In a World Cup season, every player within a chance of getting their national coach's approval is striving to impress. But for those unlucky few stranded on the substitutes bench, they have been enviously looking on as their countrymen earn themselves a plane ticket while they exasperatingly stew on the side-lines.
The January transfer window represents a fresh opportunity for those few. While the winter window is rather more timid with players reluctant to up sticks half way through a season, the prospect of having their part to play in the World Cup can change that perception for many players.
IBTimes UK have picked the players who are in desperate need of a fresh start this month to breathe life into their hopes of having a deciding role to play in their side's World Cup fortunes.
Being awarded a starting role in Vicente Del Bosque's starting XI is difficult enough, but maintaining it having spent most of your season confined the subs bench would seemingly make it nigh on impossible. Chelsea's Player of the Season for the past two campaigns Juan Mata has cut a frustrated figure at Stamford Bridge having been marginalised by Jose Mourinho in his first season back at the club.
Just 11 league starts – just two of which he has gone onto complete a game – for one of the league's most influential players last season has inevitably sparked suggestions of an imminent departure, with Inter Milan, Paris Saint Germain and Manchester United credited with interest. The 25-year-old's place in La Roja's squad is unlikely to be threatened, but how much he will play in Spain's attempt to retain the World Cup could be if he stays benched.
The Belgian international is now very much Arsenal captain in name only. Having lost his first team role in March last year after a dismal spell of form, Vermaelen has struggled to displace the formidable partnership of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, who to their credit, have been the Premier League's best defensive unit this season. The 28-year-old was omitted from three of Belgium's last four World Cup qualifiers –although the defender's struggles with fitness will have been an issue – and must ensure he is getting regular first team football to claim a spot in Marc Wilmots starting XI. "I'll have to think about that when it's necessary. January is still a few months ahead," The Arsenal man said in October. "Of course, never playing will not be the ideal situation for me to go to the World Cup, that's for sure."
Kevin De Bruyne
Another Belgian to find himself marginalised in the Premier League, Kevin De Bruyne is perhaps the name on this list most likely to leave his club this month. Given Belgium's wealth of talent in midfield and in more advanced positions, the Chelsea man can seldom afford another five month period like the one he just had. De Bruyne has failed register a single appearance in the league since early September and while he may have built a few bridges with Mourinho after being ordered to train with the Under-21 side, first team opportunities are likely to remain scarce. Although the Premier League may not have seen the best the versatile Belgian has to offer, the Bundesliga certainly got a glimpse last season during his loan spell with Werder Bremen and he will have no shortage of suitors ahead of a likely move back to Germany.
Tottenham Hotspur's record signing has done little to justify his £30m price tag since his move from AS Roma, and even less to justify a space in Alejandro Sabella's Argentina squad ahead of next summer. With Carlos Tevez, Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi for company in attacking berths, Lamela's role at the World Cup was always likely to be a peripheral one at best. And with just nine appearances for this new club and a solitary goal against the giants of Moldovan football in FC Sheriff Tiraspol to his name, only an extraordinary second half of the season will see the 21-year-old in with a chance of being acknowledged when squads are announced later this year. Given his excellent season for Roma prior to his move to White Hart Lane, a return to Serie A may be the best place to accommodate that revival.
Angel Di Maria
With 44 caps to his name already, Angel Di Maria's squad role has been fairly consistent since making his international bow in 2008. But having found himself in hot water with Real Madrid for an offensive crotch grab gesture directed at his own fans, a move away from the Spanish capital may be the best move for his Brazil hopes, and his club future in general. Despite Carlo Ancelotti recently stating that no players will be leaving the club this winter, Di Maria's antics – which have led to the club launching an internal investigation into the incident that took place during Monday's win over Celta – could mark a change in the club's stance.
Before that episode however, Di Maria was faced with another problem in the form of the world's most expensive player. Gareth Bale's rapidly improving form following an injury-ridden first two months at the club has pushed the Argentine out of the equation somewhat. With Manchester United calling out for a player of his ilk, a move away from the Bernabeu may be the answer to all of Di Maria's problems.