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:

  • Out of the 736 World Cup players, 114 – or 15% – play for clubs in England , not including five who play for Welsh teams that were part of the English Premier League in 2013-14. (FIFA classifies England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as separate nations, as we do in this analysis.) Clubs in Italy (81), Germany (78) and Spain (64) also have significant numbers of players on World Cup rosters. It may be no surprise that some of the most popular destinations for these players are European leagues that rank among the world’s most lucrative.
  • Only one World Cup team – Russia – has an entire roster filled with players from clubs within that country . Almost all of England’s players are members of English clubs, but one (goalkeeper Fraser Forster) plays in Scotland for Celtic. For Italy, 20 of 23 players are currently signed with Italian clubs (the other three play for Paris Saint-Germain in France).
  • 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.
  • Looking at players by position, outfield players (forwards, midfielders and defenders) are significantly more likely to play professionally outside of their World Cup country – 68% do so – than are goalkeepers (44%).

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.

Michael Lipka  is an associate director focusing on news and information research at Pew Research Center.
Christopher Inkpen  is a former advanced analytics intern at Pew Research Center.