The FIFA World Cup is definitely the pinnacle of achievements for a footballer’s international career. The qualification process is long and arduous, add to that the possibility of not being called up by one’s national team because of varying reasons.
It is fair to say that only a few footballers are privileged and fortunate enough to consider themselves as someone who played in a World Cup.
Even some of the greats in football, sad to say, weren’t able to step onto the pitch for this prestigious tournament that caught the eyes and imaginations of fans around the world through the years. With this, we take a look on such players.
Here are FIVE footballing greats who never played in a World Cup:
Ryan Giggs (Country: Wales, Position: Midfielder, Club: Manchester United)
The Welsh is regarded as one of the best his country has produced ever in terms of talent and ability. But As a footballing country Wales is far from being considered a powerhouse such as England. Hence, he already has a handicap with regards to his chances of qualifying to the World Cup from the very beginning.
Add to that in the 90s, during the years of his youthfulness, Giggs begged off from playing for the country in friendlies due to injury concerns that might affect his club career with Manchester United.
A multi-titled player with the Red Devils under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson (13 Premier League, 4 FA Cup, 2 UEFA Champions League, to name some) and a plethora of individual awards, his club achievements are in stark contrast to his international career, in which he wasn’t able to crack the qualification stage.
Eric Cantona (Country: France, Position: Forward, Notable Clubs: Marseille, Leeds United, Manchester United)
A talented forward who achieved prominence during his tenure with Manchester United as one of the Alex Ferguson’s early best signings, his downfall was his strong and colourful personality that borders on being brash sometimes which affected his tenure with Les Bleus.
A fallout with then manager Henri Michel, who gave Cantona his full international debut, after he made a derogatory remark to the former in an interview cost him his place in the national team in September 1988.
Then Michel Platini took over France’s reins reinstating the enigmatic forward for Euro 92 in Sweden but the campaign turned out to be a disastrous one, failing to win a single match.
When Gerard Houiller took over as Le Bleus mentor, the team failed to qualify for USA 94 FIFA World Cup.
By the time Aime Jacquet took over in 1995 in preparation for Euro 96 qualification, the gaffer initially appointed Eric Cantona as team captain of the national squad. Things are looking good for Cantona until the Selhurst Park “Kung-Fu Kick” incident happened. It resulted in a lengthy suspension (8 months) that proved to permanently end his involvement with the national team as Jacquet opted to move on and not disrupt the dynamics created with the new personnel.
Cantona’s role as playmaker was reassigned to Zinedine Zidane. Two years later France won their first World Cup on home soil.
With Four Premier League titles and two FA Cups under his belt but no appearance in the FIFA World Cup, it’s a bit sad that despite representing a football powerhouse with France Cantona wasn’t able to grace the greatest spectacle in world football.
George Weah (Country: Liberia, Role: Striker, Notable clubs: Monaco, PSG, AC Milan)
One of the greatest strikers of his time and, arguably, the greatest African Footballer at the peak of his powers, George Weah’s inability to play in the World Cup lies in his country, Liberia.
Liberia is not a footballing power, even in the African region the country is considered as relative minnows. It just so happened that George Weah is a once in several lifetime kind of football talent that the nation has produced.
In spite of the situation, Weah refused to throw in the towel for his country, he played for the flag to the fullest of his abilities, and even went out of his way by coaching himself and providing financial support from his own pocket.
But his efforts eventually proved to be futile as he wasn’t able to carry Liberia to the promised land. The closest he came was during the 2002 Korea/Japan qualifiers in which the campaign ended in an agonising manner – coming up one point short of qualification.
A two time Serie Champion, A Balon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the year in 1995 such achievements prove that Weah is one of the best ever not to play in the World Cup.
George Best (Country: Northern Ireland, Role: Winger/Attacking Midfielder, Notable club: Manchester United)
A natural talent, a genius with the ball at his feet, George Best is a one of a kind.
An achiever in club football, his tenure with Manchester United resulted in two top flight trophies (First Division, 1964–65, 1966–67) and a 1968 European Cup. But despite of these, his international football exploits is not as glittering due to the fact that Northern Ireland is a minnow in the sport.
Despite of this predicament, no doubt that George Best is considered as the best ever player who donned Northern Ireland’s crest and colours in international football.
And although George Best eventually had his career cut short because of off the pitch personal issues, and even if he was not able to help his country get to a World Cup, his individual brilliance at the peak of his powers and abilities definitely took the gloss a bit in the tournament’s history because of his absence.
Alfredo Di Stefano (Countries: Argentina, Colombia, Spain, Role: Forward, Notable club: Real Madrid, River Plate)
Alfredo Di Stefano was a prolific goalscorer and a creator, with the versatility to play several roles on the pitch, his crucial contributions often translate to silverware, particularly with Real Madrid, making him one of the biggest legends of football.
At a time when players can still switch national team allegiances based on their current residence (as player mobility was still a rarity at that time), Di Stefano played for three countries.
First was with Argentina. He was able to help his country win the 1947 South American Championship scoring 6 goals in 6 matches. Those 6 matches would prove to be his only appearances for La Albiceleste.
Come the 1950 World Cup (the first edition), Argentina opted not to participate. In the next edition, in 1954, Argentina once again decided not to join the tournament.
A brief stint (4 matches) with Colombia happened in 1951/52 when he was playing with Millionarios but it wasn’t recognised by FIFA due to player transfer sanctions.
Eventually when Di Stefano was with Real Madrid, helping usher the club’s ‘golden age’, Di Sefano acquired Spanish citizenship becoming eligible to play for the Spanish side in which he debuted in 1957.
He played for La Furia Roja during the qualification for the 1958 World Cup but Spain failed to survive the qualifiers.
Years later, he was able to successfully land Spain a spot for the 1962 edition but an injury forced him to withdraw from the squad and participate in the tournament proper. Already at 36 years of age, he then decided to hang up his boots for the national team soon after.
Eight Primera Division titles, five European Cups, A Copa del Rey and an Intercontinental Cup. Such a massive haul for Real Madrid puts him as one of the most decorated players in club football EVER. But the irony of it all, it’s quite hard to believe that he wasn’t able to suit up and participate in a World Cup match EVER.