Although it may not unite the globe in quite the same way the FIFA World Cup can, the UEFA European Championship is seen by some as being harder to win than its more global counterpart, in the sense that it’s a tournament pitting countries from arguably the most deeply talented continent in football against one another. The 2016 edition is a bit different in that eight more teams have been added to the finals, making for a 24-team tournament. In other words, some smaller footballing nations will have a shot at shocking the footballing world and upsetting the status quo in two years’ time – and if the early stages of the qualifying tournament are any indication, some of those nations want it badly. Such a mindset has led to this list, where we’ll be counting down the 10 most valuable footballers who have already bagged more than one goal in their country’s quest for qualification at the Euro 2016 finals.
Many of these are some of the best footballers on the planet, two of whom are defenders – not entirely unexpected for a list like this, but not necessarily customary either. More than anything, the majority of these players ply their trade with the cream of club football’s crop: players for Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in particular feature heavily on this list. Their countries may have had no problem qualifying for a major tournament even without them on the pitch, but there’s no denying that these players can push those countries over the top, and they have from the get go.
Whether or not they keep up their pace as qualifying for Euro 2016 continues over the coming months, it’s certainly a positive boost for their countries that could be the difference between making the tournament and missing out entirely. Here are the 10 most valuable footballers to have scored more than once in qualifying, ranked based on their market value on Transfermarkt and converted to American dollars.
10 Giorgio Chiellini - Market Value: $27 million
He may have been more recently known for being the unfortunate victim of a bite from Luis Suarez that gave the Uruguayan striker a massive suspension and did considerable damage to his reputation, but Italian centre back Giorgio Chiellini remains one of the most reliable central defenders both for his country and for his club Juventus. With a market value of about $27 million, he’s also a player that would hardly ever come cheap. In Euro 2016 qualifying, Chiellini has scored twice, both of his goals coming in Italy’s second game against Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, Chiellini got himself on the scoresheet a third time as well, in the form of an own goal that helped Azerbaijan tie the match in the 76th minute.
9 Kevin de Bruyne - Market Value: $28 million
Jose Mourinho might not have had a place for him in his squad, but he certainly has one under Wolfsburg manager Dieter Hecking: babyfaced Belgian attacking midfielder/winger Kevin de Bruyne is an exciting young player at the age of 23, and put up a very good performance at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where he scored once against the United States and assisted Marouane Fellaini’s goal against Algeria. Rated at a market value of about $28 million, de Bruyne has scored twice in Euro qualifying so far, netting two goals within three minutes of each other against Andorra.
8 Marek Hamsik - Market Value: $50 million
Captain of both the Slovak national team as well as his club team Napoli, Marek Hamsik is one of the finest – and possibly most underrated – attacking midfielders in the Serie A, and probably one of the best in Europe as well. With a market value of just under $50 million, Hamsik has built up quite a solid reputation despite coming from a relatively small footballing nation with his passing and dribbling abilities as well as his ability to find the net. Speaking of which, he’s found it twice already in Euro 2016 qualifying with two goals in a 3-1 victory for Slovakia away to Belarus.
7 David Alaba - Market Value: $50 million
He’s one of the most exciting defensive players in the football world, period, and David Alaba has proven time and time again that he’s an important player both for Bayern Munich and the Austrian national team. And with the fact that he’s rated at about $50 million, the 22-year-old defender has the market value to match his sublime talent. In Euro 2016 qualifying, Alaba has scored twice for a relatively unheralded Austrian side, both of those goals came from the penalty spot against Sweden and Moldova to help Austria be top of Group G after their first three qualifying matches.
6 David Silva - Market Value: $56.7 million
For Spanish attacking midfielder David Silva, international goals have tended to come in twos over the course of his career: he’s netted twice in one game against Greece, Belgium, Scotland and Tahiti. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that he’s netted twice in Spain’s first three qualifying matches: once against Macedonia and again away to Luxembourg. The diminutive Spanish national team veteran with a market value of about $56.7 million may not have had the best season last year with Manchester City, but he’s undoubtedly still a force to be reckoned with for his country – who are stacked enough as it is in midfield.
5 Wayne Rooney - Market Value: $63.8 million
He may not always show it, but Wayne Rooney’s talent level is still undeniable ever since he broke out as a teenager with Everton in 2002. Furthermore, he’s still England’s most important player bar none, and he’s continued to show his goalscoring abilities on an international level. The first few games of Euro 2016 qualifying have been no exception: Rooney, who’s got a market value of about $63.8 million, has scored against Estonia and San Marino in helping England maintain a perfect record so far of three wins in three matches. Without a ton of striking firepower behind him, Rooney has a pretty good chance of getting plenty more.
4 Robert Lewandowski - Market Value: $71 million
Without question Poland’s best player, as well as one of many lethal offensive weapons among Bayern Munich’s arsenal, Robert Lewandowski is an incredibly dangerous goalscorer, as we saw during his previous seasons with former club Borussia Dortmund before his controversial transfer to Bayern. For his country, he’s gotten four goals so far in Poland’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign – though all four goals came in one game during a 7-0 victory against lowly Gibraltar. Nevertheless, the striker rated at a market value of about $71 million is probably going to net quite a few more before Poland’s campaign is finished.
3 Thomas Muller - Market Value: $71 million
Although he’s still an excellent player with his club Bayern Munich, it always seems as if it’s with the German national team that Thomas Muller truly shines as a player. After being named the Golden Boot winner (with five goals scored) and Best Young Player at the 2010 World Cup, he did one better four years later by helping Germany win the whole thing by scoring another five goals. So far, the winger with a market value of $71 million has two goals in his country’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2016, both of which were the two goals that won Germany their qualifying match over Scotland.
2 Luka Modric - Market Value: $78 million
While he's one of many exceptionally talented midfielders on Real Madrid’s books, Luka Modric is easily Croatia’s best in that position, and for good reason: his vision and passing abilities have been beneficial both for Real – with whom he won the Champions League last season – as well as his previous club Tottenham Hotspur, and Croatia’s national team is no exception. The central midfielder with a market value of $78 million has only netted 10 times for his country, but two of them have come through his country’s qualifying campaign for Euro 2016, scoring once against Malta as well as against Azerbaijan a month later.
1 Gareth Bale - Market Value: $113.4 million
He’s arguably one of the best footballers on the planet right now, and he’s also quite possibly the man to propel his country into their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. Gareth Bale is a fast, physical and sublimely skilled player who certainly justifies his $113.4 million market value thanks both to his years with Tottenham Hotspur and with current club Real Madrid, for whom he scored the goal that helped Los Galacticos win the Champions League last season. As for his performances for Wales in their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Bale has scored twice so far, getting both of the goals that helped Wales beat Andorra 2-1 and avoid what would have been an embarrassing loss.