The winter World Cup is fast approaching and players will soon be jostling for spots in their respective 23-man squads.
The immediate focus for football fans is upon the climax of the thrilling Premier League title race and battle for survival, as well as Liverpool's rematch with Real Madrid in the Champions League final. However, it will not be long before international action returns in the form of the Nations League.
A host of familiar faces will no doubt be on pundit duty on our TV screens over the World Cup, many of whom enjoyed outstanding club and international careers. However, there are many outstanding players in recent years who did not receive the international recognition they perhaps deserved. Bearing this in mind, here is a look at nine footballers who almost certainly deserved more caps for their country than they received.
Michael Carrick – (England, 34)
The former West Ham and Tottenham midfielder went on to enjoy an illustrious 12-year stint with Manchester United after signing in 2006. Carrick would go on to make 464 appearances for the Red Devils and help the club to five Premier League titles, as well as the Champions League in 2008.
But on the international stage, the deep-lying playmaker was more often than not overlooked in favour of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. The current United coach retired from international duty in 2018, and revealed he found his time on international duty 'depressing'.
Andy Cole – (England, 15)
As it stands, only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney sit above Cole in the all-time Premier League goalscoring charts. The prolific forward netted 187 times with Blackburn Rovers, Fulham, Manchester City, Newcastle United, Portsmouth, and most notably for Manchester United.
Cole retired from international football after failing to earn a place in the squad for the 2002 World Cup, and the striker also missed out on a place in 1998 competition despite scoring 25 times that season. The 50-year-old has since addressed the 'politics' in the selection process and his belief that he was 'blackballed' by successive England managers.
Antonio Conte – (Italy, 20)
It is almost easy to forget Conte enjoyed a trophy-laden career as a player before becoming one of Europe's elite managers. The Tottenham boss spent more than a decade at Juventus, helping the club to five Serie A titles as well as the Champions League.
Conte impressed as an industrious and versatile midfielder, but his playing days were often blighted by injuries. The future Chelsea and Inter Milan manager earned just 20 caps for Italy before hanging up his boots.
Johan Cruyff – (Netherlands, 48)
Arguably the most famous name on this list, the Dutch legend is considered to be one of the all-time greats in world football. The pioneer of the Cruyff turn became an icon at both Ajax and Barcelona, and became the symbol of the 'Total Football' approach.
Cruyff was a member of the Netherlands side who are considered one of the best to never lift the World Cup, losing out to West Germany in 1974. It is therefore surprising the three-time Ballon d'Or winner only represented his country on 48 occasions before retiring.
Duncan Ferguson (Scotland – 7)
The powerful striker is the leading Scottish goalscorer in the all-time Premier League goalscoring charts, recording a total of 68 strikes from his time with Everton and Newcastle United. However, this status as a consistent top-flight scorer only translated to seven caps for his country.
Ferguson's headbutt on Jock McStay led to a conviction and a further 12-match ban imposed by the Scottish Football Association. Outraged by the additional punishment, the striker ultimately retired from international duty in 1997.
David Ginola (France – 17)
The flamboyant French winger is remembered as one of the Premier League's most notable imports during its early years. Ginola spent seven years in English football with Newcastle United, Tottenham, Aston Villa before finishing his playing career at Everton.
However, this reputation as one of the Premier League's most entertaining stars was not replicated on the international stage. Ginola won just 17 caps for France, and was slammed by manager Gerard Houllier for committing a 'crime against the team' as Les Bleus failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in agonising circumstances.
Juan Mata – (Spain, 41)
It is easy to forget that before Mata became one of many forgotten stars at Manchester United, the Spain international was one of the Premier League's best attacking midfielders. Arriving in English football from Valencia in 2011, the playmaker helped Chelsea lift their first Champions League and was named the club's player of the year two years in a row.
Mata was a member of Spain's golden era as he earned his first callup shortly after the Euro 2008 success, and played his part in the subsequent success at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012. However, the 34-year-old was most often used as a bench option due to the country's embarrassment of riches in midfield.
Victor Valdes – (Spain, 20)
Valdes was considered to be one of the world's best goalkeepers during his peak, and the shot-stopper enjoyed more than a decade with Barcelona. The Spain international would finish his career in England with spells at Manchester United and Middlesbrough.
But much like Mata, Valdes was a member of Spain's golden generation but had to settle for just 20 caps. Iker Casillas would go on to captain the side and rack up 167 caps over a 16-year career for his country.
Gianfranco Zola – (Italy, 35)
The dimunitive forward starred alongside Diego Maradona at Napoli and enjoyed success at Parma before moving to Chelsea in 1996. Following seven years in the capital helping the Blues to numerous honours, Zola was named the club's greatest ever player.
Zola made his international debut at the age of 25 but was shown a red card in his only appearance at the 1994 World Cup, and missed a penalty against Germany at Euro 96 as the Azzurri crashed out in the first round. The forward retired from international duty after being overlooked for the 1998 World Cup squad.
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