Good player, rubbish national team XI

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Well, isn’t it a bloody shame Gareth Bale isn’t English, eh? Isn’t it a bloody shame? He’s just what England need, so why is he wasting his time with Wales?


It’s extraordinary, really, that following his amazing Champions League hattrick against Inter last week, so many people were sighing over the misfortune of Tottenham’s prodigy being born the wrong side of the border and playing for a country that have now slipped out of the top 100.

Obviously the same thing was said, endlessly, about Ryan Giggs, but at least Giggs had previous – he captained England Schoolboys. Sure, he wasn’t even eligible to play for the full England team, but the frustration of mad Englishmen at least had some grounding.

Bale, however, is not only ineligible for England, but made his full Welsh debut at the age of 16 (even providing an assist for Rob Earnshaw).

He has 27 senior caps to his name, at the age of just 21. Sorry, Anglicans, but it’s a bit late to complain. If you really want to repatriate him, invade – you’re quite good at it.

Anyway, Welsh bitterness over (for now): Bale has got us thinking about other ‘wasted talents’; great players who through no fault of their own never made it to the world’s biggest stage, or even close, by virtue of representing a country that just isn’t that good at football.

We’ve thought about it so much, indeed, that we’ve put together a ‘Good player, rubbish national team’ XI, complete with subs, in a not-at-all-crowbarred-in 3-4-3 formation.

Think of it as our way of putting off any real work.

GOALKEEPER: Craig Forrest (Canada)

An Ipswich Town hero, Forrest played for some 12 years at Portman Road, and this was back in the days when foreigners in football were looked upon with surprise through sideways glances.

But the Tractor Boys’ Canadian keeper was no mug between the sticks, fully earning his place in the team and the elite 13 foreign players to feature in the opening weekend of the Premier League in 1992, officially the beginning of football history.

Six foot five inches and with the ability to organise a defence better than General Patton, he was almost snapped up by Chelsea boss Ruud Gullit at the age of 30, but the move was blocked by an Ipswich board who ended up selling him months later to West Ham. Explain that one.

But at international level, Forrest was never going to have much of a chance to impress, having been born in British Columbia.

In 56 appearances, his greatest achievement was leading Canada to the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2000 and taking the tournament’s Most Valuable Player prize.

Still, better than shipping nine at Old Trafford.

CENTRE-BACK: Sami Hyypia (Finland)

Another six foot five incher, Hyypia is now enjoying something of a renaissance in Germany, regularly impressing for Bayern Leverkusen. Some bloggers have even said the 37-year-old is one of the best players in the Bundesliga, which probably says more about the league than Hyypia himself.

But in 10 years at Liverpool, Hyypia won the Champions League, the UEFA Cup and four domestic titles. The giant Finn was a rock in defence, and his influence in the Reds’ Champions League-winning season shouldn’t be underestimated.

With that in mind, Hyypia himself probably isn’t that bothered never to have hit the headlines playing for a nation ranked 86th in the world. And, as captain, he still has a chance to overtake Jari Litmanen’s record-breaking 136 caps for Finland – if he can play another 32 matches himself. His chances may have just been hampered by an ankle ligament tear picked up on Saturday.


CENTRE-BACK: Christopher Samba (Republic of the Congo)

It feels a bit disingenuous having massive lump Samba in a team with Georges Best and Weah, but there’s no denying he’s good at what he does.

Despite being born in France, Samba represents the Congolese team, perhaps in the knowledge he’d get more football that way. Given the way the French are at the moment, that may have been a little rash.

Incidentally, while the Republic of the Congo can boast Christopher Samba, the completely different country Democratic Republic of the Congo – formerly Zaire, famous for their player Ilunga Mwepu thumping away a Brazilian free-kick in 1974 – have such useful players as Lomana LuaLua, Herita Ilunga, Youssuf Mulumbu and Shabani Nonda, formerly of Samba’s club Blackburn but now without a club. Long sentence, that. Anyway, DR Congo are somehow worse: ranked 124th to the Republic of Congo’s 115th. How odd.

CENTRE-BACK: Nolberto Solano (Peru)

OK, OK, bear with me here: Nobby Solano clearly isn’t a centre back. But he can play as a full-back, so if he just tucks in a little more... look, I never said this team was going to win any matches.

But what Solano lacks in centre-back skills, he makes up for in quality and rubbishness of national team. A self-confessed “adopted Geordie”, he plays the trumpet in salsa band The Geordie Latinos – but that doesn’t stop the Hull player from hailing from Peru, a country that hasn’t qualified for the World Cup since Solano was seven.

The Peruvian retired from international football just shy of 100 caps, but has sworn he will lead his country to the World Cup one day as a manager. Yeah, good luck with that.

