It always provokes a reaction from fans of national teams whenever their favourite players’ names are excluded from the squad to play in any match or to participate in a major tournament. Every fan is an expert, an Alex Ferguson who can give you a million reasons why player A should have been included in the squad.
In reality, football is a lot more complex than that. Some players might excel in their clubs because of the position they are being played in and, or because of the formation the club manager adopts often. The national team manager might adopt a different type of formation or they might not have vacancy in their squad to fit the player in a position that would fully maximise his potentials and ultimately lead to team success which in effect is the end game.
A lot more factors go into this of course. Some can easily be explained in a press conference and reasons given understood and appreciated if not accepted. Others could however be shrouded in mystery and attempts at explaining why player A has been dropped, for instance, could give rise to more questions being asked. Nicholas Anelka’s omission from various French squads over the years could easily be explained as him not getting on with the National team handlers and also disciplinary issues.
However, Mario Jardel’s sparse invitations to the national team of Brazil between 1994 and 2002 when he was one of the most prolific strikers in Europe left many questions unanswered. At some point, he was the highest goal scorer in Europe for two seasons in a row between 1998 and 2000. Naturally, people came to their own conclusions. Some said ‘his style of play was too European to fit into the South American samba style that Brazil adopted’. Whatever the reasons, it would be reasonable to assume that a Striker of his calibre should have been given more opportunities to represent his country.
Below, I have compiled a list of five notable names of players who were conspicuous by their absence when squad lists were released, furnished with some background information.
These are David Beckham, Romario, Raul, Sunday Oliseh and Roy Keane.
David Beckham of England (2006): Steve McClaren took over as England manager after the departure of beleaguered coach Sven Goran Eriksson in 2006. As he unveiled his first squad for a friendly against Greece on 16 August 2006, David Beckham’s name was conspicuously missing.
McClaren made it clear he was ‘out for change’ and that Beckham – for the moment at least – ‘wasn’t part of the change.’ McClaren hinted he favoured wingers with pace who could run at defenders, move with the ball and cause different kinds of problems.
Beckham would however make a return to the England squad when qualification for Euro 2008 was in jeopardy. It was his sublime cross that in fact picked out Peter Crouch who chested and volleyed to make it 2:2 against Croatia in the final qualifying match at Wembley Stadium on 21 November 2007. He had come in as a substitute for Shaun Wright-Phillips. England would however lose 2:3 and miss out on the tournament with the coach being criticized – among other reasons – for not playing Beckham from the start; he was promptly sacked.
David Beckham’s contributions at Manchester United had marked him out as a future star and he was first called up to the England squad on 1 September 1996 to play against Moldova. He however became somewhat of a public enemy number one when he petulantly got himself sent off against bitter rivals Argentina at the second round of the World cup in France 1998. He was seen kicking Argentine player Simeone while lying on the floor; he was shown his marching orders. England would later lose on penalties with Beckham apparently taking the bulk of the blame from an angry British press and a hurting public.
Time is a great healer and in time, Beckham started to warm his place back into the hearts of the British press and the English public. He started turning out consistent and occasional brilliant performances for both club and country. He played a pivotal role in the Manchester United squad that historically won the treble of the FA cup, Premier League and Champions league in the 1998-99 season. He scored United’s last goal in the last game of that season against Tottenham Hotspurs and also delivered both corner kicks that led to United’s remarkable comeback against Bayern Munich at the Champions league final to win 2:1 after trailing at 0:1 up until 90 minutes.
His redemption for England was complete when his ‘bend it like Beckham’s’ fabulously taken free kick against Greece on 6 October 2001 ensured that the English flag would be flown at the FIFA World Cup in Japan and South Korea 2002. England needed at least a draw in their final group match to qualify for the mundial but were losing 1:2 at Old Trafford Manchester, much to the frustration of their fans. At about 91 minutes, Teddy Sheringham – who had made it 1:1 for England earlier – was judged to have been fouled from outside the 18 yard box. Up stepped Mr. David Beckham who courageously volunteered to take the resulting free-kick and curled it neatly behind the wall into the net. The Greek goalkeeper, Nikopolidis Antonis, was reduced to a mere spectator as he could only watch the ball lodge into the back of the net. The whole stadium erupted in scenes of joy and jubilation that would have been equally felt by fans watching from television screens in Pubs up and down the country and those watching on telly in the comfort of their homes.
