We covered the greatest players who never won the World Cup about a month ago, and now we take it a step further – The poor saps who had, or still have, an amazing career, especially with their clubs, but never made it to the biggest and brightest stage of all, the FIFA World Cup.
Ian Rush, Wales
The man, the moustache, the goals. Ian Rush was one of the top strikers in Europe during the first half of the 1980’s, playing for a Liverpool side that won four league titles and two European Champions’ Cup. He won a fifth championship with Liverpool after his return from Italy.
The Welshman arrived at Anfield from Chester, scoring 229 goals for Liverpool during his time there which was divided by an unsuccessful season with Juventus in the 1987-1988 season. Rush had such a bad time there (7 goals in 29 matches) he was allegedly quoted as saying “it’s like living in a foreign country, although that, apparently, was only a rumor. Rush is the greatest scorer in the FA Cup since the late 19th century, scoring 43 goals in the competition throughout his career. He never reached any major competitions with the national side, with his most memorable moment being his goal for Wales as they beat Germany in the 1992 Euro qualifier.
Ryan Giggs, Wales
Another Welshman, this time from bitter rivals Manchester United. Giggs is the most decorated player in the English game, winning 11 league titles, four FA Cups and two Champions League titles with Manchester United. He is the only player to have played and scored in every season of the English Premiership since its inception.
Contrary to popular belief which was probably sparked due to the reason England always lacked a good midfielder on the left side, Giggs was never eligible to play for England. He was born in Cardiff and actually was eligible to play for Sierra Leone, but decided to go for Wales for some reason. He played for Wales 64 times, scoring 12 goals, never reaching any major tournament, retiring from the national side in 2007.
Eric Cantona, France
Another Manchester United legend, the talisman of United’s return to prominence in the 1990’s, winning four league titles in five season with the club, before retiring in 1997 at the age of 31. Cantona missed almost half of the 1994-1995 season, but besides that (due to his famous attack on a Crystal Palace fan), he won the title with United on every season he played for the Red Devils. In fact, he won it a year before his arrival at Old Trafford with Leeds United, making it 5 of 6 for him.
Cantona scored 64 goals in 143 matches for Manchester United, but never led them to European glory. He was capped 45 times for the French national team, scoring 20 goals. Cantona’s constant fall outs with the managers (Henri Michel), France’s failure to qualify (1990, 1994) and eventually, his generation being pushed out of the national side (Papin, Ginola) kept him out of the FIFA World Cup.
Valentino Mazzola, Italy
Moving south to Italy, and to the captain of the legendary Grande Torino side who was killed, along with the entire team in the Superga air disaster. Mazzola won five league titles with Torino between 1942-1949, including during the shortened wartime championships. Mazzola is now, in retrospect, considered to be one and maybe the first all-around soccer player, an attacking midfielder who could do it all – score, pass, defend and tackle hard, besides his legendary charisma and leadership skills. Mazzola’s prominence during the years the World Cup wasn’t played and his tragic death left his resume without a World Cup appearance, although his son, Sandro, had a fantastic career with Inter and the national team, playing in three World Cups.
George Weah, Liberia
A Liberian politician these days, George Weah is the only player to win the FIFA World player of the year award and fail to qualify during his career to the World Cup. It’s not so easy when you’re born in Liberia.
Weah starred for Monaco, PSG and AC Milan during the late 80’s and throughout the 1990’s. Weah enjoyed the guidance of Arsene Wenger during his younger days in Europe, playing four seasons for Monaco. Later with PSG, he won their historic league title in 1994 and led the Champions League in goals during the 1994-1995 campaign. He won two league titles with AC Milan (1996, 1999) before starting to drift between clubs, including Chelsea, Manchester City and Marseille. In 2002, Liberia missed the qualification by one point, the closest Weah ever got to the World Cup.
George Best, N. Ireland
Back to Manchester United and another tragic figure. Best passed away on November 2005 due to lung infection, but the main reason was his ongoing and losing battle with alcoholism.
One of the greatest talents to grace the game, Best burned up quickly, and by the time he was 28 he quit Manchester United after an era where he led the team in scoring six times, won two league titles and the famous 1968 European Cup, being crowned European Footballer of the year in 1967. He began to drift between small clubs and small leagues around the world before retiring in 1984. He was still active when Northern Ireland made the World Cup in 1982, but he wasn’t selected.
Alfredo di Stefano, Argentina & Spain
Often mentioned with likes of Pele, Maradona and Cruyff, the greatest symbol of the early Real Madrid empire, Alfredo di Stefano, who won eight league titles with Real Madrid and six more with River Plate (Argentina) and Millonarios (Colombia) and five consecutive European Cups between 1955-1960, scoring 220 goals in 282 matches for Real and 377 league goals in his entire career, never made it to the World Cup.
di Stefano was capped for Argentina and Spain. In 1950, during his Millonarios years, Argentina refused to participate and di Stefano missed out for the first time. 1954 – di Stefano wanted to play for Spain but wasn’t eligible due to his appearances with Argentina in the past. He got to play for Spain in 1957, but the team failed to qualify for the 1958 tournament. He was part of the successful 1962 qualifying campaign, but an injury kept him out of the trip to Chile. He retired from international play after that.