After the marquee tournament in Brazil set a new standard for the highest level of football, we should spare thought for those who were not there to grace it with their brilliance.
Over the 20 different World Cup finals we’ve been graced with, several star names have had their chances to shine at the top destroyed by politics, injury or simply because they were part of a team that never really stood a chance of qualifying. We will now run through the various star names of the game that failed to appear at a single World Cup.
The Great Dutch footballer he was win 3 European Cups and eight league titles with AFC Ajax after spending his entire career at the Amsterdam club.. Despite representing Holland on thirty one occasions, he never play at a World Cup.
9. Mark Hughes
The diminutive Stoke City manager is one of the greatest names in Welsh football, with his trophy-laden playing career spanning successful spells at Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Manchester United, Everton and Southampton.
However, as most great Welsh players can testify, even his glittering club level exploits did not translate to success internationally. Wales never qualified for World Cup, and “Sparky”, as he was known, never got the chance to cap an illustrious playing career with a shot at the World Cup trophy.
A prolific forward who scored just 17 minutes into his national debut, Mark Hughes boasts one of English football’s most enviable playing careers, and a stint as the head coach for the Welsh national team almost got them into the 2004 European Championships. He is a true legend of the game.
8. Laszlo Kubala
Despite pulling on 3 national jerseys, Laszlo Kubala still failed to make a single World Cup appearance.
Born in the land of the Mighty Magyars in Budapest, Kubala fled as a refugee of the Soviet regime. He ended up making 6 appearances for Czechoslovakia, before returning to play for his native Hungary. There, he only made 3 appearances and failed to notch even a single strike. An Iberian switch saw the famous forward rack up 11 goals in 19 appearances for the Spanish national team.
However, Spain’s 1958 qualification campaign was a shambolic affair, which saw them miss out on World Cup football. In his final crack at glory (1962), he was cruelly ruled out due to injury, leaving us all wondering what might have been. He still managed to play some matches for European and Catalunyan XIs later in his career.
7. Abedi Pele
One of Africa’s (and surely Ghana’s) finest footballing exports, Abedi Ayew was such a star that he came to be known by the nickname “Abedi Pele”, in reference to his similarities with the Brazilian legend.
A journeyman’s career never denied him the chance to stun audiences around the globe with his dazzling skill, and his time spent plying his trade for Marseille saw him conquer the 1993 Champions League trophy as he engraved his name in global footballing history. Numerous personal honours also line his trophy cabinet alongside his two Ligue 1 medals.
A similarly fantastic career for his national team Ghana brought him to the fore of the world’s footballing greats, but it wasn’t enough to see him turn out in a World Cup finals. His 3 children, Ibrahim, Andre and Jordan Ayew, however, have done the family name proud and appeared at 2 World Cups – with Andre proving to really fit the occasion. He has become the heart of the Ghanaian national team and has had strong showings at their unsuccessful 2010 and 2014 exploits.
6. George Weah
The other footballer vying for the tag of “Africa’s Finest”, Liberian George Weah’s footballing career was as amazing as his humanitarian work.
Eventually being named African Footballer of the Century, George Weah became internationally famous while plying his trade for a certain Arsene Wenger at Monaco, moving on to Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and then Chelsea before playing for Manchester City and Marseille. It was at AC Milan that he wowed the world with his creative, exquisite football. Not only did he end as the top scorer in the 94-95 Champions League, he also won almost every personal trophy available that year, marking him out as a true footballing great. The Ballon D’Or, the European Footballer of the Year and the FIFA World Player of the Year were all presented to him in 1995, making his career a truly stellar one.
Unfortunately, Liberia never had the squad to qualify for the World Cup, and despite all his efforts, he could neither take them to the finals nor become his nation’s president.
5. Ryan Giggs
English football’s most decorated footballer stands alone in club football, his glittering and trophy-laden career unrivaled.
In a Manchester United career spanning 24 glorious years full of trophies, the Welsh wonder has done it all – Champions Leagues, Club World Cups, FA Cups and Champions Leagues galore. His appearance record is second to none, and his drive and energy even unto his final season of professional football saw him get the honour to manage his beloved club (even if for only a few games) which completed a full chain from youth player to manager. Incredible.
However, like Mark Hughes before him, his nation never did well enough to place Manchester United’s greatest ever player on the international football map. For a true legend like him, international recognition will forever be a big miss in an otherwise unparalleled career.
4. Ian Rush
Liverpool’s (yes, you guessed it) Welsh phenomenon is their leading goalscorer, ever-present 12th man and indefatigable 5-a-side representative.
The famous mustache of Ian Rush lit Anfield up for two hugely successful spells as he netted goals left, right and centre to lead Liverpool to 2 European Cups, 5 First Division titles and 11 domestic trophies. Personal honours line his medal cabinet and his involvement with the club has stretched to charitable roles alongside Kop King Kenny Dalglish. His undying love for the club is obvious by his almost constant presence at Anfield on matchdays, as if to watch over the great legacy he has left behind.
But just like the rest of Wales’s greatest sons, Ian Rush never played in a World Cup, despite his stunners against Germany and Italy becoming part of Welsh folklore.
3. George Best
Another Manchester United great makes the list, this time with the Republic of Ireland.
English football’s first real “superstar” made headlines wherever he went – from the various pubs in Belfast and Manchester to the Wembley Hall of Fame after his 1968 European Cup victory over Benfica. Ever the entertainer, George Best lived a life of dribbling, skill, speed and women that came to be heralded by Pele as that of “the greatest player in the world”. His success with Manchester United might have ended early (at the tender age of 27) but his is a story that is cherished the world over.
An automatic starter when fit, the Northern Irish FA have hailed him as their finest footballer ever, despite his never having guided them to either a Euro or a World Cup; a huge loss to world football.
2. Bernd Schuster
Despite being one of the greatest players to be birthed by the 4-time World Cup winners, Bernd Schuster’s premature international retirement (at the age of just 24) meant that he would never play a World Cup finals for his beloved nation.
Having played for Bayer Leverkusen, and more intriguingly, for Spain’s top 3 clubs (Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid), Bernd Schuster can rightly be regarded as one of the game’s great players. His impressive passing and stylish, geometric play could fit into any great team and he made sure that his spells at all 3 Spanish clubs he played for yielded the kind of stylish, effective football that would come to define his managerial career later on. He was also a prolific scorer – especially at Barcelona, where he averaged a goal every 3 games.
As most German internationals can boast though, he has done something at international level – the 1980 European Championships, in which he won the Silver Ball. He played in 2 of Germany’s 4 matches then, and got the accolade just behind teammate Karl Heinz-Rummenigge.
1. Alfredo Di Stefano
A record-breaking Real Madrid forward with a penchant for hat-tricks and a dubious international record. Coincidence?
I don’t think so.
The last obstacle between Cristiano Ronaldo and his greatly-coveted seat as Real’s greatest player ever is the late, great Alfredo Di Stefano. La Saeta Rubia (the Blonde Arrow) remains one of only a handful of players to have won 5 European trophies. His achievements for Real Madrid transcend most footballing boundaries and his career will probably never be replicated. He scored over 600 goals in 500 games in a tremendous career that resonated in football after his untimely death on the 7th of July 2014.
Despite his club football going so well, his international career began with 6 goals in 6 matches for native Argentina before his 23 in 31 for Spain, which never bore a World Cup appearance due to a poor team. With Argentina, politics and the cold hand of FIFA denied him entry simply because he had been capped for Colombia as well, which they did not recognize; thus robbing football of one of its greatest players.