Ander Herrera and 20 of the Best Uncapped Players in the World Right Now
After the all-consuming nature of this summer's World Cup, it is easy to forget that gaining international recognition is no foregone conclusion, even for some of the best players to ever play the game.
Steve Bruce, for example, famously never gained an England cap during his illustrious career—one that saw him captain Manchester United to a number of league and cup successes. You need to do more to impress the likes of Graham Taylor, evidently.
In the modern game, however, where international matches (especially meaningless ones) are more frequent and coaches like to call on an ever-growing cast of players in the search for one that might contribute in a tournament environment, it seems it is only ever a matter of time before a promising young player is given his first call-up. But some are still waiting for that moment.
This could have been a list of 20 Spanish players, but for variety's sake we tried to look at players from a few different nations. Click on for some of the game's uncapped wonders.
At 24, it is interesting to wonder how many international caps Ander Herrera would already have if he represented any country other than Spain. As it is, with the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta long occupying his favoured midfield spot, Herrera is still waiting for his chance at the very highest level.
In that regard, he might not have to wait too much longer. With a changing of the guard seemingly occurring in the Spanish setup, some good performances for Manchester United will surely earn Herrera a call-up to the international side and grant him the chance to show what he can do in a Spanish shirt.
An injury will disrupt his start to the new season, but Alvaro Morata will surely get a Spain call-up before too long.
Spain's search for a viable starting striker has been going on for some time now, with the integration of Diego Costa not (so far) providing the solution everyone hoped for. Morata, just 21, is still very young, but with his combination of size, touch and athleticism it is not hard to see why many believe he could be a great long-term option.
Having moved to Juventus in the summer in search of regular first-team opportunities, the onus is now on the youngster to prove his worth. Ousting Fernando Llorente—another target man who has flitted in and out of the Spain setup—from the Italian side's starting XI would go a long way to earning him a shot at the international scene.
At 22, Roberto Firmino still has plenty of time on his side—although one wonders if he will have to join a bigger club than Hoffenheim before he is to earn the attentions of the Brazilian national team.
Having left his home country for Germany as a 19-year-old, he is something of an unknown quantity in Brazil, but that could change soon. After winning the Bundesliga "Breakthrough of the Season" award last term, Firmino has cemented a reputation as one of the finest young attacking midfielders in the European game.
If a big side comes in for him, that will surely serve as a precursor to a Selecao call-up.
It can be significantly harder for goalkeepers to earn international recognition—especially when you have an all-time great like Gianluigi Buffon between the sticks. But Buffon's Italy career is winding to a close, and the battle to become his successor as No. 1 is already beginning.
Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu is the current deputy, while Mattia Perin went to the World Cup as the (uncapped) third choice. He will surely hope to receive a first cap before too long—although, with the likes of Antonio Mirante and Simone Scuffet likely to be pressing their cases, he still has a lot of work to do.
Once something of a problem position for Spain, now they appear to have a wealth of left-backs to choose from as they build towards a new future.
Bayern Munich's decision to sign Juan Bernat from Valencia this summer shows the esteem in which the youngster is held in the world game. Although he still has to establish himself with the German champions before he can think about an international call-up, the 21-year-old's rampaging style makes him a strong candidate for La Furia Roja before too long.
One of the star performers in Benfica's run to victory in pretty much every competition they entered last season (bar the European ones, memorably), Siqueira will hope a summer move to Atletico Madrid will enhance his chances of earning a call-up for the Brazil squad.
At 28, Siqueira's difficulties in that regard are underlined by the fortunes of the man he is replacing for Atletico—Filipe Luis, who has earned just four caps for the Selecao despite establishing himself as one of the top left-backs in Europe a couple of seasons ago.
The same age as Filipe, and with Marcelo already established at international level, Siqueira may have to wait in line for his chance to impress. But, having improved rapidly in recent seasons, a solid campaign for Atletico will surely do his chances little harm.
After sealing his move to Arsenal, surely it is only a matter of time before Calum Chambers is drafted into the England squad. This is just how things have worked in recent times: Talented young player + move to top-four club = inevitable England senior call-up.
Some might suggest there are others—his former Southampton team-mate Nathaniel Clyne, for example, or Crystal Palace's Joel Ward—who deserve recognition more immediately, but it seems likely Roy Hodgson will back Arsene Wenger's judgement and bring Chambers into his squad very soon. With the right-back position something of an issue for England, Hodgson would love to find a long-term successor for Glen Johnson.
Another young Spaniard hampered by the sheer depth and breadth of talent available to his national team, Illarramendi is surely a shoo-in for a Spain call-up before too long—as long as he manages to establish himself in the Real Madrid midfield.
That will mean usurping Xabi Alonso, however—no easy task.
Getting into Germany's midfield is a particularly hard ask at the moment but, after earning comparisons with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Ballack, Emre Can might just have the all-round talents to do it.
Moving to a new club—and, more importantly, a new country—can have an unpredictable impact on a player's career, so it remains to be seen how the Bayern Munich academy graduate gets on this season at Liverpool. But, if his development continues as anticipated, Joachim Low will surely draft him into the national team squad for a closer look sooner rather than later.
It's not hard to see why Jose Fonte has not received a Portugal call-up in his career—on paper, Pepe and Bruno Alves form a formidable defensive partnership—but after the abysmal display at this summer's World Cup, it is not unfair to wonder if he might have added something to their side.
The 30-year-old has been something of a late bloomer, establishing himself alongside Dejan Lovren as a solid Premier League defender in Southampton's stellar 2013-14 campaign.
His brother, 24-year-old forward Rui, was always the one tipped for stardom—but perhaps it is Jose who will be the first of the two brothers to pull on a Portugal shirt.
