There are two types of teams in the world of soccer: national/international teams and club teams. These two types of teams play in different leagues and under different sets of rules. If you are confused about both, let’s talk about some key differences between national teams and club teams so that you can better understand how each type of team functions.
1. National Teams are made up of Players Who Are Considered Some of the Best in the World
National teams are comprised of players who are considered some of the best in the world. However, club teams typically consist of players who have yet to prove themselves on a national level or may not be able to compete at that level.
National team coaches strive for versatility and depth: they want their players to be able to play multiple positions so that if one player is injured, someone else can fill their role without losing much effectiveness.
Club coaches tend to specialize their players’ skills more; this allows them to take advantage of each player’s strengths while reducing weaknesses because they know their playing styles well enough by now that they can compensate accordingly with strategy calls during gameplay.
2. Team Eligibility
There is a vast difference between the number of teams in the world’s top clubs and international leagues. FIFA recognizes 222 men’s national association football teams. Meanwhile, over 248 club teams compete in the top seven tiers of the English football league system.
National teams are generally made up of players who are eligible to play for that country by birth or citizenship. In some cases, however (e.g., Aymeric Laporte), an athlete may be eligible to play for two different national teams.
Therefore, Russia’s larger population means it has more potential football players than its North Macedonia competitor, which translates into a greater talent pool.
For club teams, the ability of players to move freely among teams creates a different set of restrictions. A player can play for nearly any team in the world, but his decision to join one team over another is based upon the success and finances of those two organizations, which are inextricably linked.
3. Playing Styles
International teams, which often lack the squad consistency and training time of their club counterparts, face a greater challenge in establishing a stable game plan. Therefore, many international teams are criticized for playing too soft football.
4. Playing Time & Squad Consistency
One of the biggest differences between international football and club football is the number of games they play. Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcântara told The Independent in May 2019 that “you have more days to train, more days together, more days to learn away from the pitch with your teammates” when playing for a club.
Thiago is correct. Over the last five seasons, club teams have played an average of 44.3 games per season, while international teams have averaged 11.2 games per season. This discrepancy is even more pronounced in terms of training time: club teams average nearly twice as many hours of preparatory work each year than international sides do.
Moreover, selecting consistent teams for international games is challenging because games are spread out over the calendar year. International teams don’t have to wait until transfer windows to change their squads, nor do they need to depend on out-of-form or injured players.
For example, England has frequently rotated their squad in the time since Gareth Southgate took over as manager, making a total of 200 changes to their starting lineup in 37 consecutive matches.
Club teams in the five seasons examined (in the sample data) had an average of 57 different players on their rosters, while international teams averaged nearly 55. Although there were three times as many club games in the sample, these numbers are remarkably similar.
On average, club teams used 16 unique players over a 38-game window during this period, while international teams used 56.
5. Player Ages
At Euro 2020, the records for youngest player to feature and youngest player to appear in the knockout stages were broken by Poland’s Kacper Kozłowski and England’s Jude Bellingham, respectively.
Unfortunately, the numbers don’t look good for young players hoping to represent their countries. International teams mostly rely on players in the prime of their careers.
The average age of international players over the last five seasons has been 27.5 years old, slightly higher than the average age of club players (27.0 years old). However, unlike club players who tend to have more even distributions of minutes played as they age, international players are more likely to see their playing time decrease as they get older.
6. Goals & Mistakes
By analyzing thousands of games from Stats Perform’s historical Opta data, we’ve been able to eliminate many of the biases that can occur when comparing small samples of matches over individual tournaments.
In the previous section, we examined stylistic differences between international and club teams; now, we will take a look at the effect this has on core numbers during football matches.
Club Teams vs. International Teams (Last 5 Seasons)
|Factor||Club Teams||International Teams|
|Goals Per Game||1.39||1.73|
|Expected Goals Per Game||1.36||1.31|
|Shots Per Game||12.5||13.8|
|Shots on Target Per Game||4.3||5.0|
|Expected Goals Per Shot||0.11||0.09|
|Passes Per Game||449||502|
|Errors Leading to Shots||0.24||0.15|
Source: The Analyst
The international teams in this sample data scored more goals per game (1.73) than the club teams (1.39). The attacking output is also echoed in the raw shots data, showing that international teams took more shots per game than club teams.
While it’s true that goals don’t always tell the full story in soccer or football, the expected goals figures across this sample suggest that the quality of shooting opportunities for club teams are higher in their games than in international games.
However, this also suggests that international teams were more efficient with their goal-scoring opportunities.
In international matches, players make fewer errors but are more harshly punished for them. On the other hand, in club football, teams commit an error that leads to a shot once every four games. In international matches, the same error happens about every seven games. However, these mistakes cost the team more in international competitions: 44% of these mistakes lead to shots converted into goals, compared to 38% in international matches.
Differences between the club and international football are not as pronounced as one might expect. For example, despite the pace of play being quicker at the club level, there is little difference in goals scored per game between the two levels.
In essence, the main difference between national teams and club teams is that the national team is chosen by a country’s governing body and comprises players from all over the world. Players must be nominated for consideration before making their way onto the roster, which makes it tough for someone who has just started playing professionally.
On the other hand, club teams are chosen by their owners/investors and managers with an eye toward being successful in local play as well as international competitions like Champions League or Europa League matches.