The World Cup usually boasts the greatest players in the World, but occasionally, circumstances conspire to keep some of the World’s greatest from strutting their stuff on the biggest stage. It might seem like an unforgivable crime against football, but here is part two of the best players who never played in the World Cup.
Ryan Giggs is quite possibly the most successful club player of the television era. In a professional career entering its third decade, the Welsh Wizard has achieved remarkable consistency matched only by his fantastic success. Winner of 11 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 3 League Cups, 2 UEFA Champions League titles, a UEFA Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup, and a World Club Cup, Giggs is the only player to have scored in every Premier league season since its inception. He also holds the record for scoring in the most consecutive Champions League campaigns (11), and in his spare time, campaigns against land mines. Gigg’s international career, however, is far more lackluster. Despite being the youngest player in Welsh history on his debut in 1991, Giggs failed to play in a single international friendly for nearly a decade, with drawing from 18 different squads citing various made-up “injuries.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, as their best player was unavailable for much of their preparation, Wales failed to qualify for any major tournaments throughout Giggs’s time with the sqaud, and he announced his international retirement in the summer of 2007 having won 64 caps and scored 12 goals.
Matt Le Tissier
He was the purist’s choice, a slick midfielder with an eye for the spectacular and the accuracy of a surgeon’s scalpel. In 16 years and 444 games for Southampton, his only professional club, Matthew Le Tissier scored 162 times, and was the first midfielder to score 100 Premier League goals. He’s widely considered Southampton’s greatest ever player, not only for his abilities, but for an inspiring loyalty that was often tested by the glitz and riches of the top clubs. A channel islander, he was eligible to play for any of the four UK national teams, and Michel Platini even tried to recruit him for France. He opted, however, to play for England, and despite scoring a hat-trick in a B friendly against Russia in the run-up to the 1998 World Cup, was almost always left out of the England squad, with manager Glen Hoddle preferring Paul Gascoigne throughout the qualifying campaign. Eventually, Hoddle took neither player to France 98, and Le Tissier picked up a meager eight England caps. Ironically, England went out on penalties, with Le Tissier, who converted 48 out of 49 penalties in his Southampton career, left to watch at home.
We’ve saved the Best for last (Get it?). One of the most outstandingly gifted men to ever bend a blade of grass under his foot, the story of George Best is a cautionary tale about genius, fame, and self-destruction. Rejected by local side Glentoran for being to small, Best was snapped up by Manchester United, and made his first team debut at the age of seventeen. He won his first title a year later, in 1964, but it wasn’t until he scored two goals against Benfica in a European Cup quarterfinal in 1966 that the press dubbed him “the fifth Beatle.” His playing career reached its apex in 1968, when he was named European Footballer of the Year after leading Manchester United to a European Cup title and topping the domestic scoring charts. It was after this that his career began to spiral out of control. He reveled in his celebrity lifestyle, opening boutiques and nightclubs and falling deep into womanizing, gambling, and alcoholism. In 1974, at the age of just 27, and unable to cope with the pressures of his playboy lifestyle and celebrity stature, Best walked away from United, having scored 179 goals in 470 games, winning two Football League titles and a European Cup. In his later years, he was a journeyman with an exceedingly itchy foot. In all, he played for 18 different teams in 8 countries on 5 continents, particularly enjoying the relative anonymity afforded to him by the United States. His international career was subject to volatile fluctuations in fitness and form, and he managed just 9 goals in 37 games for Northern Ireland. His international career came to an end in 1982, when he was left out of the international squad for the first tournament Northern Ireland had qualified for since 1958. He was 36, his skills ravaged by drink and time, and he would not get another chance.
Keith Hickey is a contributing writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at USArsnl@gmail.com.