Ranking the Top 5 Players to Have Not Played International Football

Ranking the Top 5 Players to Have Not Played International Football

Isaac Darko
updated at February 13, 2024 at 11:54 AM
  • International football is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the sport
  • But there have been a fair number of players who never had the opportunities to represent their countries
  • Sports Brief looks at the top six players who have not experienced international football

Nearly every athlete aspires to don their national colours at least once, and footballers are no exception.

Representing one's country is often considered a pinnacle moment in a footballer's career, with the honour of wearing the national crest on their shirt regarded as unparalleled.

5 players to have not played international football
Donning the national jersey is a privilege not many footballers have had. Photos by Alex Livesey/Eric Verhoeven
Source: Getty Images

However, the reality is that not all footballers fulfil this dream. Despite playing for some of the world's elite clubs, certain players never get the opportunity to represent their country.

Sports Brief examines the top six players who have not experienced international football.

Mikel Arteta

Per Sportskeeda, the present manager of Arsenal emerged from Barcelona's renowned youth academy, La Masia. Arteta's playing career includes stints with notable clubs such as PSG, Rangers, Everton, and Arsenal. Renowned for his technical prowess and exceptional vision, the Spaniard showcased his skills on the field.

Nevertheless, Arteta's prime years, spanning from 2008 to 2012, coincided with Spain's footballing dominance.

During this era, the Spanish midfield featured Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso. Despite Arteta's representation of Spain at various junior levels, securing a spot in the senior team proved elusive, given the formidable competition in the midfield.

Steve Bruce

Steve Bruce stands out as one of the finest players who never had the opportunity to represent his country at the international level.

Per Transfermarkt, the ex-Manchester United defender boasts an impressive record of over 700 league appearances and has clinched 14 titles throughout his career. Teaming up with Gary Pallister, he formed one of the Premier League's most formidable centre-back pairings during the dominant era of the 90s.

Bruce ascended to the role of Manchester United captain, contributing to the team's success with three Premier League titles.

Despite his illustrious career, which included representing England at the youth and B team levels, Bruce never had the chance to don the senior national team jersey.

Paolo di Canio

With over 500 league appearances and a goal tally exceeding 100, Paolo di Canio has left an indelible mark on the footballing landscape.

Having played for esteemed clubs like Lazio, Juventus, Napoli, Milan, and Celtic, it is his time with West Ham in the Premier League that stands out as the most memorable. Di Canio boasts numerous accolades, including a UEFA Cup triumph with Juventus in 1993.

Throughout his career, the forward has been a controversial figure. Despite representing Italy at the U-21 level and featuring for the B team, Di Canio never managed to secure a spot in the national team's first eleven.


Gabriel Fernandez Arenas, widely known as Gabi, is hailed as a legend at Atletico Madrid. Beginning his journey in Atleti's youth academy, the midfielder earned his senior team debut at the age of 20.

After a stint with Zaragoza in 2007, Gabi returned to Atletico Madrid in 2011, marking the initiation of a successful chapter in his career. Under the guidance of manager Diego Simeone, Gabi played a crucial role as Atletico Madrid clinched numerous trophies.

Despite his prowess, Gabi faced challenges in representing Spain, akin to Arteta. The national team already boasted a highly successful and world-class midfield, leaving limited opportunities for inclusion.

Paolo Cannavaro

Paolo Cannavaro, the younger sibling of Fabio Cannavaro, enjoyed a nearly two-decade-long career playing for esteemed clubs such as Napoli, Parma, and Sassuolo.

Despite his notable achievements, Paolo did not secure a spot in the Italian senior team, a challenge often attributed to Italy's reputation for producing world-class defenders, with his brother Fabio being a prime example of such excellence.

Nevertheless, Paolo's career was impressive, and he proudly represented Italy at five different youth levels.

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Isaac Darko photo
Isaac Darko
Isaac Darko is a La Liga, Ligue 1 and Bundesliga editor at Sports Brief with a Degree in Journalism and Communications from Ghana Institute of Journalism (2010)