National football squads with players from the most different leagues

<span>Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

“Was looking at the article on Pico Lopes, and then looked at the Cape Verde Afcon squad,” tweets Johntheblog. “Twenty-three players, whose clubs are in 16 different countries. What’s the most amount of different (club) countries represented in a 23-player squad for an international tournament?”

“Thanks to a long journey and an obsession with both flags and little explored international leagues, I determined the following which I hope is accurate (it was quite a bumpy train ride),” writes Robbie Dale, who straps on his oxygen tank and takes a deep dive on our behalf. “If we’re just looking at 23-man squads (and I did only look at the men’s game), we can discount the most recent tournaments, which would otherwise top the board on pure ‘squad club diversity’, including the current Afcon itself. Indeed, the Cape Verde squad mentioned have 24 players listed from 16 different clubs. It is possible to name up to 27 this year, and 23-plus is now of course common-place, post-Covid. That said, I looked over every squad I could easily find details for (about 98% of them, I’d guess) for every edition of each continental competition, plus the World Cup since each of their inceptions.

“For the impatient reader, the 23-man squad with the most players drawn from different country’s league systems was … Ghana at Afcon 2015 with 17 — Belgium (Anderlecht), DRC (Don Bosco, Mazembe), Denmark (Copenhagen), England (Cambridge, Everton), France (Evian, Lorient, Marseille), Germany (Augsburg), Ghana (Ashanti Gold), Italy (Parma, Udinese), Norway (Sogndal), Russia (Kuban Krasnodar), Scotland (Celtic), South Africa (Maritzburg United, Mpumalanga Black Aces), Spain (Mirandés), Tunisia (ES Tunis), Turkey (Kayseri Erciyesspor), UAE (Al-Ain), USA (Chicago Fire).

“For the completist, here’s a little more including the ultimate 23-man squad answer. The OFC Nations Cup had the lowest ‘squad club diversity’ with a maximum of 10 different country league systems represented in one squad (Australia 2004 and New Zealand 2016 – both 23-man squads). Next up, the World Cup (Nigeria 2002 with a 23-man squad, and Cameroon 2022 with a 26-man squad), AFC Asian Cup (Iran 2023, a 26-man squad) and Copa América (Uruguay 2019, a classic 23-man squad) do a bit better at 14, but still, not enough for our purposes.

“The Euros (Finland 2020, a 26-man squad) and Concacaf Gold Cup (Panama 2023, a 23-man squad) can match the current Afcon Cape Verde Squad at 16 – and Panama do it with classic squad numbers – but it’s the African teams that shine overall in this particular ranking. Sixteen country league systems represented in one squad has been matched over the years by … Burkina Faso (28-man squad), Guinea (27-man squad), and Ghana (28-man squad) in 2021, while at the same edition Gabon (28-man squad) and Gambia (28-man squad) had 16 plus an unattached player. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“It was however Cape Verde themselves in 2021 who sent players plying their trade in 17 different national league systems to Afcon from their 28-man squad. A height, as we have seen, previously scaled by Ghana’s 2015 squad of just 23 and our initial answer. But [veering away from the 23-player criteria in the original question] is it the biggest number overall? It is not.

“For that we look no further than where we began, at this Afcon and a Burkina Faso squad of 28 players drawn from a giddying 19 different league systems, namely: Armenia (Urartu), Belgium (Charleroi), Cyprus (Arms Limassol), DRC (Saint-Éloi), Denmark (Nordsjælland), Egypt (Pyramids), England (Aston Villa, Bournemouth, Luton Town), Finland (HJK), France (Amiens, Châteauroux, Quevilly-Rouen, Toulouse, Valenciennes), Germany (Bayer Leverkusen), Greece (Panserraikos), Italy (Modena), Moldova (Sheriff Tiraspol), Morocco (RS Berkane), Netherlands (ADO Den Haag), Russia (Akhmat Grozny), Serbia (Red Star Belgrade), Spain (Racing Rioja, Sabadell) and Tanzania (Young Africans). Phew.”

