Juan Roman Riquelme won nothing with Argentina.

9 world-class players who never won an international trophy: Riquelme, Raul, Maldini…

Discourse is everywhere in 2024. Can’t move for discourse. Can’t see the discourse forest for discourse trees, and there was plenty of it about when Lionel Messi finally won the World Cup in 2022. It finally cemented him as the greatest of all time, according to The Discourse.

Plenty of players win jack sh*t at international level, though, and are still world-class, all-time greats. Would Messi not have been the GOAT if Emi Martinez hadn’t pulled off a few miraculous feats of sh*thousery in the 2022 World Cup Final? Rubbish.

We’re here to take you through a list of genuinely world-class players who never won anything of note with their respective national teams.

We’re talking World Cup or continental major trophy (the Euros, Copa America, AFCON etc.). The Kirin Cup and the Scania 100 Tournament don’t fly here, punk.


People don’t put enough respect on Raul’s name, these days. He was a homegrown Galactico, a Real Madrid demigod, and far and away the Champions League top scorer until Benzema, Lewandowski, Ronaldo, and Messi came along.

Spain weren’t great in Raul’s prime. They were a nation of few superstars and many serviceable players.

The legendary forward played his last game for Spain in 2006, less than two years before the European Championship triumph that marked the start of La Roja’s international dominance.

Michael Ballack

One of the last truly complete midfielders, Ballack won plenty of honours in his club career. He also hails from a very successful footballing nation in Germany.

Unfortunately for Ballack, Germany won schweet f*ck alles between 1996 and 2014—the midfielder general’s best years.

Fun fact: Ballack grew up in a town called Karl-Marx-Stadt in East Germany, which perhaps made him such a good team player.

Johann Cruyff

Probably the most influential figure in modern football (alongside his old boss Rinus Michels), and one hell of a player in his day, but won absolutely nowt with the Netherlands in his playing days.

Not sure that really matter, though, when you look that class smoking a ciggie in an old detective’s mack, and you’ve invented your own skill move.

Franck Ribery

Another unfortunate victim of being born at just the wrong time, is Arjen Robben’s old partner in crime. World Cup ’98 and Euro 2000 came too soon for Ribery, whilst World Cup 2018 came just a little late.

In fact, whilst France were winning Euro 2000, Ribery was making his living as a construction worker with his father. He’ll have needed those construction skills to build a trophy cabinet big enough to hold all his club honours, to be fair.

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Didier Drogba

Every Premier League defender and goalkeeper for eight years knew to fear the Drog. So did the whole of AFCON. Chelsea’s heroic striker was part of a golden generation of Ivorian ballers, but eventually called time on his international career in 2014.

The Ivory Coast won the AFCON in 2015, for the first time in 23 years… You’ve got to feel for Didier.

Pablo Aimar

Lionel Messi’s idol was one hell of a player—that goes without saying. Aesthetically, he could’ve existed in literally any era of post-war football, and he played like a goddamn dream. 

How the hell Pablo Aimar went his whole career without winning even a single Copa America is, quite frankly, mind-blowing. He did manage to win two La Liga titles with Valencia, however. Some boy.

Paolo Maldini

Arguably the best, most charismatic and iconic defender ever to play the game, and yet he won nothing of note with Gli Azzuri. Maldini retired after the 2002 World Cup in South Korea & Japan, following Italy’s defeat to South Korea via golden goal.

Four years later, the Italians lifted the World Cup in Germany, but Maldini’s international boots were well and truly hung up by that point, and Fabio Cannavaro wore the capitano armband. Feel like Paolo should be awarded some sort of lifetime achievement World Cup medal.

Brazil's Ronaldo after scoring against Germany in the World Cup final. Yokohama Stadium, Yokohama, Japan, June 2002.

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Eric Cantona

Cantona may have been adorned with a metaphorical crown in Manchester, but the World Cup and the Euros refused to recognise him as the true king that he was.

King Eric’s international career spanned just eight years, beginning in 1987 (three years post Les Bleus’ Platini-inspired victory), and ending in 1995 (three years prior to France’s 1998 World Cup win on home soil).

We’d give him seven World Cup winner’s medals for kung-fu kicking a racist, personally, but we don’t make the rules.

Juan Roman Riquelme

Riquelme existed at roughly the same time as Pablo Aimar, meaning these two magical wizard genius playmakers of utmost elegance shared the pitch many a time and somehow managed not to win anything.

F*cking how?! How? Just how?