The biggest footballers end up with the biggest clubs, logically. In most cases, players cannot choose their origin and thus their “home association” as well as their national team. Fate does not mean well with them if world-class players play for a supposedly small (soccer) nation and are therefore unlikely to ever take part in a World Cup finals. I listed the five biggest footballers from my point of view who never played at a World Cup in my small ranking.
5th place: Éric Cantona
The Manchester United legend helped the Red Devils become one of the largest club in world football in the early and mid-1990s. Cantona won four championship titles and two FA Cups, but above all he was one of the polarizing personalities in the then newly founded Premier League. But he never got along with the French football association and was mostly not taken into account in the nomination. The Équipe Tricolore did not qualify for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. In 1998, when France became world champion, Cantona had just ended his active career.
4th place: Bernd Schuster
The only German who was under contract with the three top clubs FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. In 1980 he won the European Championship in Italy with Germany, Schuster was honored as the best player of the tournament. Two years later, Schuster did not take part in the World Cup because he did not want to play in a team with Paul Breitner. A little later his career in the national team was over. He had thrown himself out with national coach Jupp Derwall and was eliminated from the squad. Franz Beckenbauer wanted to bring him back for the 1986 World Cup. But – and this is unique in the history of football – Bernd’s wife and consultant Gaby asked 1 million euros for the return to the national team. The DFB declined.
3rd place: Bert Trautmann
As a prisoner of war, the Bremen-based goalkeeper stayed in England and became the best keeper of his time at Manchester City. His use in the 1956 FA Cup final was legendary when he played despite a broken neck. He quickly became a cult player, was simply called “Bert” by the fans and celebrated by the press as “Traut the Kraut”. Ultimately, he was even named the first German player to call himself “England’s Footballer of the Year”. Problem for Trautmann: He was never appointed to the German national team because coach Sepp Herberger did not select any legionaries in his selection.
2nd place: George Weah
The world footballer from Liberia. One of the most feared strikers of his generation, won championships with Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan. Under Arsene Wenger, Weah made it to the top of the world at AS Monaco. Its origins in the small West African country also meant that “King George” never had the opportunity to show his skills at the highest level of international football. Liberia never qualified for a World Cup. For this, today’s President Weah won the title of Africa’s Footballer of the Year three times in addition to the world football player election.
1st place: Alfredo Di Stéfano
Probably the biggest player who never played in a World Cup: Di Stefano, born in Buenos Aires, is one of the few players who has represented three countries on an international level: Argentina, Spain and Colombia. The attacker, who celebrated five European Cup victories in a row with Real Madrid in the 1950s, never took part in the World Cup. Argentina refused to participate in the 1950 and 1954 World Championships. He already had Spanish citizenship at the 1958 World Cup, but “La Furia Roja” was unable to qualify for the World Cup in Sweden. When his first World Cup was finally approaching in 1962, Di Stefano had to withdraw due to an injury.