Goalkeepers turned managers (redux)

“Are there any ex-goalkeepers who have had fruitful careers as managers in top-flight leagues?” enquires Colin Rogers. “I’ll give you Nuno Espírito Santo but no others spring to mind to have enjoyed a modicum of success …”

This takes us back to 2007 when we covered this, including a focus on Raymond Goethals. But there are more tales worth mentioning. Here’s Tim Dockery: “Sticking with just Argentinian World Cup-winning goalkeepers, Nery Pumpido, in goal during their 1986 World Cup triumph, went on to coach in the top flight of Argentina (Newell’s Old Boys and Union), Mexico (Veracruz and Tigres) and Paraguay (Olimpia). He was following in the footsteps of Ricardo La Volpe, one of their goalkeepers during their 1978 World Cup success, who managed teams in the top flight of Argentina (Boca Juniors. and Vélez Sarsfield) and Mexico (Chivas, America, Toluca and Atlas). La Volpe also was the coach for the Costa Rican national team and the Mexican national team – including at the 2006 World Cup where the Observer’s awards named him the best coach (though not for his managerial skills but rather his attitude). We’ll have to wait a few years to see if Dibu Martínez follows suit.”

“Michel Preud’homme must be in with a shout,” adds Stijn. “Once a winner of the prestigious Yashin Award, he has won two Belgian league titles, a Saudi league title, two Belgian Cups, one Dutch Cup, a Belgian Super Cup and a Dutch Super Cup as a coach. Preud’homme would’ve made an excellent manager for the Belgian national team, but a deal never materialised.”

“You can’t discuss goalkeepers becoming managers without mentioning Torsten Lindberg (1917-2009), the goalkeeper and latest surviving member of the Swedish Olympic gold medal-winning team of 1948,” writes Hans Bolling. “In 1948 he played in a team that featured among others Gunnar Nordahl, Nils Liedholm, Henry Carlsson and Gunnar Gren, and he was also a member of the Swedish bronze-medal winning team at the World Cup in Brazil in 1950. Lindberg played in the Swedish top division with Örgryte IS before moving to IFK Nörrkoping in 1940, where he won the Swedish title six times and retired in 1953. After retiring he was the assistant coach of the national team during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, winning the silver medal. He work as a manager for IFK Motala, IFK Stockholm, Sirius, Djurgårdens if where he won two Swedish titles 1964 and 1966 and after coaching AIK in 1969 and 1970 he left football for good.”

And we should also give Carlos Queiroz a mention, who ticks the “modicum of success” box. He was a goalkeeper at Clube Ferroviário de Nampula in Mozambique and went on to win a Portuguese Cup at Sporting in 1994-95, a Supercopa with Real Madrid (just getting that job is some feat) and two Fifa Under-20 World Cups with Portugal. No league title, mind.

More teams facing off in quick succession

“While maybe not beating the Stoke v Bury answer in last week’s column, the 1908-09 Scottish C up tie between Beith FC and Broxburn Athletic equals it and shortens the timeframe,” mails Norman Biggar. “The first drawn game took place on Saturday 23 January 1909, with drawn replays on Saturday 30 January, Wednesday 3 February and Thursday 4 February. Beith finally won the fourth replay on Friday 5 February. Unfortunately, Beith were knocked out by St Mirren in the next round, with the match being played on … Saturday 6 February. Both the second and third replays went to extra time, so it took 510 minutes to settle the original tie and Beith also ended up playing 420 minutes of competitive cup football within a four-day period.

Knowledge archive

“Peter Crouch and Dimitar Berbatov are exactly the same age, both born on 30 January 1981,” noted Matthew Page in January 2007. “If the suggested transfer of Crouch to Spurs goes through, will this be the first such occurrence of a strike partnership being exactly the same age?”

It actually took two years for Crouch to make his way to Spurs, by which time Berbatov had already made his move north to Manchester United. But, in any case, the Netherlands duo of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Patrick Kluivert had already beat them into the exclusive club. Both were both born on 1 July 1976. Interestingly, during the pair’s time up front (on Van Nistelrooy’s debut in 1998, in fact), they played alongside Edwin van der Sar and Phillip Cocu, who themselves arrived into the world on 29 October 1970.


Can you help?

“According to Wikipedia, the history of the Argentina national football team begins with their first official match, played on 20 July 1902 against Uruguay, a 6–0 win in Paso del Molino, Montevideo,” notes Bas van Eldonk. “Has any country had a better debut?”

“With the late elimination of Blackpool in the FA Cup there are only three teams from outside the top two divisions in the fourth round (Maidstone Utd (NLS), Wrexham and Newport County (L2) - and none from League One). Is this the fewest ever to get past the third round?” asks Karl Dayson.

“As a result of Covid, the final of the 2019-20 Copa del Rey took place on 3 April 2021,” begins Liam Cosgrove. “Two weeks later, the final of the 2020-21 Copa del Rey final took place. Athletic Bilbao were the losing finalists on both occasions. Has there ever been a shorter gap between a team losing two finals of the same competition?”

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