Remember when all the World Cup rosters were announced? Several players were omitted for a multitude of reasons. Raúl, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ronaldinho, Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso, Alexandre Pato, Samir Nasri, Anderson, