Nine of the best players to never win a cap: Arteta, Di Canio, Bruce
Representing your country is meant to be the pinnacle of the game, a reward for years of hard work which has seen players reach the top.
But for some players, that moment never comes – even for those who have won the European Cup.
It speaks volumes about how highly Arteta is regarded that he was immediately added to Pep Guardiola’s coaching staff upon retirement and was chosen ahead of much more experienced candidates to become Arsenal manager in 2019.
It also speaks volumes about the amount of ludicrously talented midfielders Spain have had at their disposal that Arteta was never given a look in.
Paolo Di Canio
There were probably two things that didn’t help Di Canio’s Italy prospects: A) the wealth of attacking talent available at the time; B) the, erm, y’know… being a bit of a mad b*stard stuff.
Still, you cannot doubt the forward’s considerable talent.
Over 400 appearances for Manchester United. Three league titles. Three FA Cups. One Cup Winners’ Cup. One European Super Cup. Three novels. One appearance for England B. Zero caps for England.
Those three novels though…
— Tom Noble (@_Noble) February 28, 2018
Scottish football was certainly much stronger in the 70s and 80s, but it seems inconceivable that a player who captained Nottingham Forest to consecutive European Cup victories failed to appear for his country.
It is all the stranger given McGovern, who was brought up in Hartlepool after moving away from Montrose aged seven, was inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
One of several excellent Italian goalkeepers who were unfortunate enough to have to compete with Gianluigi Buffon at international level.
Cudicini was considered one of the best stoppers in the Premier League during his spell as Chelsea’s No.1 in the early-2000s, yet he earned just a solitary call-up – that’s as many times as Joe Lewis was called up to the England squad.
Like Italy, Germany are also renowned for the wealth of their goalkeeping talent, and Klos’ misfortune is a prime example.
Spending eight-year spells at Borussia Dortmund and Rangers, Klos won 13 major trophies, including the 1997 Champions League, but he had to settle for two Under-23 caps due to the presence of Oliver Kahn and Andreas Kopke.
Malbranque became a firm favourite in the Premier League during spells with Fulham, Tottenham and Sunderland – even Tony Blair loved him.
The midfielder earned two call-ups to the France squad eight years apart but failed to make it onto the pitch, while he also explored the possibility of representing Belgium.
Mario de Castro
Possibly the greatest footballer you’ve never heard of. De Castro played professional football for only five years, scoring 195 goals in 100 appearances for Atletico Mineiro.
The striker was called up to the Brazil squad once but rejected the opportunity as he would have been back-up Botafogo’s Carvalho Leite.
De Castro retired in 1931 at the age of 26 after winning the Campeonato Mineiro. His second-half four-goal haul against Villa Nova completed a stunning comeback from 3-0 down, but an opposition fan was killed after being shot by an Atletico director, prompting the striker’s retirement.
Hubner’s father was German, but the striker always wanted to represent Italy, having been born and raised in the country.
Despite scoring over 250 league goals, questions about his work rate and attitude, plus competition from the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, Francesco Totti and Christian Vieri, meant he never got the chance to play for the Azzurri.
Hubner’s record as the oldest player to finish as Serie A’s top goalscorer was only beaten in 2015.