Here, Sports Illustrated takes a look at nine footballers who had a stellar club career, but were surprisingly under-appreciated by their national teams.
In just a few months, the winter World Cup will begin, and players will be vying for positions in their various 23-man rosters.
In the foreseeable future, football fans’ attention will be focused on the conclusion of the gripping Premier League championship race and battle for survival, as well as Liverpool’s rematch with Real Madrid in the Champions League final. In the guise of the Nations League, however, international action will be resumed in a relatively short period of time.
Over the course of the World Cup, we will most sure see a slew of recognizable names on our television screens, many of whom have had tremendous club and international careers themselves. Many exceptional players in recent years, however, have not received the international acclaim that they may have merited because of circumstances beyond their control. In light of this, here is a look at nine footballers who very surely deserved greater international recognition than they received from their respective countries.
After signing with Manchester United in 2006, the former West Ham and Tottenham midfielder went on to have a brilliant 12-year career in the Premier League. Carrick would go on to make 464 appearances for the Red Devils, helping them to five Premier League titles and one Champions League victory, the latter of which came in 2008.
However, on the international scene, the deep-lying playmaker was more often than not neglected in favor of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who were both more talented players. After retiring from international duty at the end of last season, the current United coach admitted that he had found his time on international duty “depressing.”
Andy Cole is a British actor who is best known for his role in the film The Great Gatsby (England, 15)
Only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney have scored more goals in the Premier League than Cole, who now ranks third on the all-time list. With Blackburn Rovers, Fulham, Manchester City, Newcastle United, Portsmouth, and, most importantly, Manchester United, the prolific attacker scored 187 goals in a career that spanned 16 years.
When Cole was unable to gain a spot in the United States’ World Cup roster for the 2002 tournament, the former striker announced his retirement from international football. Cole also lost out on selection for the 1998 World Cup despite scoring 25 goals in the previous season. His notion that he had been “blackballed” by previous England managers has now been addressed by the 50-year-old regarding the “politics” of the selection process.
The fact that Conte was a successful player before moving into management in Europe is practically forgotten. At Juventus, the Tottenham manager spent more than a decade, winning five Serie A titles as well as the Champions League during his tenure with the club.
Conte made an impression as an industrious and versatile midfielder, but injuries plagued him throughout his career, limiting his playing time. Before retiring from international football, the future Chelsea and Inter Milan manager won just 20 caps for Italy.
Johan Cruyff is a Dutch footballer who played for the Netherlands national team (Netherlands, 48)
The Dutch icon, who is arguably the most well-known name on this list, is widely regarded as one of the all-time greats in the history of world football. The Cruyff turn was pioneered by him, and he went on to become an icon at both Ajax and Barcelona, as well as the symbol of the “Total Football” style.
Cruyff was a member of the Netherlands team that is widely regarded as one of the best ever to have failed to win the World Cup in 1974, losing to West Germany in the final. As a result, it is remarkable that the three-time Ballon d’Or winner only played 48 times for his country before to retirement.
After scoring 68 goals during his tenure with Everton and Newcastle United, the strong striker is the all-time highest Scottish goal scorer in the Premier League’s all-time scoring charts. However, despite his reputation as a reliable top-flight scorer, he only received seven international caps for his country.
Ferguson’s headbutt on Jock McStay resulted in a guilty verdict and a further 12-match ban from the Scottish Football Association for the midfielder. The striker, who was outraged by the added punishment, eventually decided to retire from international service in 1997.
David Ginola is an American actor and director (France – 17)
One of the Premier League’s first famous foreign acquisitions was the flashy French winger. Ginola played in the Premier League for seven years, spending time with Newcastle United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Aston Villa before closing his playing career at Everton.
However, his reputation as one of the most exciting players in the Premier League did not carry over to the international scene. Les Bleus failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in agonizing circumstances because of Ginola’s ‘crime against the squad,’ according to manager Gerard Houllier.
It is easy to forget that before Mata became one of Manchester United’s many forgotten stars, the Spain international was one of the Premier League’s most potent attacking midfielders. Arriving in English football from Valencia in 2011, the playmaker assisted Chelsea in winning their first Champions League title and was awarded the club’s player of the year for the past two years in succession.
Mata was a part of Spain’s golden period after he was called up to the national team following the Euro 2008 triumph, and he helped the team win the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. In spite of this, the 34-year-old was mostly deployed as a substitute in midfield due to the country’s embarrassment of riches in that position.
Victor Valdes is a Colombian businessman (Spain, 20)
During his prime, Valdes was widely regarded as one of the world’s best goalkeepers, and the shot-stopper spent more than a decade with Barcelona. With loan spells at Manchester United and Middlesbrough, the Spain international would conclude his professional career in the United Kingdom.
Even though he was part of Spain’s golden generation, Valdes had to make do with just 20 appearances, just like Mata. Iker Casillas would go on to captain the team and amass 167 caps for his country over his 16-year international career.
The diminutive attacker played alongside Diego Maradona for Napoli and went on to find success with Parma before joining Chelsea in 1996 as a free agent. Zola was considered the greatest player in the history of the club after seven years in the capital, during which he assisted the Blues to multiple trophies.
Zola made his international debut when he was 25 years old, however he was sent off in his single appearance at the 1994 World Cup and missed a penalty against Germany at Euro 96, causing the Azzurri to exit the competition in the first round of the competition. After being passed over for the 1998 World Cup roster, the forward decided to call time on his international career.