We continue the countdown of those great talents who never got to perform on the games biggest stage from 15 to 11…
15. Liam Brady (Republic of Ireland)
The silky midfield playmaker with as good a left foot as ever seen in British football broke into Arsenal’s first team in 1973 aged just 17. Brady was called up for his country the following year but the fledgling Republic side struggling to find their way but with a true star to build around in Brady they came close to qualification for the 1978 and then 1982 World Cup’s.
At club level Brady’s career excelled in the late 70s as Arsenal lifted the 1979 FA Cup and a year later Brady moved to Italian giants Juventus with whom he won the next 2 Serie A titles. Brady played two seasons with Juve but played a further five seasons in Italy with stints at Sampdoria, Inter & Ascoli. During his Italian odyssey Brady got a new international manager- Jack Charlton. Charlton pulled Ireland together to qualify for their first major tournament at Euro ’88 with Brady central to his side, Ireland’s arrival as a major football nation confirmed by a stunning Brady goal against Brazil.
But Brady picked up a suspension in qualifying that kept him out of the group phase of the finals and Holland’s late winner in their final group game sent Ireland home and Brady frustrated at a tournament on the sidelines.
Frustrated and knowing he’d be 34 at the time of Italia ’90 Brady retired from internationals and returned to England with West Ham to finish his career. But he had a change of heart and came back hoping for a recall and one last chance at a World Cup. Sadly for Brady, Big Jack was unimpressed and announced only those whom played in qualification would go to the finals and Brady’s international career ended on a source note with 72 caps.
14. David Ginola (France)
With his free-flowing style and matched only by his free flowing hair Ginola was the very definition of a flamboyant footballer. He started his career moving through a series of second tier French clubs and was his country’s most promising young player after a storming series of performances for the Under 21s at the Toulon Tournament of 1987.
Ginola got his France debut in 1990 aged 23 but after being overlooked for Euro ’92 his career hit the ascendancy with a transfer to Paris St-Germain and the appointment of Gerard Houllier as France manager. Ginola was outstanding as PSG made a series of fine runs in Europe and not for the last time became a fans favourite. He topped it all by winning French Footballer of the year in 1993 to go with 2 French Cups and 1 League Title.
Ginola was in a talented French squad that included that seemed set to make a splash at USA ’94. But needing a point away to Bulgaria in their final qualifier Houllier sent on Ginola as a late sub and in injury time Ginola got free down the flank, but rather than head for the corner flag he whipped in the direction of Cantona, it was picked off, Bulgaria broke and Kostadinov scored to send France out. Houllier squarely blamed the defeat on Ginola going as far as describing Ginola as ‘The assassin of French Football’ and ‘Killing my team,’ a bitter feud that ended in Ginola seeing for defamation of character!
But Houllier’s barbs struck a chord in France and Ginola was hounded out of Paris and across the English Channel to Newcastle. Ginola’s brilliant footwork and ability to leave defenders for dead made him an instant hit on Tyneside as part of Kevin Keegan’s Entertainers of 1995/96. New France boss Aime Jacquet stuck with Ginola for a while but it soon became clear he didn’t fit with the more disciplined defensive approach the team was taking and he was dropped in 1995.
Meanwhile Newcastle famously blew the Premier League title to Cantona’s United and the arrival of the more prosaic Kenny Dalglish as manager saw Ginola head to Tottenham in 1997. But Ginola took his game to a new level and calls for Jacquet to recall him grew in some quarters but Jacquet was unmoved. Ginola responded by winning the FWA Player of the Year in 1998/99 but for all his brilliance he only won 17 caps for France.
13. Abedi Ayew (Ghana)
Also known by the unassuming name Abedi Pele, Ayew was the first great star of African Football. Playing as an attacking midfielder he started his international career with Ghana aged just 18 and immediately announced himself by winning the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations.
But wider recognition didn’t come for another 4 years as he bounced around a series of far-flung clubs. In 1986 he signed for Niort in France and an impressive first season soon saw him sign for Marseille. Before long he was joined by the likes of Basile Boli, Chris Waddle & Didier Deschamps as Marseille established themselves amongst Europe’s elite.
In the modern format of the World Cup Ayew would have made it but Africa only had 2 qualifying berths for the 1982, 86 & 90 tournaments. He kept the faith with his nation but a bitter split opened between Ayew and serial Goal of the Month Winner Tony Yeboah- Ghana’s 2 best players.
