Traditionally, certain nations have provided the hotbed of the world's soccer talent. For example, almost all of the greatest players that the game has seen to date originated in either South America or Europe, with the likes of England, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Holland, Brazil and Argentina having produced a great percentage of the game's most talented individuals.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been afforded much sympathy for struggling in the European Championships and World Cups given the lack of strength of his Portuguese teammates. However, Ronaldo plays in a team of largely Champions League players who all play the game at the highest level. Imagine being one of the best players in the world and not even getting the chance to play at a major international tournament. Or, if its easier, imagine you are Gareth Bale.
From Pele to Puskas, the history of soccer is packed with great players who played in great national teams, but this list celebrates those who weren't afforded such a luxury. These are the true one-man national teams. The big fish in very small ponds. The list is ranked by just how good the player was in relation to how poor the national team was during said players career. Here are the top 15 great players in terrible national teams:
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16 David Alaba - Austria
Arguably the finest left-back in the world today, David Alaba is also capable of playing further forward, either on the left side or in central midfield. Born in Vienna, Alaba made his international debut at the age of just 17, making him the country's youngest ever debutant. He has since won 39 caps, aged only 23. The Austria team is one of the strongest on this list, but Alaba remains the clear stand out player, with Christian Fuchs, Aleksander Dragovic and Marko Arnautovic being their next best players. Austria haven't qualified for the World Cup since 1998, and only qualified for the European Championship's once in their entire history.
15 Pavel Nedved - Czech Republic
In a similar position to Bale, Nedved played for one of the stronger national teams on this list, but was still a genuinely world class individual in a distinctly average national team. Despite having a reasonable team for much of their existence as Czechoslovakia, since becoming Czech Republic the country have struggled in footballing terms. Nedved, a Ballon d'Or winner who won twelve trophies during his career, most coming with Juventus, is the greatest footballer to have hailed from the country by some distance. With no player close to his calibre, Nedved still inspired the Czech Republic to the final of Euro '96, the semi-final of Euro 2004 and their first World Cup appearance in 2006.
14 Dwight Yorke - Trinidad & Tobago
Former Aston Villa and Manchester United star Dwight Yorke is the greatest Tobagonian footballer of all-time, and by some distance too. The Caribbean country are real minnows of international football, who were ranked 106th in the FIFA World Rankings at the time of Yorke's retirement in 2010. At club level, Yorke won three Premier League titles, two League Cups, one FA Cup, one Champions League and one Intercontinental Cup. At international level, Yorke qualified for one World Cup, in 2006, the first time the country had ever done so.
13 Stevan Jovetic - Montenegro
In a country of only 600,000 people with a national team and F.A. which only came into existence in 2006, it's hardly surprising that Montenegro are yet to produce a plethora of world class talent. They have had two players who are far better than the rest of their squad in Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic, and it is Jovetic who makes eleventh place on this list. The talented forward made a name for himself at Fiorentina, but struggled with injuries at Manchester City and is now on-loan at Inter Milan. The Montenegro squad features players who play in the rather poor Montenegrin domestic league, they are yet to qualify for a World Cup or European Championship.
12 Lakhdar Belloumi - Algeria
Few countries hold one player in as high regard as the Algerians do with respect to Lakhdar Belloumi. Relatively unknown outside of Africa, except for his goal against West Germany in 1982, Belloumi was a quality player who could have blessed any team on the planet with his wonderful control, quick feet and incisive passing. Indeed, Barcelona tried to sign him in 1982 and Juventus in 1985, but neither move materialized. Algeria had never qualified for a World Cup pre-Belloumi, but with him they did so in 1982 and 1986, with the former being their most notable. Without him, they wouldn't qualify for another 26 years. He is their all-time most capped player.
11 Jari Litmanen - Finland
The list of great Finnish football players is not a long one. Sami Hyypia and Jussi Jaaskelainen are the only other two players who could be put in such a category, but Jari Litmanen stands head and shoulders above the rest. He played for the likes of Ajax, Barcelona and Liverpool, he was twice nominated for the Ballon d'Or, was the nine-time Finnish footballer of the year and named their greatest payer of all-time in 2003. Despite his achievements, many believe 'Litti' still never lived up to his true potential, such was his natural ability. Finland have never qualified for a World Cup or a European Championships, which is some indication of their ability on the world stage.
10 Hristo Stoichkov - Bulgaria
Were it not for Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria would probably never have progressed further than the World Cup group stage, and they certainly wouldn't have reached the semi-finals as they did in 1994 without his presence. Prolific with CSKA Sofia, Stoichkov joined Barcelona, where he formed a terrific strike partnership with Romario. In his seven years at Barcelona, he won five league titles, the European Cup and the Ballon d'Or in 1994. He was the top scorer at the 1994 World Cup, scoring in wins over Argentina, Mexico and Germany. Since his retirement, Bulgaria have failed to qualify for a single World Cup.
