June 6, 2014

Where World Cup footballers play during the regular season

Some of the world’s best soccer players are gathered in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, which begins next week. But during the rest of the year, the 736 players who are members of national teams play on club teams around the world in 53 different countries.

Pew Research analyzed the final rosters for each of the 32 qualifying nations posted to FIFA’s official website and found a total of 476 players (65%) who currently play for clubs in countries outside of their World Cup nation. Think of them as “elite labor migrants,” many of whom cross borders to play for higher salaries in front of bigger audiences. 

World Cup

Some other facts about these athletes:

  • Twenty-six players from World Cup rosters play professionally in Turkey, but the Turkish national team did not qualify for the World Cup. Turkey finished third at the 2002 World Cup, the only time it has qualified for the tournament since 1954.
  • Each World Cup nation has at least one player that stays at home for the club season, but four — Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Uruguay — have only one such player, meaning 22 of the 23 players on each of those teams play abroad. Algeria and Cameroon each have 21 of 23 players from club teams outside of those countries. Of all the African nations that qualified, Nigeria has the highest number of players who are members of domestic clubs (three).
  • More than half of the United States roster plays outside of the country during the club season (14 players), including four each in England and Germany. That means nine members of the U.S. World Cup team play for Major League Soccer teams in the U.S. (not including midfielder Michael Bradley, who plays for Toronto F.C., a Canadian MLS club).
  • Many of Brazil’s players may be relishing a rare chance to play on home soil. During the club season, 19 of 23 play outside Brazil.

We also took a look at each team’s manager and his country of birth. Exactly half of the teams (16 of 32) have managers who were born in that country, including several European teams (Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, England, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain). The other 16 are managed by men who were born elsewhere.

The United States is managed by Jurgen Klinsmann, one of five German-born managers at this year’s World Cup (including Germany manager Joachim Löw). Three teams (Costa Rica, Honduras and Ecuador) have Colombian-born managers, but Colombia manager Jose Pekerman was born in Argentina.

Topics: Migration

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.

  2. is a former advanced analytics intern at Pew Research Center.


  1. Gwion ap Dafydd3 years ago

    Just a quick question as to why Wales has been coloured in as part of England? They are two completely different soccer nations. You have correctly not coloured in Scotland so I’m a bit confused as to why it would be any different for Wales. Could this error be changed in anyway perhaps?

    1. Michael Lipka3 years ago

      Thanks for reading and for pointing this out. We have corrected the map.

      Michael Lipka

  2. Alfredo E. Lattes3 years ago

    Over 50% (373) of the players participating in the World Cup play regularly in 5 European countries: England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France. Moreover, 93% of the players representing the 5 African teams play outside their country.

  3. Khurram Zia Khan3 years ago

    An interesting piece. After reading it, one thing is evident that league system of Europe is well established and players crave to become part of European leagues. African football star rising after players from the continent become part of European clubs. I think Asian countries also try and improve their club system and recruit players in order to improve overall standard of Asian football. All is now set for World Cup 2014

  4. Adam3 years ago

    There seems to be an error in the US data. it says one America plays in Asia. I am assuming this is Jermaine Jones who plays for Besiktas in Turkey. For footballing purposes Turkey is a European nation as they play in UEFA.

    1. Michael Lipka3 years ago

      Thanks for reading and for your comment, Adam. You’re right about Jermaine Jones being the player in question.

      For the regions in this analysis, we used the standard regional definitions found in other Pew Research reports (for example: pewrsr.ch/1tYoAxx). Those boundaries include Turkey in the Asia-Pacific region.

      Michael Lipka