Winning the World Cup is the ultimate glory in a footballer’s life. Irrespective of the fact, how many Balon d’Ors an individual has managed to seize, the fans love to gauge the greatness of him or her through the lens of the illustrious FIFA World Cup that has been rechristened over countless times in the glorious antiquity of the sport.
On an honest note, it needs a lot more than just greatness to win the glamorous trophy. It isn’t only about one’s individual brilliance, but countless things that constitute success at the grandest stage of all. Two things rule the roost when it comes to winning the trophy. Firstly, how one’s team performs as that holds the key to countless miracles in the world and secondly, luck. If luck deserts you even for a single moment, irrespective of how great and scintillating you are, the World Cup will only act as a mirage for you all.
As we talked about the two instances, we will name two players who have been victims of the respective scenarios despite being the greatest of all time. The first name is Cristiano Ronaldo. Needless to say, but this man has rattled all the records and barriers of the world to climb to the very peak. Haplessly, the closest brush with the title that Portugal has had was in 2006 when they crashed out of the tournament in the semis to the eventual champions, France.
The next name is Lionel Messi, who was lingering along the fringes of the greatest glory and most likely would have lifted the trophy if not for outrageous misses by Higuain and Aguero towards the end. Mario Gotze snuffed out the lifelong dream of Messi and company with an emphatic finish in the 113th minute of the fixture. Ronaldo became a victim of the team’s limited calibre, while Messi was stripped of his fortune.
With all said and done, there have been countless greats of the game who were absolute paragons in club football and yet failed to lift up the most glamorous trophy of the world throughout the span of their glittering career.
In this story, we will be looking at eleven footballers who were absolute beasts and yet failed to lift the trophy at the highest level of the sport. This won’t be a team and just a list of eleven players. Also, Messi and Ronaldo won’t be named further in the list as it is needless to say that they are Gods of the sport and yet glory at the highest level has eluded them mercilessly.
Once again, this won’t be a brutally stat-driven story and will be based on perspectives. Hence, if you believe that someone must have featured in this glorious list, you can always come up with your opinions.
11. Lev Yashin
Known by three different sobriquets, Lev Yashin is arguably one of the best goalkeepers to have graced the sport. His nicknames included Black Panther, Black Spider and Black Octopus, all of which alluded to his razor-sharp reflexes, insane agility and blistering speed under the woodwork. He played an industrious role in propelling the U.S.S.R to the last four of the 1966 World Cup.
Despite being one of the best monikers to have played in the sport, Yashin had an unsavoury start to his career after being alleged of a below-par performance against Columbia that led to a 4-4 draw. It was stated that the mistakes committed by him were deliberate and he can’t be a lucrative asset to his nation. However, proving everyone wrong, he rose beyond expectations and established himself as one of the best custodians that the game has ever seen.
10. Gheorghe Hagi
Nicknamed as the Carpathian Maradona, Hagi was one of the most impressive wingers of all time to have plied his trade for both Real Madrid and Barcelona. He toted Romania almost single-handedly in the major tournaments, and the results weren’t pretty flattering. He was a part of three World Cups in the 1990s, where his individual moments of brilliance led the Tricolourii to their solitary quarter-final appearance in the exuberant antiquity of the World Cup.
9. Just Fontaine
A tournament that had the likes of Vava, Pele, Garrincha and a list of some formidable other appellations was overshadowed by the individual madness of Just Fontaine. He penned a record in 1958 FIFA World Cup, and it has managed to stand the burning test of time.
The record is of the highest number of goals in a single FIFA World Cup tournament, where Fontaine hammered 13 goals. He was awarded the Golden Boot in the tournament and also the Bronze Ball after a resonating display for France. Now to underline the magnificence of this record, Klose the one with the highest number of goals across FIFA World Cup’s history took 12 years to rack up a figure which was just three more than the one of Fontaine’s World Cup wonder.
8. David Beckham
Needless to say but Beckham’s swagger and brilliance on the pitch are unrivalled to date. He was prolific, fearless, fierce, fast and accurate from set-pieces. It was his dismissal in the 1998 World Cup against Argentina that saw England bow down in a very docile manner.
However, it was Beckham’s solitary spot-kick that helped England crash Argentina out of the 2002 World Cup. His injury in the 2010 World Cup robbed England of their chance to put a significant bout of resistance against Germany that was the end of the three lions in that tournament.
7. Dennis Bergkamp
A commentator lost his poise and kept on hollering Bergkamp’s name after an insane finish against Argentina. That iconic moment of the World Cup came at Stade Velodrome in Marseille. Bergkamp plucked out a Frank de Boer pass from the air with one of the most sumptuous first-touches in the history of football and hammered home an equally brilliant finish to send the crowd and the commentator into a crazy explosion of exhilaration.
Unfortunately, the Netherlands team failed to support him in equal proportions, and Bergkamp had to be assuaged with individual glory instead of the World Cup.
6. Johan Cryuff
Arguably the best footballer from the Netherlands and also one of the best footballers who led the remarkable velvet revolution at Ajax, Johan Cryuff is most likely the biggest name in this list to have missed out on the World Cup.
Mentor to Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Peter Houtman, Cryuff was the apostle of ‘total football’ at Barcelona, Ajax and the Netherlands national team. He had an extraordinary repertoire of skills and no matter how many words one can pen about him, they will fall short. Most likely, Peter Drury, the football poet probably could have been the solitary commentator to have mete out justice to the insane Cryuff, however, that will only remain as an imagination for all of us.
5. Alfredo Di Stefano
Like the way, Ronaldo defined the greatness of Real Madrid in the last decade, after a disputable signing in the latter half of the 1950s, it was a sensational Argentina-born Spaniard who had a four-match spell at Columbia and yet couldn’t scratch the surface of the World Cup trophy.
Alfredo Di Stefano was left deprived of the glamorous World Cup despite being the crème de la crème of club football. Haplessly for him when he was at the height of his football finesse, Spain and Argentina have just started finding their foothold in world football. He tried his fortune with Columbia and it did him no good either. The man who changed the football of Madrid in the 1950s and ’60s could never bedeck his trophy cabinet with the pinnacle of all.
4. Ferenc Puskas
The man who got an award honoured after his name couldn’t do justice to his glory in the national colours. He managed to bag 514 goals from 530 games, and these figures are a burning ode to the man’s glittering brilliance. His international glory was equally exciting, as he managed to find the back of the net a staggering 84 times from matches. It was this man’s scintillating striking ability that propelled Hungary t the World Cup finals in 1954.
Hungary collided with West Germany and fought a thrilling contest to finally succumb to the eventual champions by 3-2. It was Puskas who struck the opener for Hungary in the final, and it was him again to be left begging for the silverware after his teammates failed to restore parity. FIFA decided to ennoble this man with the name of one of the most prestigious awards in football known as the ‘Puskas’ award for the most beautiful goal in a season, a befitting way to honour the legend.
3. Michel Platini
Despite now living under a tarnished reputation due to allegations of infamous acts, Platini was one of the rarest gems to have played for France. He was voted thrice as the Greatest Player of the Year in the ’80s. He lacked match-fitness in the tournament and yet went on to fire two crucial goals that helped France to advance to the semi-finals in 1986 FIFA World Cup.
Platini was left out of the national squad in 1978, and he ensured the fact that he is coming back on a stronger note in the forthcoming tournament, and the world was left stunned with his extraordinary repertoire of skillsets.
2. Marco Van Basten
Van Basten was known for his effortless brilliance across the face of football for the Netherlands. He was a part of the epic Dutch team of 1990 FIFA world cup but was actually past his prime when his team appeared at the World Cup. He always seemed to be at the end of the perfect passes, and his proclivity towards scoring those netters in convincing fashion made him a man to always watch out for.
Basten had a towering stature, which made him a fierce contender in the air and on the ground. Along with that, his impeccable positional sense is what added to his already variegated and lethal kitty of flairs.
1. Zlatan Ibrahimović
You want miraculous goals, you call him. You want simple goals, you call him. You want stunning goals and you call him. The bottom line is you want goals, you call him. One of the most prolific goal-scorers of all time, Zlatan Ibrahimović failed to lay his hands on the most glittering silverware of all time.
Zlatan is the same man who hammered the scorpion kick after Higueta, the rocket-kick, the scissor-kick, and the names simply start getting more quizzical. Unfortunately, for the Swedish lion, his teammates could never support him to that extent where he could have propelled them to the stage of the ultimate glory.
Notable mentions to have missed the World Cup:
Eusebio, George Best, Oliver Kahn, Paolo Maldini, Duncan Edwards, Karl Heinze-Rummenigge, Zico, Socrates, Eric Cantona, Luis Figo, Paul Gascoigne, Roberto Baggio, Steven Gerrard, Ruud Gullit, Laszlo Kubala, Kenny Dalglish, Raul Gonzalez, Hristo Stoichkov, Billy Bremner, Michael Ballack, Hidetoshi Nakata, Roger Milla.