The harsh hand of history can deal its fate so cruelly. Just ask this gifted bunch who should have basked in the global spotlight, but sadly never got the chance…
‘The Blonde Angel’ was a playmaking genius with oodles of verve and talent and a dollop of bad attitude for equal measure. Unfortunately, this latter attribute didn’t endear him to national coaches, persistently falling foul of both managers and team-mates. Despite his obvious talent, he was largely overlooked by his country, earning a measly 21 caps.
‘King Eric’ never managed to assert his wayward genius on the world scene. In 1988, after comparing then national coach Henri Michel to a “piece of shit”, he was dropped from the national side for 12 long months. He would, however, have definitely made the cut in 1994 should France have qualified, but after that incident at Selhurst Park in 1995, Cantona never played for France again.
Captain of England schoolboys, Giggs didn’t qualify for the full team because of his Welsh grandparents and the fact he was actually born in Cardiff. In 1993, during a pivotal qualifying match against Romania, Paul Bodin hit a crucial penalty against the bar with the scores at 1-1 and the Romanians eventually won out 1-2. It was the closest Giggs ever came to the World Cup.
Alfredo di Stefano
One of football’s most famous names never graced the World Cup, mostly due to his cavalier attitude to nationalism. During his lifetime the great Di Stefano played for Argentina, Colombia and Spain. In 1950, when he was Argentinian, they applied to be host and were declined, so refused to play. In 1954 he was ineligible. In 1958 Spain failed to make the final cut. And in Chile, 1962, he was injured.
Ghana might have been the first African nation to qualify for this year’s World Cup, but it wasn’t quite so straightforward back in the days of Abedi Pele. African Footballer of the Year form 1991 to 1993, Pele was a major feature in the four-time title-winning Marseille side. He earned the man-of-the-match award in the 1993 European Cup victory over AC Milan. Another genius who missed out.
Despite being a global soccer kingpin, (he is still the only African player to be crowned World Player of the Year, in 1995), Weah’s sublime gifts were never to be celebrated at the world’s greatest tournament. Despite funding their efforts from his own pocket, his precious Liberia could not qualify for the World Cup, falling an agonising one point short in 2002.
Despite his home nation’s obvious lack of footballing pedigree, the fact Jari Litmanen made
a massive 124 appearances for his country means you could never accuse him of not being up for the cause. Supremely gifted with a club career spanning such footballing luminaries as Barcelona, Ajax Amsterdam and Liverpool, unfortunately Litmanen never got to ignite the Coupe du Monde.
At the peak of his footballing powers in both 1966 and 1970, George Best nearly took his beloved Northern Ireland to the World Cup Finals, but it just wasn’t to be. A win in Albania would have meant a play-off match with Switzerland in 1966. They drew. In the pivotal match against the Soviets for 1970 qualification, Best was injured. His team-mates lost 2-0.
Denis Law called him ‘100% Talent’. He only played five times for England, and once volleyed the FA Cup, sparking a near riot at Sunderland, but Stan Bowles was indeed the full package. In his prime between 1975 and 1978, he scored a record 11 goals in QPR’s UEFA Cup run in an outstanding team that just narrowly missed winning the League, by a point, from Liverpool in 1975/76.
Paolo di Canio
Friend of the Ultras and one of the most exciting talents the English Premier League has ever seen, if it wasn’t for Paolo Di Canio’s rebellious persona, he could have been one of the world’s most revered players. Why then, amongst a bunch of footballing mavericks that could have made this list, does Paolo stand out? Because he was never capped for his country.