- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

BERLIN — One dazzling shot, one great save at the World Cup and a player can capture the adoration of his nation and the respect of soccer fans worldwide.

Not to mention cold, hard cash and other goodies.

The World Cup is first a contest for soccer supremacy. But it’s also a chance for relative unknowns to make their fortune — both now and down the line.

“Put themselves in the shop window,” says Trinidad and Tobago’s Stern John, a striker with a colorful career who hopes his play will help him move on up.

And then shop for a new car, or house. In some cases, even get to skip military service.

The incentive is not just new contracts with better teams. National federations also offer bonuses that add up fast, especially for players from poorer countries.

Players for Angola received a reported $50,000 apiece for reaching the World Cup. Saudi Arabia has promised to shell out $27,000 to each player when its team wins — a promise that’s cost it nothing so far. If Spain wins the final, its players get about $683,000 each. The Americans could bank nearly $200,000 each if they make it to the second round.

A few at every World Cup play themselves into their own spotlight.

Some, like Brazil’s Ronaldo four years ago or France’s Zinedine Zidane in 1998, already are multimillionaire superstars.

For lesser names, a stellar show could mean a new tax bracket.

U.S. defender Alexi Lalas scored a contract in Italy’s Serie A based on his play at the 1994 World Cup. Frankie Hejduk, one of the few bright spots on a dismal 1998 U.S. team, jumped from Major League Soccer to Germany’s Bundesliga. South Korea’s surprising run to the semifinals four years ago sent midfielders Lee Young-pyo and Park Ji-sung to Europe.

Though this World Cup’s first round isn’t over, there’s already talk Poland goalkeeper Artur Boruc’s spectacular stops against Germany might have earned him an even better job that playing with Celtic in Scotland. Americans Oguchi Onyewu and Clint Dempsey could find themselves on the move, too — Onyewu from the Belgian league to one of Europe’s biggies and Dempsey from MLS to Europe.

“There’s no question that the World Cup provides a platform unlike any other where a player can elevate himself to the level of stardom,” said agent Roy Messing, whose Global Sport Group’s clients include Brazil and Real Madrid star Roberto Carlos. “A winning goal in a semifinal, a stellar game in a quarterfinal — it’s like nothing else.”

Landon Donovan already enjoyed one of the higher profiles in U.S. soccer before the 2002 World Cup. After scoring two goals in Korea, he went mainstream.

His endorsements include Nike, Claritin and AT&T.; While that doesn’t compare with those of David Beckham or Ronaldo, an extra six or seven figures doesn’t hurt.

“He is already at a place before this World Cup that surpasses where he was after the last World Cup,” said Donovan’s agent, Richard Motzkin.

Of course, surpassing the U.S. team’s performance of 2002 would be an achievement that outlasts any bonus or contract.

“When they step foot on the field representing their nation, they’re not out there to increase their dollar value,” said Messing, the agent. “The players who are going to be great players, that’s not why they’re there.”

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