Football may be a team sport, but it still features an enormous superstar culture. Every four years, the next generation of players gets the chance to announce themselves on the biggest stage in the sport.
In contrast, the players who miss out are doomed to something of an incomplete legacy, left without the opportunity to prove themselves under the unique pressure playing at the Finals provides.
For England, it will be their loyal-serving goalkeeper Joe Hart, who is reportedly set to miss out of Gareth Southgate’s 23-man squad for the FIFA World Cup 2018, to be held in Russia from June 14. Here’s a list of some other major absentees from the competition this year.
Christian Pulisic (USA)
The 19-year-old American has burst into the spotlight at Borussia Dortmund, and looks to be the most promising prospect from the US in recent memory. In April 2016, he became the youngest foreigner to score a goal in the Bundesliga, and then in May he became the youngest player to score a goal for the United States. US couldn’t make it to the World Cup after losing their CONCACAF qualifiers under former manager Jurgen Klinnsman.
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
The Flying Dutchman, one of the most exhilarating players in the world in the last fifteen years, will be sorely missed at the Finals after a lackluster Dutch team failed to qualify. After successful spells at Chelsea and Real Madrid, he has spent the last nine seasons of his career at Bayern Munich, winning seven Bundesligas and a Champions League. He was an integral part of the Dutch team which finished second in 2010 and third in 2014.
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
At 40, Buffon remains one of the top goalkeepers in the world, retaining his starting spot at his beloved Juventus and the Italian National Team. The runner-up for the Balon d’Or in 2006, Buffon has kept for Italy since 1997, earning 176 international caps in the process. He has been part of five World Cups, including a victorious campaign in 2006, when he successfully held his nerve to lead the Azzuri over the line in a penalty shootout.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
The Manchester United forward will unfortunately miss out on the World Cup after the South American nation failed to qualify in a tough group. Sanchez established himself as a world-class talent at Arsenal, where he won the FA Cup twice, recording a staggering 30 goals and 14 assists in the 2016-17 season. With 39 goals, he is his country’s all-time leading goalscorer. He had led them to honours at the 2015 Copa America as he scored the winning penalty in the final against Argentina.
Gareth Bale (Wales)
Staggeringly athletic and explosive, Gareth Bale failed to drag his underdog Wales team to the Finals.. Even as his career has been dogged by injuries, since a then world-record €100 million transfer to Real Madrid, he has still played an integral part in three winning Champions League campaigns, in addition to a memorable solo goal in the Copa del Rey final in 2014.
Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang (Gabon)
Although he could have qualified to play for any of Italy, France, or Spain, Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang chose to play for his native Gabon, which his father had previously captained. After scoring 141 goals in 213 games for Borussia Dortmund, he recently moved to Arsenal for a club-record deal worth €64 million. Since joining the Premier League, he has displayed his enduring quality, scoring 10 goals in his 13 league outings since his winter transfer.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
The Big Swede has had a testing season after signing another one-year contract with Manchester United. He made a successful recovery from a career-threatening injury, but could not live up to Jose Mourinho’s expectations before jettisoning off for LA Galaxy in the winter transfer window. And despite an explosive start to his career there, he was controversially ignored for the Swedish team at the Finals.
Arturo Vidal (Chile)
Alexis Sanchez’s compatriot and Bayern Munich midfield talisman is one of the best footballers, doing what he does in his midfield role. But that wasn’t enough for Chile to qualify and his commanding presence will be missed in Russia.