Frustrated football fans in Lens
It can be very frustrating for supporters when they see a top player failing to perform on a consistent basis at international level. International football is very different to the club game, and it is no surprise some players struggle to adapt. While you train six days a week with your club teammates, you may only train a few weeks a year with your national teammates, and you may be expected to learn to play in a whole new system or position in that time.
There is also the additional stresses and expectations of playing international football. Having the weight of a team’s supporters resting upon you is one thing, having an entire nation’s hopes, dreams and expectations on your shoulders can be a whole different ball game, and simply too much for some players to handle.
All of the players in this seven had much hope pinned upon them, and most had excellent club careers, yet for one reason or another, they failed to come through for their national teams. The seven only includes players who represented at the very least a competitive national team, where there was some chance of shining on the international stage, and most played for established footballing powers. Here are our top seven footballers who never came through for their national team:
7. Nwankwo Kanu
Nwankwo Kanu was capped 87 times by Nigeria
Former Arsenal, Ajax, Inter Milan and Portsmouth forward Nwankwo Kanu’s list of achievements is something to behold. The Nigerian striker won 14 trophies over his career, including multiple league titles in Nigeria, Holland and England, as well as winning the Champions League, UEFA Cup, Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup and the FA Cup. Twice named African Footballer of the Year, Kanu should have been the talisman of Nigeria’s Golden Generation, an era of players including the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and Finidi George. Yet Kanu never delivered – scoring a fairly miserable 12 goals in 87 caps for his country, failing to score in either a World Cup or African Cup of Nations. His only success with Nigeria coming in the 1996 Olympics.
6. Franck Ribery
When Zinedine Zidane retired from football following the 2006 World Cup, Franck Ribery was France’s new outstanding talent. Having had a fine tournament in 2006, aged 23, Ribery was expected to inherit the captaincy and inspire France to a new age of success as Zidane had a decade earlier. In this sense at least, Ribery has never come through for France.
He failed to score for 18 months after Zidane’s retirement, did nothing as France failed at Euro 2008, had an absolute disaster at the 2010 World Cup as France were humiliated and he was ineffective once more at Euro 2012. Ribery was ruled out of the 2014 World Cup through injury and chose to retire from international football that year, with a record of 16 goals from 81 caps and having failed in every tournament since 2006.
5. England's Golden Generation
England's so-called 'Golden Generation'
There are too many players from England’s failed ‘Golden Generation’ to name them all in a list of just seven. There were some exceptions to this rule, Ashley Cole in particular always maintained his club form at international level, but few others did likewise. Wayne Rooney, despite being England’s all-time top scorer, has routinely failed at every single major tournament since Euro 2004.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, both excellent players, failed to gel and find any kind of form on the major stage alongside one and another. Meanwhile Paul Scholes, who was arguably the most talented of the lot, only won 66 caps, was often pushed out to the left wing and retired at 29.
4. Mark Viduka
Another player born into a Golden Generation, in Mark Viduka’s case it was the Australian national team of the 2000s. One of the oldest players of this so-called Golden Generation, alongside the likes of Tim Cahill, Mark Schwarzer, Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton, despite being arguably the most talented of the lot, Viduka never really turned it on for the Socceroos. He was a prolific scorer at club level in Australia, Croatia, Scotland and England, perhaps most notably with Leeds in the Premier League.
Despite his excellent club form, Viduka was poor for Australia, managing only 11 goals in 43 caps, none in major competitions, with 9 of his 11 goals coming against hardly footballing powerhouses in the form of Tunisia, Soloman Islands (x2), Jamaica, Singapore (x2), Iraq and Thailand (x2).
3. John Barnes
12 Sep 1990: John Barnes of England goes around Balazs Berczy of Hungary
An England player but not one from the Golden Generation, John Barnes was actually born in Kingston, Jamaica. Primarily a left winger, Barnes made a name for himself at Watford, where he spent 6 years, before joining Liverpool in 1987, going on to spend a decade at Anfield. Barnes was superb on Merseyside, and was even named by FourFourTwo as Liverpool’s greatest ever player. His international form never mirrored his club success though. Despite winning 79 caps for England, Barnes was agonisingly inconsistent. He scored one of England’s greatest ever goals against Brazil in a friendly, but England never quite got the best out of him, with Bobby Robson describing him as the greatest enigma of his career.
2. Alan Hansen
Another Liverpool legend, Alan Hansen was a genuinely world class defender who had a superb 18 year career, 14 of which were spent at Liverpool. He is among Liverpool’s top 10 appearances holders of all-time, and won an incredible 23 trophies at the club, most notably eight league titles and three European Cups. One of the finest defenders of his generation, one would expect Hansen to have been a nailed on starter in the Scottish national team for more than a decade, but that wasn’t the case.
Hansen won only 26 caps for his country, largely down to the preferred defensive pairing of Willie Miller and Alex McLeish, who played alongside one and another at club level for Aberdeen. Given just how good Hansen was for Liverpool it is incredible that he couldn’t get more game time in a decent but far from spectacular Scotland team. His international career effectively ended in 1986 when Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t even include the defender in his 23-man World Cup squad.
France's striker Nicolas Anelka gestures during the 2010 World Cup
Nicolas Anelka has been something of an enigma throughout his career. Undoubtedly skilful and gifted, Anelka has been labelled a mercenary and a journeyman by many. With a list of former clubs which includes the likes of PSG, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and Juventus, it is clear some of the worlds best managers identified Anelka as a top class player. He has won league titles in England, Turkey and Italy, as well as having won the Champions League. He has scored more than 200 goals in his career, and more than 100 in the Premier League.
69 caps for the French national team shows that Anelka got more than a fair crack of the whip at international level, yet he did very little. He scored 14 goals in those 69 games, a goal scoring rate far below his record at club level. Anelka didn’t manage a single goal in a World Cup or European Championships, and what’s worse, unlike most on this list who simply failed, Anelka was also highly disruptive at times. Having failed at every major tournament he ever played in, Anelka was a big part of France’s collapse and humiliation at the 2010 World Cup.
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