by Daryl Grove - 05/31/2006
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While their focus will be on helping their teams, some players will be using the world's biggest stage as the world's biggest shop window this summer, looking to impress potential buyers with their World Cup exploits. Some are famous names looking for a final payday, others are tomorrow's superstars looking to attract a big-name club.
Oswaldo Sanchez (Mexico and Chivas)
After years spent in the colorfully dressed shadow of Jorge Campos, Oswaldo Sanchez has made the Mexican No. 1 jersey all his own. He was largely anonymous outside of Mexico until 2005, having spent his entire career in the insular but impressive domestic league. But at the 2005 Confederations Cup Sanchez was Man of the Match as Mexico claimed a famous 1-0 victory over Brazil. Therefore, a few clubs may have their eyes on him already. At 32 years old Sanchez is probably at the peak of his career, and a move to Spain's La Liga may be perfect for him given the lack of a language barrier
Michael Owen (England and Newcastle United)
Stifled by the intricacies of Galactico politics at Real Madrid, Michael Owen opted for a big money, no trophy move to Newcastle United last summer. Owen will be looking to take out his frustrations on Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago and remind the world that he's a big-time player deserving of a big-time club.
Yaya Touré (Ivory Coast and Olympiakos)
The excellently named Yaya already has an older brother playing Premiership football in Arsenal's Kolo Touré. Yaya is a defensive midfielder in the Patrick Vieira mold, long legs and all. For these two reasons alone he should avoid a transfer to Arsenal where he will be unfairly burdened by comparisons to both his brother and the Arsenal legend. But the 23-year-old may have outgrown Olympiakos and the Greek domestic league. The likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Milan have already shown an interest, so if Yaya can impress in Ivory Coast's World Cup effort then the Olympiakos fax machine could get very busy.
Frank Ribéry (France and Marseille)
This pacy right winger had been in impressive form for Marseille, but rumors of a big money transfer affected his late season form. If he can recapture his early season brilliance for France at the World Cup, then that move could still be a reality.
William Gallas (France and Chelsea)
Has always looked like a top class central defender, but Jose Mourinho has insisted he fill in at left back for Chelsea. Tired of being Chelsea's utility man, Gallas is heading for the exit at Stamford Bridge. Strong performances in France's defense should be enough to attract bids from some serious teams, and leave Mourinho ruing the day he took Gallas for granted.
Ronaldo (Brazil and Real Madrid)
After his successful spell at Barcelona, Ronaldo was always going to struggle to win the hearts of Real Madrid fans. Two seasons of standing around with his hands on his ever-expanding waistline haven't endeared him to the crowd, so Ronaldo may be looking to move on. A crash diet and a couple of hat-tricks for Brazil should fool at least one big European club into thinking he could do it every week.
Ruud Van Nistelrooy (Holland and Manchester United)
No one recovers from Ferguson's wrath, so after storming out of Old Trafford, Van Nistelrooy should expect to be on his way. Just shy of 30 years old, the Dutch striker's next move may well be his last big one, so he needs a strong World Cup to secure a move to a prestigious club. If not, he may have to choose between a second-tier European club and a season in Manchester United's reserves.
Park Chu-young (South Korea and FC Seoul)
You may not have heard of him, but apparently Park Chu-young hysteria is gripping South Korea. The slightly built 20-year-old forward has already starred for Korea's youth sides, being named Asian Football Confederation Young Player Of The Year in 2004. He has now made a smooth transition to the senior team, scoring 5 goals in 15 appearances. The ambitious Park has already expressed a desire to play in the Premiership, and is hoping his impressive dribbling, passing and free kicks will be enough to secure a move.
Hernan Crespo (Argentina), and Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast) (both Chelsea)
Despite winning the title, Jose Mourinho has made no secret that he's unhappy with his strikeforce by chasing after Andriy Shevchenko and Carlos Tevez. That leaves good but not good enough strikers Hernan Crespo and Didier Drogba with something to prove come tournament time. Crespo may get better service from illustrious Argentinian team mates like Joan Riquelme, Pablo Aimar and Leo Messi, but Ivory Coast could be the story of the World Cup, with Drogba writing the headlines.
Landon Donovan (USA and Los Angeles Galaxy)
America's golden boy and playmaker joined Bayer Leverkusen at the age of 17, but after failing to establish himself he gave up in 2005 and joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer. He professes to be happy in California, but a 24-year-old player of his undoubted class would surely favor a move back to Europe. He had an excellent World Cup as an exciting 20 year old in 2002, but this time will shoulder more responsibility as the USA's vice captain. If he steps up and dictates games against the likes of Italy and Czech Republic, those big European teams may give Donovan another look.
Clint Dempsey (USA and New England Revolution)
The New England Revolution attacking midfielder will enter the 2006 World Cup as an unknown quantity. His aggressive, unpredictable playing style and his eerie ability be in the right place at the right time have already brought a few goals in his burgeoning international career with USA. If Dempsey scores, expect to see something special from his ever-increasing repertoire of celebrations. Though he's only spent just over two years in MLS he may be ready for a move, especially after a punch up with his New England captain Joe Franchino in March that left the senior player in hospital.
Oguchi Onyewu (USA and Standard Liege)
USA's 24-year-old defensive man-mountain has already made the move to Europe, currently plying his trade with Standard Liege in Belgium. Measuring 6'4" and well over 200 pounds of muscle, it's often noted that Onyewu is built more like a linebacker than a soccer player. He's not bad on the ball, incredibly mobile for such a big man, and reads the game well. Onyewu has big ambitions, having recently told ESPN he wanted to "redefine the position" of center back. His physical approach will either result in a flood of opposition free kicks and yellow cards, or a tidal wave of praise for Onyewu. If it's the latter then expect English Premiership clubs to take notice.
Nikola Zigic (Serbia & Montenegro and Red Star Belgrade)
If you thought Jan Koller and Peter Crouch were big, then wait until you see Zigic. The Red Star Belgrade striker stands at 6'8" and is wide to match, making him a formidable proposition for any defender. Predictably good in the air but not too shabby with his feet either, as Roma will testify after his 25-yard goal against them in this season's UEFA Cup. Several English Premiership sides have already made enquiries, but Red Star have sensibly decided to wait until after the World Cup, where he is expected to impress leading Serbia & Montenegro's forward line.