soccer fans across the world will be glued to screens from Nov. 21 through Dec. 18. for the World Cup, the quadrennial extravaganza that brings together the best players in the world. Playing in one of the world's most watched, most prestigious sporting events is a dream for many players—and hopeful players-to-be.

To better understand which clubs and leagues have the most celebrated players, OLBG compiled a list of the countries whose clubs have sent the most players to the World Cup since 2006. This was done by checking the preliminary team rosters announced by FIFA before each World Cup. Rosters were collected on the Internet Archive. Besides national team counts, the data set revealed the top league and the top club in each country that has had the most players on World Cup teams since 2006.

This top 10 ranking is revealing because countries like Brazil (the only five-time World Cup champion and 2022 favourite with sportsbooks), Argentina and Uruguay (which have two titles each) aren't on the list. Yet national teams that have never won the Cup, such as Portugal and the Netherlands, are. Here are the 10 nations with the most prestigious leagues and soccer clubs that attract the best players regardless of national origin.

Japan World Cup playersEtsuo Hara // Getty Images

#10. Japan

  • Number of World Cup players from Japanese clubs since 2006: 74
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 2.5%
  • Top-flight league: J1 League
  • Most prolific club: Urawa Red Diamonds (8 players sent to the World Cup since 2006)

Japan, the only Asian team to land on this top 10 list, boasts a national men's team that has qualified for every World Cup since 1998. The sport's popularity was further boosted when it co-hosted (with neighboring South Korea) the 2002 World Cup. While most Japanese stars play in the J1 League, many of the best play in European clubs. Among those stars is midfielder Shinji Kagawa, Japan's most famous player, who has played for Manchester United and is currently with Belgium's Sint-Truiden, and the second-most popular Japanese player, Takumi Minamino, a former Liverpool midfielder who plays for Monaco.

Portugal World Cup playersDean Mouhtaropoulos // Getty Images

#9. Portugal

  • Number of World Cup players from Portuguese clubs since 2006: 80
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 2.7%
  • Top-flight league: Liga Portugal
  • Most prolific club: Benfica (22 players sent to the World Cup since 2006)

If there was a poster child for the modern disconnect between international soccer superstardom and falling short of World Cup glory, it would be Portugal. The small Iberian nation  features some of the most competitive clubs in Europe such as Benfica, Sporting Lisbon, and FC Porto— known in the country as “The Big Three.” Portuguese clubs have set a high standard during years of competition in some of Europe’s most elite fixtures including the UEFA Champions League, which brings together the top clubs across Europe. Winning this competition is widely regarded as the most sought-after achievement in club soccer—Benfica and FC Porto have both won the UCL twice.

World-class players that now play for their national teams honed their skills playing in Portugal’s top league, the Primeira Liga. Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best to ever play the game, and his compatriot Bruno Fernandes, both traveled from Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon to play for Manchester United. They currently play together for the Red Devils when not linking up for the Portuguese national team.

Mexico World Cup playersHector Vivas // Getty Images

#8. Mexico

  • Number of World Cup players from Mexican clubs since 2006: 92
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 3.1%
  • Top-flight league: Liga MX
  • Most prolific club: Club América (12 players sent to the World Cup since 2006)

By the time Mexico hosted the widely televised 1970 World Cup, the national team had already established itself as one of the world's best. Few countries have performed as well over the years, with Mexican teams placing between 6th (1984) and 16th every year it's competed since the first World Cup in 1930.

Liga MX is among the top leagues in the Americas, and Club América shares the largest stadium in Mexico—hosting 87,000 fans—with the national team. A Nov. 22 match against Poland will kick off Mexico's attempt to take the Cup. Injuries to their leading strikers and a loss to Colombia in a September "friendly" match have many wondering whether Mexico will make it out of group play this year.

Russia World Cup playersMike Hewitt - FIFA // Getty Images

#7. Russia

  • Number of World Cup players from Russian clubs since 2006: 93
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 3.2%
  • Top-flight league: Russian Premier League
  • Most prolific clubs: CSKA Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg (17 players sent each to the World Cup since 2006)

In March 2022, FIFA announced it would ban the Russian national team from playing at major club tournaments, including the World Cup, due to the Russia-Ukraine war. Russia was a quarterfinalist in 2018, placing eighth. As the Soviet Union between 1958 and 1986, the team did even better, placing in the top 10 six straight times (fourth in 1966).

Whilst most of the Russian domestic teams are made up of home grown talent, there will be representatives from other nations at World Cup 2022 including Zenits captain Lovren who plays for Croatia.

Netherlands World Cup PlayersJOHN THYS // Getty Images

#6. Netherlands

  • Number of World Cup players from Dutch clubs since 2006: 94
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 3.2%
  • Top-flight league: Eredivisie
  • Most prolific club: Ajax (25 players sent to the World Cup since 2006)

Holland is a soccer-mad country. Proof lies in the number of Eredivisie league teams—18 in a country where you can drive almost anywhere in less than three hours. And they all play in their stadiums, which include leading club Ajax's 55,000-seat soccer palace in Amsterdam.