Back in France Ayew’s career reached its pinnacle in 1993 as Marseille now featuring Fabian Barthez, Marcel Desailly and Rudi Voller stormed to the clubs first Champions League crown. 1993 also saw him get close to a World Cup as Ghana fought a close qualifying group with Ayew & Yeboah both in the side but they fell a point short of the playoffs behind Algeria.
Ayew’s career started to decline and his much traveled career took in stops at Lyon, Torino & 1860 Munich, he played on with Ghana until 1998 amassing 73 caps & 33 goals- both records at the time. Ghana wouldn’t make it to the World Cup until 2006 with Ayew’s sons Ibrahim, Jordan and Andre all represented Ghana in subsequent World Cups.
12. Neville Southall (Wales)
The only goalkeeper to make our list Southall got his big break in 1981 when he secured a transfer to Everton and the following year he became Welsh number 1 following their failure to qualify for the World Cup.
At club level Southall and Everton began a golden period under the stewardship of Howard Kendall winning the 1984 FA Cup and the 1985 League and European Cup Winners Cups. Southall’s phenomenal shot stoping proved vital and he was duly named FWA Footballer of the Year- the last goalkeeper to win the honour. Wales meanwhile had assembled a talented side in front of their star goalkeeper with Everton skipper Kevin Ratcliffe, Pat Van Den Hauwe, Kenny Jackett, Mark Hughes & Ian Rush. Wales needed to win their final qualifier against Scotland but a late penalty (which Southall got a hand to) got the Scots a point and Wales were the only British side to miss Mexico ’86.
Southall continued his club’s purple patch winning a second league title in 1987 having missed the 1986 run-in when Everton were pipped to the double by Liverpool. Euro ’88 should have seen Wales qualify but Southall missed the pivotal qualifier against Denmark and Wales missed out. The hard luck stories continued as Wales drew Holland & West Germany in the Italia’ 90 qualifiers and Germany again for Euro ’92.
USA ’94 offered a final chance for the ageing Welshmen now supplemented by Ryan Giggs, Dean Saunders & Gary Speed. But despite a disastrous start to qualifying Terry Yorath’s side would qualify with a final game win over Romania. But Southall had an uncharecteristic off night and was beaten from 25 yards by Georghe Hagi and was then nutmegged by Florin Raducioiuas Wales went down 2-1. That would prove Wales’ last chance in a generation and Southall finsihed his international career in 1997 on a naional record 92 caps.
11. Valentino Mazzola (Italy)
Mazzola was a brilliant number 10 and Italy’s best player of the 1940s. Born in 1919 he was too young to play in Italy’s pre war World Cup winning sides in 1939. Aged 20 he took a trial with Venezia whilst on national service and convinced them to sign him and his career began taking off.
With domestic football continuing in Italy despite The War he won the Coppa Italia in 1941 and a year on he joined Torino for 1 and a quarter million lira and in the same year he made his debut for the Italy.
Torino became the doiminat side of Italian football winning the title in 1943 and 1945. With the war over football became central to life in Italy and Torino continued their dominance winning three straight post war titles in 1947,’48 & ’49 with Mazzola the best player in the country adding the 1947 golden boot to his trophy haul and with international football starting to gear up again and with an eye on the 1950 World Cup Italy named Mazzola captain and The Grande Torino side dominated selection for the national team.
Italy were amangst the favoruites for the 1950 World Cup with the great fuelled by the great Torino side but sadly it wasn’t to be. In May 1949 with the Serie A title all but secured Torino travelled to Lisbon for a friendly, Mazzola had been ill but still went. Tragically their plane crashed a the Basilica of Superga near Turin- all on board were killed.
Mazolla was dead aged just 30, the players collective funeral saw a million people line the streets of Turin and Italy went into mouring, so traumatising was the experience Italy’s 1950 World Cup squad travelled to Brazil by ship. With their legenday side wiped out Torino headed into football obscuirty securing only one more league title in the last seven decades. Italy’s 1950 World Cup campaign was a disaster, shorn of their best player and half a team they went out in round one and it took almost a decade for the Azzurri to recover. Mazzola is still remembered as one of Italy’s greatest ever players- he scored 118 goals in 195 games for Torino but played only 12 times for his country.