The Greatest Footballers Never to Play in a World Cup

Playing in the World Cup is the dream of all kids who kick a ball, but there are few who manage to make it happen. And it doesn’t even mean that becoming a football champion necessarily leads to taking the field in the world championship event.

This is demonstrated by the stories of many players who, despite being among the best of their generations, have not had the opportunity to play in a World Cup. And the reasons are different. There are those who were limited by a non-leading national team, those who were great at the wrong time, and those who, more simply and practically, sabotaged themselves.

  • The stories of Weah, Giggs, and Litmanen
  • The legend of George Best
  • Cantona is not a prophet in France.
  • The cases of Schuster and Nainggolan
  • Haaland will play in the next World Cup.


The stories of Weah, Giggs, and Litmanen

Among those who have had the problem of the non-competitive national team, there is certainly George Weah. The Ballon d’Or 1995 could have played with France and probably would have been the center forward in the World Cup won by the Transalpines in 1998, but the fact that he had chosen Liberia way back in 1987 prevented him from being able to even imagine taking part in the World Cup.

For King George, there were four attempts to qualify with the national team (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002), but unfortunately for him, the only real chance to make it in 2002 slipped away on the last day.

Ryan Giggs has a similar story, as he has always missed the World Cup due to team and family obligations. The Manchester United legend, who was always favored among the Champions League odds, could have worn the glorious shirt of England, but he should have been known as… Ryan Wilson, or rather, like his father. But because of how bad his relationship was with his father, he had to take his mother’s last name and nationality.

Thus was born Ryan Giggs, who in his career will never be able to help Wales qualify for the World Cup. And to think that in 2022 he could have been on the bench as a coach if his problems with justice hadn’t forced him to leave the selection committee!

Another nineties star also never had the chance to prove himself on the biggest stage. Jari Litmanen was the most important player for European champions Ajax for many years and also wore the Barcelona shirt during his career, which spanned more than two decades.

It’s too bad that Finland has never been able to give him a great team that could help him try to qualify for the World Cup, especially when there were fewer teams competing.

The legend of George Best

Another Ballon d’Or winner who was unable to play in the World Cup is George Best. The Northern Irishman was born… too late to play for the 1958 national team, which advanced to the quarterfinals.

At the same time, when Northern Ireland returned to the World Cup in 1982, he had already begun his downward spiral, and he retired in 1986.

In the end, “The Best” went to Spain in 1982 anyway, but… as a commentator to follow his national team!

Cantona was unlucky with France.

Eric Cantona was also born at the wrong time. The Frenchman is twenty when he plays in Mexico and is not yet on the national team.

The French team then missed two consecutive qualifiers, in 1990 and 1994. In 1987, he publicly insults the coach, Henri Michel, and is excluded from the selection. Platini takes him to the 1992 European Championships, but then Houllier arrives, and the transalpine team fails to qualify for the American World Cup with him.

Maybe Jacquet would also call him in 1998, but by then, the famous number 7 had already retired.





The cases of Schuster and Nainggolan

Then there’s the other side of the coin: the players who instead played (or still play) for competitive national teams but were always left off the lists when it came to starting the World Cup due to issues with the coaches.

One of the most famous is certainly the German Bernd Schuster, who won the European Championships with West Germany and who, with clubs (Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid), brought home several trophies. However, there are federation issues with the national team, which erupted when a player refused to play against Albania because his child was born. And therefore, not even 25-year-old Schuster leaves the Mannschaft.

A more recent example is that of Radja Nainggolan. The Belgians lost both the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. Good performances with Cagliari and Roma are not enough to fly to Brazil, while in 2018, he was one of the best midfielders in Serie A and a more than credible option, even as a goal scorer, for the Champions League odds. The friction begins with CT Martinez, who does not appreciate his behavior off the pitch and decides not to call him up.

And now that Belgium has played in Qatar, the Ninja has moved away from the football that matters.


Haaland will play in the next World Cup.

In this discussion, one cannot help but ask one thing: will the hat-trick specialist Erling Haaland be able to play in a World Cup?

The Norwegian finds himself playing with a national team that is not of the highest level, but he can benefit from the next enlargement of the 2026 World Cup from the current 32 participating teams to 48.

When we consider the growth of the Scandinavian nation’s movement, it is possible that the Manchester City cyborg will appear in future editions. And if not, he will still be in excellent company.