His marriage to Victoria Adams of popular British female pop group Spice Girls on 4 July 1999 has created a global brand – via their celebrity lifestyle, public persona, business interests and marriage longevity which is thus far blessed with four children – which has brought immense pride to the nation.
David Beckham is at the twilights of his career and now plays his club football for California outfit LA Galaxy in the United States. He has hinted that he would love to play for team GB (Great Britain) at next year’s summer Olympics to be held in London, England; he would be 37 years old by then. Beckham should temper his ambitions of wanting to win a major tournament with England with the reality that he doesn’t really ‘bend it like Beckham’ as he used to.
Romario (full name: Romario de Souza Faria) of Brazil (1998 and 2002): Named as one of the top 125 greatest living footballers by FIFA, few would forget how Romario inspired Brazil to win the 1994 FIFA world cup in the United States. He scored five goals in that tournament and won the World Cup golden ball.
Despite his immense skills and breathtaking goals, his name would be conspicuously missing from Brazil’s squads to participate in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cup tournaments.
Medical reasons were given for his exclusion from the team to participate at the France ’98 world cup. He had been prolific for Brazil leading up to the tournament. In February 1998, he scored one goal each against Guatemala and El Salvador respectively. He cried in a press conference on 02 June 1998 held in Lesigny, France and fans were visibly upset when talking about the fact he would not be at the mundial. «This is very sad for me, a big disappointment,» he said. «This is a very difficult moment in my life. From now on, I will start to give value to other things. I just want to thank the national team for having given me the chance to become what I am.» He broke down and wept several times before been led away to a standing ovation.
The story went that medical tests revealed he had muscular lesion on the back of his lower leg and that this might – or might not – heal in time for or during the tournament. The decision was taken by the national team handlers for him to be dropped, much to the dismay of vast majority of Brazilians. Brazil would reach the final eventually losing to host France in a one-sided final which ended 3:0.
Indiscipline is thought to be the reason for dropping the 36 year old Romario from the squad that represented Brazil at the 2002 world cup held in Japan and Korea. He had in fact been in consistent form for club and country leading up to the tournament. He netted four goals against Venezuela in a world cup qualifying and had netted three against Venezuela a month earlier in 2000. He had formed a formidable partnership with the legendary Ronaldo. Brazil would in his absence go on to win the tournament, beating a gallant German side 2:0.
Just like four years earlier, Brazilians had been massively disappointed by his exclusion. The coach, Phil Scolari vigorously defended his decision to leave the player out. He maintained that he had faith in the strikers he had selected, that it was him and not 170 million Brazilian fans that was the coach of the National team, and win or lose, he was ready to face the consequences of his decisions.
Romario remains a legend of Brazilian football having won the FIFA World Cup in 1994; the Confederation Cup in 1997; and the Copa America in 1989 and 1997 respectively with the national team. He remains a household name in football circles worldwide. He is into politics these days.
Raul ( full name: Raul Gonzalez): After having scored 23 goals in all competitions for Real Madrid in the 2007 – 2008 season and played a role in qualifying Spain for Euro 2008, one could be forgiven to assume that – injury permitting – Raul would automatically make the squad for the tournament. This assumption would have been misplaced as Raul’s name was conspicuously missing from the final squad.
