Alfredo di Stefano
You can make a pretty good case for Alfredo di Stefano being the greatest footballer there has ever been. FIFA voted him the 4th best player of the 20th century, although the winner, Pele, rated him the best. He remains Real Madrid’s 2nd highest goalscorer ever and was the architect in chief of their famous 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup Final. Sadly, the story of his World Cup absences is not pretty reading. In 1950 and 1954 Argentina did not enter. In 1958, having switched nationality to Spanish, his new country did not qualify. Di Stefano’s final chance came in 1962, but a muscular injury on the eve of the tournament meant he would retire without playing at a World Cup.
The Belfast boy is commonly regarded as one of the best players of all time but this is almost entirely due to his exploits in the red of Manchester United. His finest hour was probably winning the 1968 European Cup, the same year he won European Footballer of the Year. Sadly, he never got close to a World Cup with Northern Ireland. It didn’t stop him taking the chance to test himself against Europe’s finest though and there is a wonderful story of him nutmegging Cruyff in Rotterdam in 1976 to prove he was the ‘Best’. It is perhaps fittingly tragic that Northern Ireland should reach the 1982 World Cup without the ageing George. Coach, Billy Bingham is thought to have considered him but, at 36, Best was in poor shape and so missed his country’s finest hour.
Weah is the only FIFA World Player of the Year never to play in a World Cup. Liberia withdrew from qualifying for the ’94 tournament for which he would have been in his prime. They also got within a point of qualification for the 2002 World Cup, although by that point, even if he had have come out of retirement, he would have been significantly past his best.
The German midfielder had quite the career, winning La Liga with both Barcelona and Real Madrid. A skilful midfielder he came 2nd in the Ballon D’Or voting in 1980, 3rd in 1981 and 3rd again in 1985. However, a World Cup appearance eluded him. He had actually been part of the West German squad that won the European Championships in 1980. After this, it gets confusing – a series of disagreements with coaching staff and fellow players seem the most likely reasons, although Schuster himself dubiously claims it was his refusal to attend an after-match party that brought his International career to an end. Whatever the reasons, Schuster never went to a World Cup and missed what could have been 3 different appearances in the actual Final game itself in ’82, ’86 and ’90.
11 Premierships, 4 FA Cups and 2 Champions League winners medals… but no World Cup appearances for the Welshman. On 17th November 1993, Ryan Giggs was just 19 years old. However, with hindsight it was the night his best chance of appearing at a World Cup died. Victory over Romania in Cardiff that evening would have seen Wales reach their first Finals since X. Level with 25 minutes to go, Paul Bodin missed the important spot-kick and Romania went on to nick it 2-1 and have a memorable time at USA ’94. Giggs would never get this close again.