The debate rages on as to if Messi or Ronaldo compare to Maradona because they haven’t won the World Cup. But as we all know you don’t have to be a great individual to be in a great collective (just ask Ringo Starr!) So here are the worst eleven players to win football’s most glittering prize…
Note only players named in the starting lineup of a final are eligible.
Goalkeeper- Nery Pumpido (1986)
People often characterise Argentina’s 1986 World Cup winners as Maradona plus 10, but that disrespects a supporting cast that included the predatory Jorge Valdano, silky sweeper John-Luis Brown & midfield dynamo Jorge Burruchaga, however a great goalkeeper wasn’t amongst that team’s merits. Nery Pumpido arrived in Mexico as possible number 1 but got the gloves for the tournament keeping 3 clean sheets and doing a solid job, but made few outstanding saves. He kept the gloves until 1990 when he spilled a speculative Cameroon header into his own net. Pumpido had a credible club career at River Plate and won 36 caps but far better keepers are usually between the posts for World Cup Winners.
Rightback- Thomas Berthold (1990)
Best remembered for his three somersaults and a twist after Gazza’s tackle in the 1990 semi-final, Berthold had a distinguished career with West Germany starting in 1985 and he played right-wing back in the final a year later. Berthold maintained his place but without facing major competition. He did a solid job through Italia ’90 and stayed on until the 1994 World Cup. Berthold remained well solid and won 62 caps but will always be remembered for rolling around whilst Gazza welled up and Gary Lineker gave Sir Bobby that signal.
Leftback- Benedikt Howedes (2014)
Fullback was the constant Achilles heal Joachim Low struggled with in the run up to and during the early stages of the 2014 World Cup. With world-class talent everywhere else Low lacked quality options in down both flanks. He eventually settled for moving Philip Lahm back to right back but down the left ended up with ‘multi functional defender’ (football speak for jack of all trades master of none) Howedes. In the final he was detailed to look out for Messi and did a steady job but was booked after half an hour and contributed little else of note. Thus far Howedes has 44 caps but only one since 2016, which means he won a World Cup and wasn’t associated with his nations shambles in Russia this summer.
Centre Back- Roque Junior (2002)
In 2003 with Leeds United in free-fall, manager Peter Reid hatched a plan to steady a sinking ship. With Rio Ferdinand & Jonathan Woodgate sold and Lucas Radebe injured, Reid signed a World Cup winning centre back to sure up a struggling defence and signed Roque Junior on loan. Perhaps Reid should have taken notice of the fact Roque had only managed 44 league games for AC Milan in 4 years, he didn’t and what followed was the worst spell of defending ever witnessed in Premier League history. Roque lacked pace, strength or any positional sense as Leeds conceded 24 goals in his 7 appearances for the club. And Leeds didn’t have Ronaldo, Rivaldo & Ronaldhino up front and got a lot less than 25 in response! It was all a big comedown for man who’d started a World Cup final just over a year earlier with a team whom it’s fair to say had more of the ball.
Centre Back- Frank Leboeuf (1998)
Next to the crumbliest flakiest centre half of all time we have Frank The Egg. Leboeuf could ping a perfect pass 50 yards up the pitch but wasn’t exactly the sturdiest or quickest centre half in the world. He went to France ’98 as cover, but when Slaven Bilic’s shenanigans got Laurent Blanc suspended for the final, Aimee Jacquet brought in Leboeuf. In the build up most highlighted Frank’s lack of pace as a problem now he would be facing Ronaldo, but then fate slipped the Chelsea defender an ace. Ronaldo’s convulsions meant he was initially not selected for the final. He was of course eventually picked but was a shadow of his usual self as France pressed into a 2-0 lead. Then Chelsea teammate Marcel Desailly was shown a red card and Leboeuf was left marshalling the back line, but that’s a little easier when you have Thuram, Lizarazu, Viera & Petit around you. Leboeuf got his medal but his most notable act in the World Cup came four years later when his lack of pace was brutally exposed by Senegal.
Right Wing- Jurgen Krabowski (1974)
Like most players on this list Krabowski was a perfectly good player, but flattered by being a World Cup winner. Grabowski spent his entire career at Eintracht Frankfurt and was an unused member of West Germany’s 1966 squad. Grabowski was a regular in his nation’s run to the 1970 semi finals but his big chance came in West Germany’s home World Cup with a side dominated by the great Bayern Munich side of the mid ’70s. Grabowski played throughout the tournament and raised the trophy with Beckenbauer. The winger come striker won 44 caps and scored 5 goals in a fine career. But he was ultimately a merely good player in a great team.