A lethal striker, Raul scored 44 goals for Spain between 1990 and 2006 and currently holds the record as Spain’s most capped outfield player with about 102 appearances thus far. As talented as he is however, he unfortunately belongs to a generation of Spanish players that were seen as perennial underachievers in major tournaments, often displaying a gap between potentials and performance. For instance, a lot was expected of him and his teammates at the 1998 FIFA world cup in France. They however crashed out of the first round winning only one match. In Euro 2000 co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands, Spain reached the quarter finals but lost 1:2 to World cup champions France with Raul missing a last minute penalty that, if scored, would have forced the match to extra time. Raul along with Fernando Morientes and Joan Capdevila were part of the talented but hapless Spanish squad that failed to progress beyond the group stages at the Euro 2004 tournament held in Portugal.
A new generation of Spanish players have now emerged that have effectively shed the image of the past. This so-called golden generation includes players like Fernando Torres, David Villa, Cesc Fabregas and Xabi Alonso. They have already won the European Championship (Euro 2008) and the FIFA World Cup (South Africa 2010) both tournaments which Raul was eligible but ignored. Loss of form is thought to be the reason he was excluded from the squads to participate in both tournaments.
It would appear the emergence of promising young players like, Alvaro Negredo of Sevilla and Pedro Rodriguez of Barcelona continues to account for Raul’s exclusion from the national team. The likes of Torres and Villa were preferred to him between 2008 and 2010. It is then reasonable to conclude that Luis Aragones and Vicente Del Bosque – two national team Managers who have recently overlooked him – wanted a break from the past, seeking a fresh new perspective and outlook for the Spanish national team, after all, one cannot continue to do the same thing the same way and expect to get a different result.
Raul who to his credit has never been issued a red card in his career thus far presently plays for German club Schalke 04. He remains a prolific striker and has already scored 3 hat- tricks in club he joined less than two years ago. He remains the record goal scorer in the EUFA champions league with 71 goals.
At the age of 34, a return to the Spanish national team is not beyond the realms of possibilities. However, with each passing day and the emergence of young, bright, energetic and talented Spanish strikers, these possibilities appear to become more and more remote.
Sunday Oliseh of Nigeria (2002): Shakira – South American music sensation – said in one of her songs that her ‘hips don’t lie’. Well, Sunday Oliseh’s feet were not lying when his right foot released a ferocious shot from outside the 18 yard box that drilled home a 3:2 lead and victory for Nigeria against Spain at the FIFA World Cup France 1998. Feet as well don’t lie.
Incidentally, that goal would be Oliseh’s last World Cup goal and France 1998 his last World cup appearance for his country. Despite being available for selection to participate at the World cup in 2002 to be held in Japan and South Korea, his name was conspicuously missing when Nigeria’s squad to participate in the tournament was released.
Oliseh had played a pivotal role in qualifying Nigeria for the mundial in 2002. He was solid in his defensive midfield role as his country qualified from a group the included legendary George Weah’s Liberia and bitter West African rivals Ghana. Nigeria amassed 16 points to narrowly edge out Liberia on 15 points. Several big name players including Finidi George and Victor Ikpeba would – along with Oliseh – however be excluded from Nigeria’s World cup squad.
Oliseh had become a darling of Nigerian football, loved and adored at home; well known and respected abroad. He played his first game for the Super Eagles of Nigeria on 24 July 1993 in an African Cup of Nations qualifying match against Ethiopia played Lagos Nigeria. For almost 10 years, he made the defensive midfield position in the national team his private property from where he dictated play and shelled out passes. He was both a creative and a destructive defensive midfielder; creating chances for his team mates with clever short and long range passes on one hand and nipping opponents attacking moves from the bud on the other hand often with neat and timely tackles. He was quite simply a joy to watch.
In 1998, he prematurely retired from international football but was persuaded by pleas from the press, millions of Nigerian fans and the NFA (Nigerian Football Association) to ‘please come back!’ He rescinded and led Nigeria to second place at the African Cup of Nations held jointly by Nigeria and Ghana in 2000.
