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The Best Football Players Never to Enjoy International Success

Updated on October 3, 2012

When asked, 'Who is the best player ever', who do you think of? Pele, Maradonna, Beckenbauer, Bobby Moore, Zidane, Bobby Charlton..... What do all these have in common...? the answer is international success, the World cup is the big stage, most people see it as the ultimate accolade within Football, just to earn a call up for your country by playing well enough at club level is a privilege alone, to win it is the holy grail of achievements, it signifies that you as a group of players are the greatest in the world at that given time.

So what of the players who never won any major international trophies or even qualified far enough into a tournament to make their mark upon it, well these players are often the forgotten men and never really reached their max potential as a Footballer because of it, some played for teams so significantly lesser skilled than them, that they never even managed to qualify for a single major tournament, you have to feel for these players and share their anguish that they never got to test themselves on the big stage..

Here we look at a few of the greatest players never to reach the stages of World Football competition that they were individually capable of.

George Best

George Best was once described by Pele as 'the best player in the world', he was the poster boy of Manchester United during the 60's and early 70's, his ability to take players on was eyecatching and effective, there is shades of Best in the way Messi dribbles with the ball now. His European and Domestic triumphs with Manchester United led him to European stardom, dubbed 'El Beatle' in Spain, in reference to his Beatle style haircut.

However George Best represented Northern Ireland and despite his best efforts, he was never able to take them to any kind of glory, despite some stellar performances within the irish shirt, his team mates were simply not up to his standard and so he is strong candidate for the most wasted international potential, he can have few regrets about his success with Manchester United, not even that his career ended early due to an alcoholism but that empty space within his trophy cabinet must have haunted him.

One can only imagine that given the chance within a team of his own standards, it would not only be Pele who would be hailing him as the greatest player ever.

Ryan Giggs

Ryan Giggs is the most decorated Footballer in English Premier League history, he holds the record for most appearances and other little records such as being the only player ever to score in every single premier league season to date.

He has enjoyed much success domestically and has won the European Champions league twice, he has had the joy to play with 2 generations of superstars and is blessed enough to still be able to play on into his late 30's.

In his prime Giggs was hot propery in Football, he was constantly linked with the biggest clubs in europe and frequently appeared on the front cover of Fifa games and led many to speculate that he is the best and most important player to appear since the establishment of the EPL in 1992.

However internationally Giggs remains unfulfilled, with Wales he has never ever qualified for a major tournament and this is largely not down to Ryan Giggs, unfortunately the majority of the rest of the Welsh national team has consisted of players from the English Division 1 and so has never been able to compete on the main stage, the country is much more focused upon the sport of Rugby and so poor Ryan despite earning the respect of the nation for his efforts, just may be left wondering whether he should have chosen to represent England instead of Wales, as his father was in fact English.

England fans too spent the whole time wondering just what could have been if Giggs had of played for them, as the Left side of midfield was never sufficiently filled and remained a weak link the England setup, something which would not have been an issue had Ryan Giggs have chosen to represent them.

Samuel E'to

Samuel Eto may have 2 african cup of nations gold medals to his belt but the competition does run very often. For his nation at the world cup, Cameroon have never stood a chance, even on his debut he and Cameroon were victim to a 5 - 0 defeat, however Eto was considered the best striker in the world for a while, at Barcelona he was prolific, he scored for fun which saw him win 2 Champions league medals and he is now the highest paid Footballer ever with a reported £350,000 a week wages.

So with all this, why is he not considered the best Footballer presently and not ever even mentioned in the same breath as Pele, well it must surely be because of Cameroons inability to allow Eto to perform in the latter stages of the World cup finals.

Dwight Yorke

Dwight Yorke was part of the Manchester United team which famously won the trebble, the Champions League, FA cup and English premier league in one season and Dwight Yorke was instrumental in making that possible, finding a red hot form and partnership with strike partner Andy Cole, however for his country Trinidad & Tobaga, a small island nation, struggled to produce other players who could supply Dwight Yorke as sufficiently as he was for his clubs and therefore never experienced international glory.

