Football is a team game, however, and supporting the household names are a cast of less well-known performers, who perhaps lack the star quality of the leading lights but are nevertheless capable of stealing a scene or even the whole show.
Ahead of the 11th FIFA Club World Cup, FIFA.com turns the spotlight on one player from each of the seven teams who could well grab the headlines in Morocco over the next few days.
Though he has a dog called Messi, named after a player he has a lot of admiration for, Francisco Alarcon Suarez does not let that get in the way of his day job, which is to supply bullets for Ronaldo. Nurtured by Valencia before he exploded on to the scene with Malaga, the hugely talented 24-year-old is now fulfilling his rich promise at Real Madrid, where he is polishing his skills under Carlo Ancelotti’s watchful eye. Having spent his career playing off the front men, the cultured Isco is now developing into the complete midfielder despite his somewhat slender frame. A key factor in Madrid’s recent shift towards a possession-based game, his influence continues to grow in the wake of the injury that has sidelined Luka Modric.
Gonzalo Veron (San Lorenzo, No30)
Once known as El Caniggia del ascenso because of his pace, reminiscent of the great Claudio Caniggia, and the fact that he spent much of his early career helping teams fight for promotion in Argentina’s lower leagues, the 24-year-old Veron joined San Lorenzo in 2012 from a side who had just been relegated to the fourth tier. A forward by trade, he is often deployed by Ciclón coach Edgardo Bauza on either the left or right of midfield. Having returned from a serious knee ligament injury five months ago, his ability to run at defences is a crucial part of San Lorenzo’s attacking gameplan.
Mauro Formica (Cruz Azul, No33)
When Argentinian idol Ariel Ortega saw Formica playing for one of Newell’s Old Boys youth teams in 2005, he knew the kid was made of the right stuff, promptly dubbing him Kaká on account of his resemblance to the Brazilian star. A right-footed midfielder and occasional striker, Formica eventually made it to the Argentinian top flight, where he caught the eye with his long-range shooting, speed and dribbling skills. While he failed to excel in subsequent spells with Blackburn Rovers and Palermo, he has come into his own this year with Cruz Azul, having joined the Mexican club in 2013. After struggling to adapt to the altitude and spicy food, he began to produce his best football and got in among the goals, proving an excellent foil for Mariano Pavone and an able deputy to Christian Gimenez. Though his form has dipped a little in the second half of this year, he sees Morocco 2014 as the perfect opportunity to bounce back.
Shannon Cole (Western Sydney Wanderers FC, No2)
Shannon Cole is what you might call versatile. Though the combative, 30-year-old Australian was voted the best right-back of the last AFC Champions League, he can also play on the left flank and in midfield. He is multi-talented off the pitch too. Before turning professional in 2003, he trained as an actor, and has also taken a postgraduate course and done stand-up. Not content with all that, he has even published a novel this year. An important part of the Wanderers defence, he can also get forward, proving the point by scoring the goal that took the Australians into the continental final.
Akram Djahnit (ES Setif, No10)
Akram Djahnit showcased his speed and ability to take people on as soon as he joined the youth ranks of ES Setif, his hometown club. The club’s coaches knew they were on to something and they were right. The fleet-footed 23-year-old is among the five nominees for the 2014 CAF African-based Player of the Year Award and is harbouring hopes of a move to Europe one day, preferably to Manchester United, the club he supports. The midfielder owes his rapid rise to the club’s recent decision to fast-track its home-grown talent, and he has repaid that faith by helping the Algerian outfit win four titles since making his first-team debut in 2011. Just for good measure, he was also their second-highest scorer in their triumphant CAF Champions League campaign.
Zaid Krouch (Moghreb Tetouan, No10)
If there is one player in the Tetouan line-up with a touch of Latin flair about him, it is the man they call Zuzu. A dedicated Atletico Madrid fan and film buff, who lists Troy, Spartacus and 300 among his favourite movies, the slightly built, 23-year-old attacking midfielder owes his breakthrough to a 2012 pay dispute that saw 14 players go on strike. Promptly drafted into the side, he nailed his place down straightaway, eventually going on to earn a place in the national team.
John Irving (Auckland City, No6)
By the time he turned 20, this speedy English right-back had high hopes of making it in the English Premier League, having broken into Everton’s reserve team and been named their player of the year two seasons in a row. Sadly for Irving, whose middle name is Goodison – after the Toffees’ home ground – he was then released by the club closest to his heart and went to try his luck in Wales, with little success. On the suggestion of a friend, he travelled to the other side of the world to play in New Zealand’s second division. It was not long before Auckland made him theirs, deploying him in the centre of defence, where he has made a sterling contribution to four league championship wins.