The World Cup is described as the greatest trophy in football and often regarded the place to see the best players in the world battle it out. While we’ve been treated to players like Pele and Maradona there are many players deemed legendary who never had the chance to grace the field during a World Cup tournament.
The following 10 players listed would have all been superb to see in the world’s greatest tournament but never got their chance. Whilst blessed with a history of great players but there will always be something missing because of these great names.
10. Jim Baxter
Baxter is widely regarded as one of Scotland’s greatest ever players, propelling himself to legendary status at Rangers after winning ten trophies between 1960 and 1965. Remembered as ‘slim Jim’, Baxter gave his national popularity a huge boost by displaying his greatest performances against arch-rivals England in 1963 and 1967.
The Scotsman was part of a Tartan Army ‘unofficial world champions’ squad as they became the first nation to defeat England after Geoff Hurst and co inspired them to victory at the World Cup. Sadly, a long injury lay-off saw Baxter turn to alcohol and he never returned to full ability.
9. Abedi Pele
Abedi Ayew earned the nickname Pele due to his talent on the field and it stuck, which is itself a testament to the Ghanians ability. Abedi was one of the pioneers of African football in Europe as he found fame in France with Lille and Marseille, winning the Champions League with the latter club.
On the international stage he won the African Cup of Nations and was one of the first African players to earn a top placing in the FIFA World Player of the year. Abedi is arguably the most decorated and honoured African football player ever but never featured at a World Cup due to his nation never qualifying whilst he was playing.
Despite this Abedi has been able to watch two of his sons, Jordan and Andre, feature in the 2010 World Cup which he should surely be proud of.
8. Ian Rush
Liverpool’s record goalscorer found the net an astonishing 346 times for the Reds, winning five league titles, three FA Cups, five League Cups and two European cups as well as a host of individual awards.
On the international scene Rush also holds the highest goalscoring tally for Wales with 28 goals in 73 appearances. He was part of the Wales national team for over 15 years but failed to feature at a World Cup, which is made more painful by the fact he came so close in 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1994.
7. Duncan Edwards
During a five year career with Manchester United, Edwards accumulated over 150 caps and won two league titles. As one of the Busby Babes, Edwards was destined to have a bright future and had 18 caps for the Three Lions at the time of his death, scoring five goals.
Sadly, Edwards’ life was taken by the Munich air disaster in 1958 along with seven of his team-mates. He was just 21-years-old and Bobby Charlton, survivor of the crash in Munich and World Cup winner, stated Edwards was the only player that ever made him feel inferior. England may have had one of two more World Cups to their name if Edwards had the chance.
6. Eric Cantona
Eric Cantona is one of the high profile names on this list that you would expect to have participated during a World Cup, as the French international played for a side that was not only capable of qualifying but could emerge victorious.
In 1990, France failed to qualify but Cantona would not have been present having been indefinitely banned by then manager Henri Michel due to comments in a TV interview. In 1994, Gerard Houllier’s side again failed to qualify and by the time 1998 came around, Cantona had lost his place to Zinedine Zidane forcing his retirement from the international scene.
To this day, Cantona holds resentment to those in charge of French football for the way he was treated during his career and has publicly supported England during Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup ahead of France.
5. Bernd Schuster
The German international achieved major success in Spain for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, with the league and cup amongst his trophy haul alongside being runners up in the 1986 European Cup.
In 1980, Schuster was part of the West Germany side that won the European Championship in 1980, which suggested a bright future for the player. However, Schuster retired from the international scene at only 24 after arguments with the German FA, the national team manager and even some of the players.
Since retiring, Schuster has even enjoyed a successful career as a manager, including a stint at Real Madrid where he won the league title in 2008 but he’s still not appeared in a World Cup.
4. George Best
Described by his governing body as the ‘greatest player to ever pull on the green shirt of Northern Ireland’, Best was a legend for both Manchester United and his nation. On the club scene, he won two league titles and the European Cup as well as a host of individual honours – including a place in the ‘PFA England League Team of the Century’.
With Northern Ireland he was just as influential, with one of the most memorable moments coming against Netherlands during the peak of their 1980’s squad, as Best took the ball and dribbled past three players before nutmegging the great player Johan Cruyff.
In 1982, Best was considered as part of the World Cup squad but was aged 36 and hadn’t featured for the international scene for five years, while age and alcohol had played their part in the decline of his ability and he never travelled with the squad to Spain for the finals.
3. George Weah
To this day, Weah is the only African to win the World Player of the Year lifting the Ballon D’Or in 1995. With a career that took him to Monaco, Paris, Milan, London, and Manchester, Weah achieved league titles in France and Italy as well as the FA Cup with Chelsea.
Weah was not able to transfer his club success over to his national team, Liberia, but there’s no denying he tried his hardest as a player, a coach and a financier. Unfortunately, his side came just a point short of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup – which would have capped off the career for a player often regarded as the best to emerge from the African continent.
2. Ryan Giggs
The recently retired Manchester United legend got his hands on every trophy he possibly could, amassing 13 league titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions League trophies and more. On top of this, he had an incredible list of individual awards – including freedom of the City of Salford!
Giggs stated in 2002 that he would rather go through his international career without playing in a major tournament than represent a nation he had nothing to do with – which is exactly what happened. He never came close to reaching a World Cup tournament but was complimented by Dunga in 2006, who said he wouldn’t look out of place in the Brazilian team.
In 2007, he retired from the international scene but was team GB captain for the 2012 Olympics and scored against the UAE to become the oldest goalscorer in the competition.
1. Alfredo Di Stefano
The legendary Real Madrid striker was unable to appear in a World Cup despite playing for three national sides during his career- something that could not happen in the modern era of football.
Di Stefano could not play with Argentina as they refused to participate in 1950 and ’54 whilst his other nation he he later played for, Columbia, was not a recognised member of FIFA.
In 1956, Di Stefano acquired Spanish citizenship due to residency rules but could not steer them towards qualification to the 1958 World Cup. Four years later, Spain qualified for the 1962 finals in Chile with Di Stefano being key in qualifying but a muscle injury just before the World Cup stopped him featuring in the finals.
People say to be considered a true great you have to perform on the world stage with your respective nation but this list proves that is not the case. These are just 10 of the best players never to feature in a World Cup and grace us with their talents but can you name anymore?
2 thoughts on “The ten greatest players to never grace a World Cup”
Funny to display David Ginola alongside Weah in their PSG jersey, and not mention him in the article.
It was to try and get people to think of other players that haven’t been to a World Cup. Ginola is indeed a talent that should have played on that stage.