RIGHT WING: Ruel Fox (Montserrat)

A Norwich and Spurs legend – for some of us, at any rate – Ruel Fox hails from the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat, population 4,655 (significantly reduced after a volcano wiped out half the island). They are officially the joint-worst team in the world, and were recently thumped in the Caribbean Championships 7-0, 5-0 and 4-0 by St Vincent, Barbados and St Kitts respectively.

To read a feature on the Montserratian football team and how they escaped a volcano to train in North London, buy the December issue of FourFourTwo, out on October 30.

CENTRE-MID: Georgi Kinkladze (Georgia)

Georgia aren’t famous for much as a nation, despite their recent efforts to gain some international recognition by chancing their arm and trying to invade Russia…

But the minnows of Eastern Europe did produce something a bit special in Georgi Kinkladze, an excellent footballer for Manchester City, among others.

He was famed for never attempting a tackle, but when City bought him for £2 million, he had scored 41 goals in 65 appearances for Dinamo Tbilisi, so you can probably forgive him that.

A shame, then, that he came from a country not known for its football, although he did score twice against Wales, once in a 5-0 thrashing and once with an outrageous chip over Neville Southall. Git.

CENTRE-MID: Aliaksandr Hleb (Belarus)

Completing an eastern European pairing in a not-at-all-bothered-about-defending central midfield is the man we all prefer to call Alexander Hleb, as opposed to the ridiculous effort in his mother tongue.

It’s odd to see Hleb turning out for Birmingham, just two years after singing for Barcelona for €17 million. At Arsenal, he was often brilliant.

Why the dramatic decline in stature of clubs? Maybe it’s because, good player though he obviously is, Hleb doesn’t have what it takes to be at the Best Club In The WorldTM. Maybe it’s because his first name is practically unspellable.

Maybe it’s because he’s from Belarus.

LEFT WING: Ryan Giggs (Wales)

The original Welsh wonder on the left flank, Giggs wooed suitors from across the globe who failed to realise a) that he was Welsh, and b) that he wasn’t going to leave Manchester United.

Still important to the Red Devils in his 21st season, Giggs is now forever to be known as The Old Gareth Bale.

CENTRE FORWARD: Peter Ndlovu (Zimbabwe)

You may argue Bruce Grobbelaar was a better Zimbabwean player. You may argue Benjani Mwaruwari is a better Zimbabwean striker (44 caps, 29 goals). But Peter Ndlovu, who retired with exactly 100 international appearances and 38 goals to his name, has a perfectly round head and a truly fantastic name. It rivals Ugochuku Ehiogu in the ‘Surely that’s not how you pronounce it’ stakes.

And that’s enough for me.

CENTRE FORWARD: George Best (Northern Ireland)

Northern Ireland have, in fairness, qualified for three World Cups. And in reaching the quarter-finals in 1958, they’ve progressed further than Scotland ever have.

But their relative success never seemed to coincide with Best’s glory years. Their qualification in 1982 came when Best was 36: old, slow and overpowered by drink. He wasn’t picked.

Unbelievably, there were those who complained Best should have been playing for England, just as people do now about Gareth Bale. It was never an option. Best scored nine international goals – a third of those coming in one game against Cyprus – but never appeared on the world’s biggest stage.

He did once nutmeg Johan Cruyff, though.

CENTRE FORWARD: George Weah (Liberia) (c)

Honorary captain for the yawning chasm between his ability and that of his country, George Weah was one of the greatest strikers the game has ever seen.

People often forget how he was once one of the best players in the world, perhaps because instead of playing in World Cups, European Championships and the Copa America, he was single-handedly dragging Liberia to occasionally respectable results against infinitely better teams.

Liberia have qualified for only two African Nations Cups, both when Weah was playing, either for AC Milan or Al-Jazira, the Abu Dhabi outfit at which he scored 13 goals in eight games.

Weah has played for Liberia, coached Liberia and sponsored Liberia with his own money, as well as running in the 2005 national elections. And still they’re absolutely rubbish.


Mart Poom (Estonia)

Twenty-two years in the game; 120 international caps; one Champions League runners-up medal. And still most people’s reaction to hearing his name is “Who?”

Jason Roberts (Grenada)

Recently rumoured to be on his way to the Sven revolution at Leicester City, Roberts is a more than useful striker playing for a less than useless national team.

Eidur Gudjohnsen (Iceland)

See Alexander Hleb, but replace Arsenal for Chelsea, Belarus for Iceland and Birmingam for Stoke...

Marians Pahars (Latvia)

Marians – not Marian – Pahars was, in his younger days, known as ‘the Latvian Michael Owen’. He did not have much competition.

Shaun Goater (Bermuda)

Pushing strongly for a place in the starting line-up (with the other four strikers on this five-sub bench), the Goat gobbled up 32 goals in 36 games for Bermuda across a 17-year career. He’s a hero there, and is playing there now for Bermuda Hogges. So that’s the Goat at the Hogs for you.

A good way to end, perhaps.