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Jul 21, 2014

Clubs feel effects of World Cup glory

Forbes has listed Real Madrid as the most valuable sports franchise in the world, ahead of Barcelona, Manchester United and the New York Yankees.

Having settled the World Cup final, Mario Gotze couldn't settle himself down -- somewhat understandably. The 22-year-old entered the media room of the Maracana and simply let it all out.

"I scored but I didn't really know what was happening," Gotze enthused. "A dream has become reality and we are going to have a great party."

Such a celebration was the obvious next step, as the German squad even partied with the likes of Rihanna. The deeper question, however, comes after the celebrations begin to fade.

Having placed himself in football history, Gotze looks to have an even better future, but the usual aftermath to a "great party" is a bad hangover. As many players have proven, the idea of a post-World Cup lull is very real and rather common. But is it inevitable, or even widespread? With that in mind, we decided to look at some the trophy winners who had the deepest impact on their defining tournament, and what the following season held in store.

The good

Diego Maradona, Napoli, 1986-87
After a summer like 1986, and the five goals that drove Argentina to the World Cup, the question was clear: How do you go about improving or even living up to the finest individual displays in international football history? Not for the first time, Maradona managed the impossible. He simply replicated that World Cup on a club scale.

Diego Maradona's initial time at Napoli proved to be hugely successful.

Scoring a goal every two games amid the asceticism of Serie A in the mid-1980s, the No. 10 drove Napoli to the first league title in their history, as well as a Coppa Italia to secure a domestic double. But this was not only the end of a long wait for Napoli. With Maradona having finally banished so many questions about his international career through the 1986 World Cup, the 1986-87 Scudetto was also his own first domestic title, finally giving his club career a gloss beyond the moments of greatness.

Ronaldo, Real Madrid, 2002-03
A return to his best, if not a return to where he had previously been his best. It would have been difficult for anyone not to be uplifted by the glory of Ronaldo's 2002 World Cup, but an element of deflation at Internazionale was somewhat justified. Having nursed the player through four years of injury following the misery and mystery of his 1998 World Cup final, the Italian club had to endure renewed interest in the forward's brilliance after that summer's redemption.

A haul of eight goals in the Japan and Korea World Cup -- as well as two in the victorious final over Germany -- was a stellar achievement, and ensured he was the ideal next candidate for Real Madrid's Galactico project. Ronaldo actually reached new heights. Like Maradona in 1987, the player's best World Cup was immediately followed by his first national league medal, as Real Madrid claimed La Liga. Ronaldo was influential with 30 goals in 44 games. Three of those came away to Manchester United in the Champions League, in moments that stood alongside any others in his career.

Lilian Thuram, Parma, 1998-99
The French defender did not just define the granite back line on which France's World Cup win was built. He also put them as far as the final, with the two goals that overturned Croatia's 1-0 lead in the semis. Thuram also helped overturn some history, as Parma immediately enjoyed their only season in which they won more than one trophy, lifting the old UEFA Cup and the Coppa Italia. The right-back-cum-centre-half was by then one of the world's outstanding defenders.

Lothar Matthaus, Internazionale, 1990-91
Matthaus famously passed the responsibility of hitting the 1990 World Cup-winning penalty against Argentina on to Andreas Brehme, and the following season perhaps showed why. In the Italian title decider against Sampdoria, he saw Gianluca Pagliuca improbably save his spot kick to somehow secure the ultimate smash-and-grab 2-0 victory. Inter lost the trophy, West Germany had won it.

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The penalty back in the 1990 final might have cemented a fine tournament but, just like Roberto Baggio four years later or that match against Sampdoria, one kick should not affect Matthaus' legacy. Because, while Pagliuca was described as having "the game of his life" in that fixture against Inter, the German midfielder was then in the form of his life. He had been sensational throughout the World Cup, and simply continued for his club. Matthaus hit a goal every two games and drove Inter to the UEFA Cup. He may not have hit the strike that mattered most, but he was the player who mattered most in ensuring they got so far.

