Four years of anticipation and expectations are now only hours away. Some of football’s greatest stars are assembled in South Africa preparing to put on “The Greatest Show On Earth” but a number of others will be watching the 2010 World Cup from their living rooms back home. It must be frustrating for grossly talented players who are capable of lighting up the tournament with their outstanding skills but whose countries were unable to obtain one of the only 32 spots available.
It’s a sad situation but not one that is new. Manchester United has some legends of its own who have suffered the same fate over the years. As a club who has always been renowned for its star studded line ups, not all were able to carry their nations hopes on their own. So who are the best United players to have never played in what is the pinnacle of any footballer’s career? Here are just six of them.
Duncan Edwards (England) – An extremely promising midfielder with tons of talent, Edwards was a player that appeared certain to become an all time great for the England. However, he died from injuries related to the Munich Air Disaster before he had a chance to play in the 1958 World Cup.
During his career, Edwards was able to win two league titles with Manchester United at the time he was one of the Busby Babes. According to former English and United team mate Sir Bobby Charlton “Duncan Edwards is the only player that made me feel inferior”. Tommy Docherty stated that “there is no doubt in my mind that Duncan would have become the greatest player ever. Not just in British football with United and England, but the best in the world.” During his English career Edwards was able to score five goals in 18 career matches for his country.
George Best (Northern Ireland) – One of the most talented footballers ever, Best became a legend with Manchester United in the 1960’s and 70’s but was never able to lead Northern Ireland to a World Cup. During his career, Best led his club to the 1968 European Cup and also became one of the most talented footballers in English history.
He did his utmost throughout his career to get Northern Ireland to the World Cup but was never able to. After Northern Ireland qualified for the 1982 World Cup, manager Billy Bingham toyed with the idea of including him in his squad. It never happened mainly because of the problems Best had with alcohol which eventually proved to be a major factor in his tragic death in 2005.
Ryan Giggs (Wales) – Possibly the greatest player in Welsh football history. Giggs has enjoyed a wonderful career but never managed to play in a World Cup. He spent 16 years playing for his country under various managers but Wales has not managed to qualify for the finals since 1958.
Giggs announced his retirement from international football in June 2007 and at one stage was the youngest player to ever represent his country. The Welsh wizard has received numerous awards such as being named in the Football League 100 Legends, was appointed an OBE in the Queen’s 2007 Birthday Honours List and was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2005. He was also named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2009.
Eric Cantona (France) – The man who became known as god at Old Trafford had a great career but never appeared in a World Cup for the French. The closest Cantona came was the 1994 finals when France was just a draw away from qualifying but a defeat by Bulgaria in their final qualifier saw them eliminated.
Cantona was appointed captain of his country before his infamous Kung Fu kick incident at Crystal Palace in 1995 ended his international career. Zinedine Zidane took over the captaincy and helped lead the French to the 1998 World Cup title.
Mark Hughes (Wales) – One of the greatest players in Welsh football, Hughes burst onto the international stage finding the net just 17 minutes into his debut for Wales. During his career Hughes was capped on 72 occasions scoring 16 times.
He was appointed Wales coach in 1999, initially on a temporary basis but soon did enough to earn himself a long term contract. Wales were going through a bad patch when he took over but in the five years he was in charge they came close to qualifying for Euro 2004. After defeating Italy in their qualifying group Wales were only denied a place in the final tournament after losing to Russia in the playoffs.
Steve Bruce (England) – The current manager of Sunderland, Bruce had an incredible career in the 80’s and 90’s but for some bizarre reason, he was never selected to join the England squad. During his career Bruce was one of the best defenders in the league. With his central defensive partner Gary Pallister he helped United win a swag of trophies but was never called up for England.
At the height of his success with United, Bruce was contacted by Ireland manager Jack Charlton who had discovered that due to his mother’s place of birth Bruce was eligible to play for the Irish. Bruce states in his autobiography that further investigation revealed that while his earlier appearance for England B in a friendly match was not an issue, his appearances for the England Youth team in a UEFA sanctioned tournament prohibited him from playing for the senior team of another country.
Those six were obviously not the only Manchester United greats who never had an opportunity of performing on world football’s biggest stage. The likes of Bill Foulkes and Johnny Giles readily come to mind while even The King, Denis Law only ever made one single appearance in the 1974 World Cup towards the end of his career. It hardly seems fair but then fairness has never been something which was ever factored into football.
Who do you consider to be the greatest United player never to play in a World Cup?