As the Spain striking sensation finishes another successful international tournament, Daniel Edwards looks at others who have shone in World Cups despite coming from clubs which were less than world-beaters.
Not for Villa the Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo route of instant teenage stardom for a world-famous club; instead the striker has done the rounds at Second Division Sporting Gijon, Primera also-rans Real Zaragoza and perennial top-four team Valencia before finally hitting the big time at a relatively advanced age.
And as he prepares to try and cap a fantastic tournament by adding a World Cup winners and Golden Boot gong to his trophy cabinet, we look at other stars who stunned the World from less than shimmering backgrounds:
Gordon Banks, England 1966, 1970
He is recognised by many as the best goalkeeper ever to wear the Three Lions shirt, and of course is the only one to have played in a World Cup final. The Sheffield shot-stopper's international success was not reflected at club level however; at the time of the 1966 glory, Banks represented a mid-table Leicester City, while his 1970 wonder save against the mighty Pele occurred when he was minding the net for equally mediocre Stoke City.
All this means that the World Cup medal in Banks’ trophy case feels rather lonely - with only a solitary League Cup sitting beside it.
Diego Maradona, Argentina 1986, 1990
‘El Diego’ was at a confirmed superstar club when his Argentina side crashed out in 1982, driving fans wild at Barcelona. The Albiceleste glory years of 1986 and 1990 on the other hand coincided with captain Diego’s successful sojourn in southern Italy; the enigmatic number 10 was at unfashionable and marginalised Napoli, who just like Argentina were inspired to their most successful spell ever in the late 1980’s.
Gheorghe Hagi, Romania 1994
The ‘Maradona of the Carpathians’ was somewhat of an unknown entity when he wowed American audiences in 1994, driving Romania to a quarter final berth. This was hardly surprising however; from behind the Iron Curtain and Steaua Bucharest the playmaker had an unremarkable spell at Real Madrid before settling in Serie B side Brescia - although they did claim an Anglo-Italian Cup triumph the same season against mighty Notts County.
El-Hadji Diouf, Senegal 2002
If the identity of this Senegalese winger was a mystery to the rest of the world, it really shouldn’t have been to the defending French champions as the two teams ran out against each other in their opening game of the 2002 campaign. Lens-based Diouf may as well have come from another planet however, as his mazy running helped consign Les Bleus to a humiliating 1-0 defeat. France went home in disgrace shortly afterwards, while the African side reached a respectable quarter final berth. Diouf was named in the team of the tournament, but could not build on this early promise; a big money move to England led to the player becoming better known for spitting than dribbling.
Gabriel Batistuta, Fiorentina 1998
The Argentine forward was blessed with an incredible talent to find the net, as he proved in 1998 with five goals including a hat trick against Jamaica, which made him the first player to score a treble in two World Cups. While ‘Batigol’ was lapping up the international plaudits, silverware eluded him both in the Albiceleste and on club level. For his beloved Fiorentina, Batistuta was more accustomed to fighting in the wrong half of Serie A, and it was only after nine seasons at the Viola that he finally lifted a Scudetto; coincidentally in the first season following his transfer to more illustrious Roma.
Pele, Brazil 1958
Few people outside of Brazil had heard of 17 year old Edson Arantes do Nascimento when he took the world by storm in Sweden, scoring six goals as the Selecao marched to a first ever World Cup trophy. Even fewer had heard of his club team, an obscure outfit on the periphery of Sao Paulo called Santos.
The tournament however propelled both player and club to global fame and success, as a Pele inspired Santos won everything on a domestic and international level. The team also earned fortunes by taking their star on world tours and exhibitions; money which helped convinced the official ‘national treasure’ that perhaps the grass was not greener on the other side of the Atlantic.