Indiscipline was the reason given for his exclusion from the squad to participate at the World Cup in Japan and Korea in 2002. It was reported that Oliseh – along with other senior members of the squad including Finidi George – had a dispute with Nigerian football officials which unduly distracted the team from performing well at the African cup of Nations held earlier the same year in Mali. This is thought may have contributed to the team’s overall poor showing at the tournament. They however came third. The dispute was over unpaid allowances and air ticket refunds.
Festus Onigbinde who was appointed coach after the African Cup of Nations immediately dropped Oliseh from the provisional 35 man squad released in preparations for the World Cup. There were signs he might be recalled for the tournament proper but this never happened. He retired from international football soon afterwards and this time, it was for good.
In his absence, the Super Eagles of Nigeria crashed out of the tournament at the first round, losing their first two matches to Argentina and Sweden respectively and played out a rather boring goalless draw against England in their final group match.
Oliseh retired from football in January 2006 and now maintains his own website named http://www.sundayoliseh.tv from where he shares his knowledge of football with the world. He recently commented on Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the African cup of Nations in 2012 hinting that this ‘sends out the wrong signals about Nigeria’s place in African football.’
Roy Keane of Republic of Ireland (2002): Not in a long time had Irish football had a larger than life character like Roy Keane. He had played a pivotal part in the midfield in qualifying Ireland for the FIFA world cup in 2002 but his name was conspicuously missing from the Irish squad to participate in the tournament.
Ireland had qualified for the 2002 mundial quite impressively from a group that included European heavyweights Portugal and The Netherlands. They in fact went through the entire qualifying stage undefeated and only came second behind Portugal by virtue of goals difference. Keane had been solid in the heart of the Irish midfield often with ‘man of the match’ performances. He also scored 3 goals in the qualifying campaign.
He however missed the tournament due to a rift between him and the FAI (Football Association of Ireland). He was disappointed at what he saw as Ireland’s inadequate preparations for the World Cup. He was unhappy about the travel arrangements, the training pitch, training facilities and late arrival of the squad’s training equipments among others. It all came to a head when the coach, Mick McCarthy decided to have a word with Keane – in front of other team members – about a recent interview he had given to The Irish Times expressing his views about the Irish team’s preparations. Keane used that opportunity to tell the coach exactly what he felt about him. He said that Mick McCarthy was ‘a liar,’ that he ‘never rated him as a player and that he did not rate him as a coach’ either. He ranted and swore for about ten minutes as he told the coach to ‘stick it up his bullocks,’ according to sources. One player present had described Keane’s tirade as fierce and earth shattering to its recipient.
The Coach moved swiftly and announced shortly after in a press conference the Keane had been dismissed from the Squad. In his absence, the Republic of Ireland would reach the second round only to lose 3:2 on penalties to Spain after the match had ended 1:1 after extra time.
Roy Keane is a Manchester United and an Irish football legend. He had contributed to Ireland’s fine FIFA World cup participation at USA in 1994 as they reached and were eliminated at the second round by an industrious Dutch side after having impressively beaten tournament favourites – Italy – 1:0 at the group stages. Their second round elimination notwithstanding, they received heroes welcome at the homecoming celebration held at Phoenix Park in Dublin from patriotic and delighted Irish Fans with Irish flags been waved joyfully in the air. Roy Keane was singled out for his immense contributions although he thought there was not much to celebrate about as the team had – in his words -‘achieved little’.
He made about 480 appearances for Manchester for just over a decade. A powerful central/defensive midfielder, his style of play was uncompromising. He would usually approach any match like a soldier going to war. From his position, he was able to dictate the tempo and pattern of play, not shy lounge into tackles to disrupt opponents attacking initiatives and would often beseech his teammates to push forward and never give up. His winning mentality endeared him to his coach Sir Alex Ferguson.
He famously revealed in his autobiography how he deliberately set out to hurt another player – Alf -Inge Haaland – after nursing grudge against him for about four years. «I had waited long enough» he said. «I hit him f******g hard». He received a further fine from the English Football Authorities for his confession.
Roy Keane has taken to a career in coaching after retiring from football in 2006. He currently manages Ipswich Town.
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