The bad

Zinedine Zidane, Juventus, 1998-99
There are a number of ironies about the 1998 World Cup final display that put Zidane among the immortals, and not just because a player so delicate with his feet scored with his head, or what he would do with the same body part in 2006. First, for a notionally defining tournament, he wasn't actually all that good before the decisive match and missed two games through suspension. Secondly, for all his new reputation, he didn't really play up to it the following season.

Juventus finished seventh and suffered their worst season since 1990-91, with Zidane also playing the fewest games of his career in any season since 1990. The frequent lethargy of his performances seemed to fully display a World Cup hangover. The best, however, was yet to come. Zidane's real party was Euro 2000, the tournament that truly showed his eternal elegance.

Romario, Barcelona, 1994-95
Manchester United, of course, may not feel this way. On the night that the English champions had been devastated 4-0 at Barcelona in November 1994, Alex Ferguson seemed shell-shocked. "We have been well and truly slaughtered," he said. "It was a humbling experience for us.

"We couldn't handle the speed of [Hristo] Stoichkov and Romario. The suddenness with which they attacked was a new experience."

Romario's display against Manchester United was a rare bright spot following the Brazilian's performances in winning the World Cup just months prior.

For those who faced them at the 1994 World Cup, of course, it was a familiar fear. Stoichkov had scored six in delivering Bulgaria to the semifinal, Romario five in winning Brazil the World Cup. Together again, four months after the World Cup in the United States, they produced a collective performance for the ages, ripping United apart.

One other reason it was so memorable, however, was because the rest of the season was so utterly forgettable. For two years (1992-94) Romario had become a stereotype of Brazilian forwards of the time, managing to sustain sensational form despite so much partying. It eventually caught up with him. Romario returned from the World Cup two weeks after he was supposed to, and began to fall out with everyone -- including his old friend Stoichkov -- before falling right out of form.

The statistics say enough. After 31 goals in 46 appearances and 32 in 47 in his first two campaigns at the Camp Nou, he only scored seven in 18 that season before leaving for Flamengo. Stoichkov said it even better: "Romario never came back after the World Cup. His body was there but his mind was still in Rio."

Fabio Grosso, Internazionale, 2006-07
If Grosso put a season's worth of emotional energy into the 2006 World Cup, it wouldn't exactly be a surprise. The full-back provided the most meaningful moments and evocative images of Italy's title win, with his joyous celebrations of the semifinal goal against Germany and then the winning penalty against France providing modern mirrors of Marco Tardelli's famous strike to seal the trophy back in 1982.

Fabio Grosso arrived at Inter as a national hero, and departed for France a year later.

Such displays sealed Grosso a move from Palermo to Internazionale but they couldn't keep him there. That World Cup's breakout star saw his form break down, and he only played in 23 of the Milan side's games that season, before moving to Lyon within a year.

Rivaldo, AC Milan, 2002-03
After four years at Barcelona when he was certainly playing like the best player in the world, Rivaldo at last enjoyed an achievement to match his magnificence. The forward came into his own during the 2002 World Cup, combining so gloriously alongside Ronaldinho and Ronaldo to send an otherwise functional Brazil side to victory.

If he got himself involved in controversy early on with the simulation against Turkey, he responded with quality and key strikes against both Belgium and England in the first two knockout games.

The remarkable thing was that it was all unlikely to be enough for Barcelona. Louis van Gaal's return as coach meant Rivaldo's departure to Milan. Even though the Dutch coach's second spell at Camp Nou was a failure, it's possible they sold the Brazilian at the right time. Rivaldo featured in just 22 matches for Milan the following season, and those games only ever saw flashes of his brilliance. It said much that in the Italian club's Champions League victory -- a trophy that had for so long eluded Rivaldo at Barcelona -- he was an unused substitute.

Miguel Delaney

Miguel Delaney is London correspondent for ESPN and also writes for the Irish Examiner, the Independent, Blizzard and assorted others. He is the author of an award-nominated book on the Irish national team called 'Stuttgart to Saipan' (Mentor) and was nominated for Irish sports journalist of the year in 2011.