Juan Manuel Iturbe
If you read Iturbe's name and immediately did a double-take, then congratulations, have yourself a gold star. Iturbe is unique on this list—he is the only player who does actually have an international cap.
The 21-year-old made one appearance for the country of his childhood, Paraguay, in 2009—before subsequently using a one-time-only FIFA exemption to transfer his allegiance to Argentina (the country of his birth and family). However, he is yet to start an international game for the Albiceleste, instead working his way through the various age groups.
Having moved to Roma in the summer, Iturbe's career seems primed to lift off over the next few seasons, and he will hope that is enough to earn international recognition. Argentina is not exactly a country short of attacking stars, but Iturbe looks likely to earn his first (second) cap before too long.
Luc Castaignos' raw talent is in little doubt, what remains something of a question is his attitude.
After a torrid spell at Inter Milan, Castaignos has re-established himself somewhat at Twente by scoring goals in the Eredivisie—although it is a division that is often perceived as being an easy one to score goals in.
Nevertheless, the 21-year-old's form earned him a call into Louis van Gaal's provisional squad for the World Cup, although he was never likely to make the final 23-man selection. The Dutch will need to find successors for Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar eventually. If Castaignos can keep his head on straight, he surely figures to be a strong candidate.
Michy Batshuayi must be looking at what has happened to Divock Origi in the last few months with a certain amount of envy.
When Christian Benteke was ruled out of the World Cup through injury, it was Batshuayi who was considered the favourite to replace the Aston Villa star in Belgium's World Cup squad. Instead, coach Marc Wilmots opted for teenager Divock Origi—a decision that was vindicated when the 19-year-old emerged as one of the surprise stories of the tournament. A move to Liverpool followed, although Origi will remain at Lille for at least another season.
Batshuayi will also be playing in Ligue 1 next season, after completing his own move to Olympique Marseille. The 21-year-old might have the bit between his teeth next season, determined to prove he is every bit as good as the now-vaunted Origi.
It will take a lot to supplant Romelu Lukaku, Origi and a fit-again Benteke in the Belgium squad, but Batshuayi has the talent to do it.
Earning international recognition as a Spanish goalkeeper might be one of the toughest tasks in world football—look how long it took David de Gea to get a call-up, never mind finally make his debut for the national team.
The Manchester United goalkeeper looks set to take over from Iker Casillas and own the No. 1 shirt for a decade to come, making the chances all the more limited for those hoping to challenge him. One of those would surely be Kiko Casilla—the 27-year-old Espanyol goalkeeper who has earned a solid reputation in La Liga for his brave performances.
Casilla will need luck on his side if he is ever to get capped but, with time on his side, he may yet avoid the fate of someone like Andres Palop—a stalwart at club level destined never to get an opening for the national team.
France are not exactly short of prodigiously talented young centre-backs, so Kurt Zouma may have to wait longer than anticipated for his chance. But many respected observers, including Didier Deschamps, anticipate he could be the long-term partner to Raphael Varane at the heart of Les Bleus' defence.
Having moved to Chelsea this summer, Zouma's first task is to find his place in Jose Mourinho's pecking order—something that will not be easy with John Terry and Gary Cahill ahead of him. Nevertheless, exposure to Premier League and Champions League competition should convince Didier Deschamps the former Saint-Etienne captain is ready to make the step up to the international arena.
At 19, Domenico Berardi's future is very much ahead of him. Nevertheless, people are already starting to talk about him as a potential star for Italy.
After 16 league goals on loan at Sassuolo last season, Berardi marked himself out as a slippery striker with a natural eye for goal. Too young and too raw to figure in Cesare Prandelli's thoughts for the summer's World Cup, that may not be the case by the time the 2016 European Championships roll around.
Firstly, however, Berardi needs to establish himself at parent club Juventus. The club have a number of talented young forwards on their books vying to supplant the likes of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente—Berardi has to win those battles before he can think about the national setup.
Another who will need to establish himself with his club side before he can seriously entertain thoughts of international stardom, 23-year-old Roberto Pereyra will nevertheless be firmly on Argentina's radar after making the switch to Juventus this summer.
If the winger can make himself a regular contributor for Massimiliano Allegri's side, a first Albiceleste cap might not be too far away—especially with the Copa America on the horizon.
If you are Real Madrid's first-choice right-back, it is safe to presume you will also be involved for your country. For Dani Carvajal, cementing the former status will doubtless lead him to finally get the nod at the international level.
At 22, the former Bayer Leverkusen player is raw, but he has time on his side and appears to have the support of his manager, Carlo Ancelotti. If he can develop into Real Madrid's preferred full-back, surely he will make the step up for Spain too.
At 29, Graziano Pelle's window for an international career is quickly closing. But players have made their debuts at a later age, and Pelle can make his case by scoring a hatful of goals at English Premier League level.
After two goal-laden seasons at Feyenoord, Pelle will be hard to ignore if he can score at a halfway-similar rate for Southampton. After all, if Dani Osvaldo can get international recognition, why can't he?
Let's finish this list with a salute to Sylvain Distin, who retired from international football last season without ever actually making an appearance for France.
At 36, the Frenchman is coming to the end of a fine Premier League career, but not one that was considered good enough to earn him a call-up for Les Bleus. Perhaps playing in England was held against him, but it is hard to argue he did not deserve at least a chance to show what he could do at international level.
Distin retired from international football in May in brilliant fashion:
"I'm retiring from France team," Distin said on Twitter. "It was a wonderful experience and after a record of #0 cap it's time to say goodbye and focus on my club."
Well played, Sylvain.