Andriy Shevchenko

Shevchenko is the third highest scoring player ever in the European Champions League history and was considered as possibly the best striker in the world during his successful spell at AC Milan in the Italian Serie A, however Ukraine have always struggled to qualify for tournaments and so he was never able to prove himself on the main stage.

The french talisman, made such an impact on the English Premier League that he even has a film about him 'Looking for Eric'. He enjoyed domestic success under Manchester United and was awarded with the accolade of greatest foreign player to grace to EPL in his 10 year period, his legacy lives on as fans continue to chant his name and revere him greatly.

However Cantona never shone on the international stage, he was banned for chunks of his career and also had fallings out with some managers, leading to his omission from the team, he was a volatile character and hard to tame and this caused him many problems internationally. Cantona was never included in the team ever again after losing his position and captaincy after being banned for assaulting a rival fan during a match between Manchester united and Crystal Palace.

Roy Keane

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Roy Keane captained the highly successful Manchester United side through their various successes of the late 90's and early 00's, however he was left frustrated whenever it came to play internationally for Ireland, the ever perfectionist and outspoken tough tackling midfielder had a fairly public falling out with then Ireland manager Mick McCarthy, which led to him walking out of the irish camp and never returning.

Roy Keane was undoubtably their greatest player in generations gone by and will surely rue the fact that they couldn't even utilize him for the time that he did have.

Eric Cantona

Which of these players do YOU think was the best wasted talent?

See results


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    • worldsoccer profile image

      Kamrul Hasan 3 years ago from Dhaka

      Gareth Bale would be one of them, he is a great player but looks like he is not going to play in the world cup. Felling sorry for him.

    • James Vernon profile image

      James Vernon 5 years ago from UK

      Good hub. A few of them at least got to play in the World cup/Euros. Even if it was just the early stages. Even Giggs managed a few Olympics games this year. I think the one guy out of these who could have really shone in a World cup was GeorgeBest.

      Voted up and shared.

    • edmob1 profile image

      edmob1 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Yes CC their the brazil of the competition only been runner's up once though,think third a couple of times.

    • CCahill profile image

      CCahill 5 years ago from England

      Ah nice stat, so does that make Eygpt the country with the most ANC titles to their name?

      funnily enough Eric was replaced DURING him ban and that replacement went on to win the 98 world cup..

      @Jan Cheers Jan, clearly know some stuff to be aware of Footballers from the 60's, 70's and 90's

    • edmob1 profile image

      edmob1 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Yes fella's ANC is every two years and has been won seven times by Egypt since its inception in 1956. Had to vote for Eric as he did have a talented team around him so unlike the others he was not the only great talent in the team.

    • profile image

      Janhorner 5 years ago

      Well done! I do not know that much about footballers but do remember very well the talents of the late George Best and Bobby Moore. Eric was brilliant! Voted up,


    • CCahill profile image

      CCahill 5 years ago from England

      Good Shout! a lot of Manchester United players seem to have never gotten the acknowledgement they deserve

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Interesting hub. I've got another one for you- Steve Bruce, Manchester United captain when they won the title in 93, 94 and 96 and yet never even managed to earn an England cap- how on earth did that happen?

    • CCahill profile image

      CCahill 5 years ago from England

      Its every 2 years i think, your right tho, i wasn't sure whether to add him, i decided to in the end for the fact that he earns £350,000 a week yet has no World cup finals honors to his name...

      Good point tho, i think certainly his lack of success was nothing compared to some of the others in the list

      i think without insulting the african nations, the standard of competition within it, is nowhere near the standard of competition and accomplishment of winning the European Championships, the winner of the African cup of nations is quite prone to an early exit in world cups, whereas for instance the winner of the Euros spain are now winners of the world cup too.

    • RevaxMike profile image

      RevaxMike 5 years ago from Darlington

      I'm pretty sure the African Cup of Nations is every 2 years, although it could be 4. Pretty sure that counts as an international success.

      The rest of them I agree with, though.