Midfield- Kleberson (2002)
Wow first Roque Junior and now this Manchester United dud both started and won the 2002 World Cup final. It helps of course when the other two in your midfield trio are the combative Giberto Silva and silky Juninho, but Kleberson proved an integral part of Brazil’s most recent World Cup winning side. A year later he joined Manchester United as a replacement for Juan-Seba Veron, he appeared to take that role literally as he wandered around the middle of the Old Trafford pitch doing little of interest for 20 games before slopping off to Besiktas. He was in truth better for Brazil than he showed in 2 years in England, but he remains one of the least inspiring World Cup winners ever.
Midfield- Simone Perrotta (2006)
Italy’s surprise 2006 Champions were much like their ’82 vintage- they arrived mired in a corruption scandal, had a legend in-goal, great defence and a couple of wonderfully creative forwards. In amongst that winning teams (especially Italian ones) inevitably have a few players who ran, tracked back and dug for the side, Perrotta was the epitome of that role. Perrotta spent 9 years bouncing around Serie A before settling at Roma in 2004 aged 26, where he would stay for 9 years. Perrotta played all 7 games of Italy’s triumphant 2006 campaign, he worked hard but managed 1 assist and no goals. He played 61 uneventful minutes of the final before being hooked by Marcelo Lippi. In all this hardworking midfielder won 48 caps and managed goals for Italy, but he does own a World Cup Winners medal.
Left Wing- Alberto Ortiz (1978)
Ah the wonderful Argentina midfield of 1978- the skill of Ardiles, the power of Kempes, the style of Bertoni and er left winger Alberto Ortiz. Ortiz started the tournament on the bench but as Luis Menotti searched for the right balance in his side Ortiz slotted in on the left during the second group phase and started the final. He played the opening 75 minutes and departed with his side a goal to the good. Holland of course fought back and almost pinched it before extra time and Kempes writing himself into history. Ortiz collected his winners medal- the high point of his 23 cap Argentina career. In all he had a creditable career with San Lorenzo & River Plate but we can all name better wingers who won the World Cup.
Second Striker- Francesco Graziani (1982)
Italy may have won four World Cup’s, but it’s the champions of 1982 that remain closest to Italian hearts. This team had the legendary Dino Zoff in-goal, a great defence, some creativity in Bruno Conte oh and that man Paulo Rossi banging goals in for fun, meanwhile Marco Tardelli etched his name into football folklore with that goal in the final . The forgotten man of the team was veteran forward Francesco Graziani. A hardworking striker, Graziani is best remembered for making a berk of Phil Neal at Euro ’80 and scored a crucial goal in the group phase of the ’82 World Cup, but spent most of his time on the left flank trying to create space and rarely scoring goals (think Emile Heskey in a blue shirt).
But the game of his life would end in premature disappointment when Wolfgang Dremmler brought him down with a thunderous challenge and Graziani was off after just 7 minutes. Graziani’s replacement, Allesandro Altobelli went on to score the thirs goal in a 3-0 win. Graziani scored a credible 97 goals for Torino over eight years and played 64 times for his country, a good player for sure but just think of the strikers who haven’t won the World Cup!
Centre Forward- Stephane Guivarc’h (1998)
Aimee Jacquet’s philosophy for winning the World Cup was to defend from the front and at the tip of the defence was Auxerre forward Guivarc’h. At 27 Guivarc’h entered the World Cup on the back of back to back Ligue 1 golden boot titles. Thierry Henry & David Trezeguet were hugely gifted but not yet trusted so Guivarc’h got the number 9 shirt. He lasted only 29 minutes of France’s opener and didn’t return for the remainder of the group phase. He came off the bench in the last 16 and started (but didn’t finish) the quarter and semi final. In the final Guivarc’h followed his managers instruction to defend from the front but offered little in the way of penetration. Still Zidane took care of business and Guivarc’h was a World Champion.
Whilst Trezeguet went on to light up Serie A with Juventus and Henry became the world’s best as Arsenal, Guivarc’h went to Newcastle and managed a grand total of 4 Premier League games before an equally underwhelming spell with Rangers. Jacquet’s successor Roger Lemerre briefly picked Guivarc’h but quickly dropped him. In all Guivarc’h won 14 caps and scroed just once for his country, but he did play and win a World Cup Final.
So there you have it an 11 of (mostly) very good players who got a World Cup winners medal playing in great teams, something neither Cris or Leo have managed!
Next time: we look back at the greatest players not to win the sports biggest prize and how close they came