Ajax and PSV Eindhoven are Dutch clubs among the distinguished group of European squads to win the UEFA Champions League. Ajax did it four times, which is a massive feat for any club, and a testament to the level of play across the Netherlands. Thirteen of the 39 players named for the Netherlands’ preliminary 2022 World Cup squad—including Steven Bergwijn and Luuk De Jong—came from one of those two teams.

The national team's World Cup history is full of successes and disappointments, placing second three times, third in 2014, and fourth in 1998. But the Netherlands has also failed to qualify for Cup play eight times, most recently in 2018. 

France World Cup playersATPImages // Getty Images

#5. France

  • Number of World Cup players from French clubs since 2006: 197
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 6.7%
  • Top-flight league: Ligue 1
  • Most prolific club: Paris Saint-Germain (26 players sent to the World Cup since 2006)

France won the World Cup in 1998 and 2018 and was runner-up in 2006. But they also didn't make it past group play in 2002 and 2010, so inconsistency is a concern.

However, this should be a good year as the Frenchmen have the first seed and are expected to get to the quarterfinals. Ligue 1's 20 clubs, led by Paris Saint-Germain—the reigning league champ with 10 titles—provide a constant flow of top players onto national teams. Paris-born striker Kylian Mbappé is the club's brightest star and the biggest name on the French team.

Spain World Cup playersSoccrates Images // Getty Images

#4. Spain

  • Number of World Cup players from Spanish clubs since 2006: 255
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 8.7%
  • Top-flight league: LaLiga
  • Most prolific club: Barcelona (50 players sent to the World Cup since 2006)

With Barcelona and Real Madrid each ranked among the world's top six soccer clubs, it's logical that Spain would have great success at the Cup. And it has, qualifying for every World Cup since 1978 and winning in 2010. Spain placed 10th at the last one in 2018, with Spanish fans looking to improve in Qatar;. Many international players are groomed for their countries' national teams on LaLiga teams. For example, fewer than half of Barcelona's club players are Spaniards. And Spain's national team includes five players who compete for British clubs and two who play for Paris Saint-Germain.

Italy World Cup playersAlexander Hassenstein // Getty Images

#3. Italy

  • Number of World Cup players from Italian clubs since 2006: 281
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 9.5%
  • Top-flight league: Serie A
  • Most prolific club: Juventus (44 players sent to the World Cup since 2006)

It was a shocker when North Macedonia eliminated Italy from World Cup eligibility with a 1-0 win in March. But Italy's inability to get past the group stage in 2010 and 2014 and then its failure to even qualify for the Cup in 2018 portended the team's fall from grace. This country has claimed four Cup titles—1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006—so it's a shocking turnaround for a national team that trails only Brazil in World Cup championships.

Italy’s Serie A attracts skilled footballers from all over the world. Famous players like Zlatan Ibrahimović from Sweden and Brazil’s Kaká are among the soccer stars to have made history while playing in Italy. While Italy’s national team does include many talents from big-name Italian clubs such as A.C. Milan’s Tommaso Pobega and A.S. Roma’s Bryan Cristante, the disconnect between modern international stars’ club success and national glory is evident for the Italians.

Germany World Cup playersAlexander Hassenstein // Getty Images

#2. Germany

  • Number of World Cup players from German clubs since 2006: 301
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 10.2%
  • Top-flight league: Bundesliga
  • Most prolific club: Bayern Munich (47 players sent to the World Cup since 2006)

Along with Italy, Germany is the only team to win four World Cups, behind Brazil's five. But unlike Italy, Germany has remained a solid contender since claiming those titles in 1954, 1974, 1990, and 2014. The Germans were favored to do well in 2018, but defeats to Mexico and South Korea meant that they finished bottom of their group. After that, motivation should not be a problem in Qatar. Meanwhile, teams playing on top Bundesliga teams like Bayern Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt—both among the world's top clubs—prepare many players for an assortment of World Cup teams.

England playersChris Ricco - The FA // Getty Images

#1. England

  • Number of World Cup players from English clubs since 2006: 458
  • Share of all World Cup players since 2006: 15.6%
  • Top-flight league: Premier League
  • Most prolific club: Chelsea (51 players sent to the World Cup since 2006)

It's only fitting that the country where modern soccer originated in the mid-1800s is also the country that has had the most players on its club teams compete in the World Cup since 2006. Curiously, the English won the Cup only once, in 1966. But because the aptly named Premier League has so many great clubs—from Arsenal and Chelsea to Manchester United and Liverpool to Manchester City and Spurs—it's become the premier league for players worldwide to ply their trade.

According to the latest odds at sportsbooks, this year's English team is the fourth favourite to win the World Cup.

Written by: Bob Cooper

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