The persistent international breaks baked into any given club soccer season's schedule can feel awfully disruptive. Every time the club season seems like it's finding its rhythm, it's interrupted for another two-week span. If you're more a fan of the club game than the international game, this can create a steady supply of annoyance.
Each window, however, allows a small set of players an opportunity to fulfill an all-time dream. Getting called up to play for your national team for the first time is a life goal for many in the sport, after all. It can also serve as a form check of sorts: Which players are finding new levels of their game and achieving new heights at the club level?
Take Aleix García and Alex Grimaldo.
Garcia is a journeyman, a midfielder tied to Villarreal and Manchester City in the youth ranks who managed just 10 total appearances with those two clubs and played for Belgium's Mouscron, Romania's Dinamo Bucharest and Spain's Eibar before landing permanently with Manchester City's sister club Girona in 2021. He was a key figure during Girona's promotion season and recorded five assists in LaLiga play last season.
This year, at age 26, Garcia has become one of LaLiga's best players. He has already nearly reached a career high in combined goals and assists (seven), and has been the best player for a Girona team that holds a shocking two-point lead atop the table.
Grimaldo, meanwhile, perhaps hasn't been the best player for Bayer Leverkusen, the current Bundesliga leader, but he's getting awfully close. In his past eight matches in all competitions, he has combined six goals with two assists from 11 chances created, and all from a left wingback position that requires plenty of defensive responsibility.
It seems like every goal he scores is more spectacular than the last, as Union Berlin can attest after this gorgeous long-range strike over the weekend.
Garcia and Grimaldo were both called up to the Spanish national team for this window and could make their respective debuts, along with Atletico Madrid's Rodrigo Riquelme and Real Sociedad's Álex Remiro. It's probably difficult to convince them that the international windows are an annoyance at the moment, huh?
If first-time call-ups are highlights of a given window, let's lean into that a bit. Based solely on current club form, who should perhaps be the next first-time call-ups for soccer's most dominant nations? Here are two names per country to consider for each of the top nine countries in the current FIFA rankings (listed in order of ranking), plus the U.S., Mexico and Germany. (We'll go ahead and do three for the U.S. That gives us a nice, solid 25-man list.)