9 Georgi Kinkladze - Georgia
Although he may not be considered as a truly world class player, Georgi Kinkladze certainly had the natural ability to reach those levels. He will always be a cult hero for Manchester City fans, having stayed with the club even after their relegation to the second division, before eventually joining Ajax after the club came into financial difficulties. An exceptional dribbler, Kinkladze was a joy to watch, and won 57 caps for his country. Georgia had two gifted players in Kinkladze and Shota Arveladze, but both were gems in a rather poor team. Georgia have never qualified for a major tournament and were ranked as low as 156th during Kinkladze's playing career.
8 Abedi Pele - Ghana
Abedi Ayew, or Abedi Pele as he has become better known, was one of the first African football stars. The Ghana national football team may not seem like a weak one today, as they have produced some very good players in recent years and put in an impressive showing at the 2010 World Cup, but during Abedi Pele's time, they were very much a developing nation in terms of soccer, and he was a cut above anyone else in the national team. Ghana had never qualified for a World Cup, a record that stood until 2006.
7 Gareth Bale - Wales
Gareth Bale may be one of the best players on the planet, but he finds himself high up this list because the Welsh national team currently boasts few respectable players. Despite the presence of Ashley Williams and Aaron Ramsey - undoubtedly Wales' next best players - the Welsh national team still rely on Bale to win them games. When he plays well, Wales play well, and without him they pose very little cutting edge. Wales haven't qualified for a World Cup since 1958, and have never qualified for the European Championships, although it looks like thanks to Bale's performances they will qualify for Euro 2016.
5 Gheorghe Hagi - Romania
Gheorghe Hagi is a hero in Romania. The attacking midfielder is the greatest Romanian footballer of all time and it is no surprise that all of their finest achievements on the world stage came during Hagi's international career. Having failed to even qualify for a World Cup in 20 years, Hagi took Romania past the group stages in all three of the World Cup's he played in, and since his retirement, they have failed to even qualify once more.
Likewise, their best showing in the European Championships came with Hagi at the heart of their team. A wonderfully gifted playmaker who occasionally lost his cool, Hagi played for the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and was the seven-time Romanian footballer of the year. He won 124 caps for his country, scoring 35 goals.
4 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - Gabon
Gabon are a very poor national team, although in an African nation of just 1.6 million, that is hardly surprising. They have never qualified for a World Cup and have only once got out of the group stages of the African Cup of Nations, which came during Aubameyang's career, in 2012. Known for his searing pace, especially over short distances, Aubameyang is one of the most feared strikers in Europe right now with Borussia Dortmund, where he has scored 38 goals in 72 games, since joining the club in 2013.
He played for France at U-21 level but chose to represent Gabon at full international level, where he scored 17 goals from 44 caps to date. He is widely regarded as the countries greatest ever player, with many regarding his father Pierre Aubameyang their second best.
3 George Best - Northern Ireland
One of the greatest footballers of all-time, in a largely average/poor national team, one would expect George Best to have racked up far more than 37 caps for Northern Ireland. The Manchester United legend won European Cup, Ballon d'Or and European Footballer of the Year in 1968, yet he couldn't help his country qualify for the 1968 European Championship's, nor could he qualify for any World Cup or Euro's in his entire playing career.
Pat Jenning's was the only other outstanding player in the Northern Ireland squad during Best's playing days, and Best was clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the squad. Best himself had campaigned for a united R.O.I. and Northern Ireland team, to give themselves a better chance of success, but the idea never came to fruition. Franz Beckenbauer described him as the "best footballer who never made it to a major world final."
2 Henrikh Mkhitaryan - Armenia
Ranked 83rd in the world and having never qualified for a World Cup or European Championships, it wouldn't be unfair to say that Armenia weren't a powerhouse of international soccer. A 26-year-old midfielder, Mkhitaryan is already the countries all-time top scorer, with 16 goals, and has 53 caps to his name, many as captain. A quick glance through the Armenia squad and most casual soccer fans won't have heard of a single player other than the Borussia Dortmund midfielder.
A couple of Spartak Moscow players and a 20-year-old Marseille defender are the biggest names other than Mkhitaryan, with half of the players in the Armenia team coming from the Armenian domestic league and others plying their trade in Kazakhstan, Iran and Macedonia. With seven trophies to his name and one of the stars of the current Dortmund team, Mkhitaryan is already easily Armenia's greatest ever player.
1 George Weah - Liberia
The greatest disparity between player and national team in history is without doubt that of George Weah in the Liberia national team. Weah, a Ballon d'Or winner, three-time African Footballer of the Year winner and A.C. Milan Hall of Famer, is widely regarded as the greatest African footballer of all-time, and the only one to win the Ballon d'Or. He played for the likes of Monaco, PSG, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Marseille, blessing all with his direct, pacey and powerful style of play, which saw him even step into the shoes of the great Marco Van Basten at AC Milan.
At international level, never has a country relied so greatly on a single player as Liberia did with George Weah. He played, managed and even sponsored the national team, who required as much support both on and off the field as they could get. He is not only the countries greatest ever footballer, most people would do well to even name another footballer who hailed from Liberia. Almost their entire squad both during Weah's career and today play domestically in Liberia, and the country has never qualified for a World Cup or made it past the first round of the African Cup of Nations.
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