This summer’s World Cup is threatening to become famous for who isn’t there rather than who is.
With tournament stalwarts Italy, Chile, Holland and the USA among those to have missed out on qualification, there were already a number of high-profile players getting a summer off.
And while the recent deluge of squad news has only intensified our excitement for the tournament, it’s been impossible to ignore some of the players who have failed to make their country’s squad.
Yes, for some players the heartache comes before the tournament even begins.
Dreams are shattered every four years by the fact that a manager can only bring 23 players with him to the tournament. This year has proved no different and we have decided to compile the best XI of players who have been snubbed.
Right, let’s get on with it then.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart (England)
Hart started nine of England’s ten qualifiers but was left out of the final squad by Gareth Southgate in what was probably the manager’s toughest decision.
While some will argue that Jack Wilshere should have been included because the Arsenal midfielder offers “something different”, leaving out a player of Hart’s experience was a bold move by Southgate.
However, given his underwhelming form at West Ham United this season and the emergence of Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope, it’s tough to argue with Southgate’s final decision. That didn’t stop Hart, of course.
Right-back: Héctor Bellérin (Spain)
Not one of the more surprising snubs, considering that Bellerín did not feature prominently throughout qualifying, but a snub nonetheless.
Spain head coach Julen Lopetegui had a hugely impressive selection of players to whittle down to 23 and Bellerín, who endured an inconsistent campaign with Arsenal, was one of several Premier League players to miss the La Roja cut.
Sergi Roberto of Barcelona is another notable omission from Spain’s defensive unit.
Centre-back: Aymeric Laporte (France)
Laporte’s form early in the season was enough to convince Manchester City to fork out a club-record £57million for his services, but he was one of a striking cohort to be overlooked by Didier Deschamps.
Incredibly considering his price tag, Laporte – who turns 24 on May 27 – has never earned a senior cap for France. With that, he can still declare for Spain, which he may want to consider if Deschamps remains in charge of Les Bleus.
Laporte started regularly during City’s canter to Premier League glory but it was not enough to convince the France boss to include the former Athletic Bilbao centre-half. Deschamps has strong options at the back, though, including Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti.
Centre-back: David Luiz (Brazil)
Luiz will not be afforded the opportunity to avenge that harrowing 7-1 semi-final defeat to Germany in 2014. Having fallen out of favour at Chelsea under Antonio Conte, Luiz’s World Cup career may be over considering he will be 35 by the time Qatar 2022 rolls around.
The former Paris Saint-Germain defender has 56 caps to his name but he has been dropped in favour of the lesser-known Pedro Geromel, whose form with Gremio convinced Brazil coach Tite of his credentials.
Left-back: Alex Sandro (Brazil)
Another high-profile Brazilian casualty, Sandro’s world has been turned upside down in the last 12 months. In 2017, the Juventus left-back was being linked with a big-money move to Chelsea and Manchester United. A year later, the 27-year-old is being forced to face some hard truths having been left out of Brazil’s 23-man panel.
Sandro may yet bag a lucrative move to the Premier League, but failing to make his country’s World Cup squad will come as a crushing blow.
Midfield: Radja Nainggolan (Belgium)
Arguably the biggest and most shocking snub of all was Belgium boss Roberto Martínez deciding that he did not require Nainggolan’s services.
Ever-present in the Roma starting line-up, Nainggolan missed out as Martínez instead opted for the comparatively inexperienced Leander Dendoncker.
Martínez explained that Nainggolan’s omission was down to “tactical reasons”. Nobody bought that. Neither did Nainggolan, who promptly announced his retirement from international football at the age of 30 upon confirmation of his absence from the Red Devils squad.
Midfield: Adrien Rabiot (France)
The graceful midfield operator was another who failed to sufficiently wow Deschamps. However, unlike the others who didn’t make France cut, Rabiot significantly decreased the chances of him making future squads under the current boss by refusing a place on the standby list.
Deschamps said the 23-year-old had made a “huge mistake” and that he hoped Rabiot would use the experience to “grow up”. Ouch.
Having formed a strong partnership with Marco Verratti in the PSG midfield this season, Rabiot had reason to question his exclusion. Making himself unavailable for call-up should an injury occur was not the way to go about it.
Attacking midfield: Leroy Sané (Germany)
The biggest shock of them all. Joachim Löw stunned the masses when he decided to leave the Manchester City winger out of the German squad, instead opting to go with Julian Brandt.
Coming off the back of his best season to date, Sané looked a guarantee to be heading to Russia this summer. He finished with 25 goal involvements (goals or assists) in the Premier League, ten of which were goals.
Only five attackers averaged more touches in the opposition’s penalty area than the 22-year-old (7.43) and the German international was in the top ten for dribbles completed in the Premier League. He’s a goal threat and a creative dynamo. And he’ll be watching the World Cup at home.
Attacking midfield: Anthony Martial (France)
Manchester United fans would not have enjoyed seeing Martial being left out by Deschamps. The fleet-footed 22-year-old has been heavily linked with a move away from Old Trafford after falling down the pecking order under José Mourinho and, with his World Cup dream in tatters for another four years, many feel he will leave to secure his international future.
In the Premier League this season, Martial ranked in the top ten in big chances created, xA (expected goals assisted) per 90 and expected goal contribution (xG + xA per 90) but it was not enough for him to squeeze his way into a France side already brimming with star quality.
In the end, Deschamps plumped for Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappé and Liverpool transfer target Nabil Fekir. Each of those players have earned their places, though. It’s on Martial now to earn his in the future.
Striker: Mauro Icardi (Argentina)
In terms of goalscoring, Icardi couldn’t have done much more to stake his claim. With 29 goals in 34 Serie A games this season, the Inter Milan striker maintained his status as one of the deadliest finishers in European football, but it was still not enough to earn a spot in Jorge Sampaoli’s Argentina squad.
There is a caveat, of course: Sampaoli is blessed with extraordinary attacking options. While Icardi is out, Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala, Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuaín are in. That’s pretty strong as far as striking quartets go.
Still only 25, Icardi has at least another two World Cups in him, but the fact that he was fresh off his most prolific season in club football would have made it a particularly bitter pill for him to swallow.
Striker: Alexandre Lacazette (France)
Yet another to fall victim to France’s frightening level of talent, Lacazette enjoyed a fine – albeit injury-hit – debut campaign for Arsenal, but it was his former team-mate Giroud who ultimately got in ahead of him.
It’s difficult to displace Giroud anyway. The Chelsea forward offers aerial presence as well as a solid hold-up game but Lacazette can certainly be excused for feeling aggrieved after a respectable haul of 17 goals in 38 appearances during his first season in English football.
Like Martial, though, the 26-year-old will need to take his game to the next level before he can cement his place under Deschamps.
Substitutes: Neto, Sergi Roberto, Cesc Fàbregas, Javi Martínez, Álvaro Morata, Shkodran Mustafi, Fabinho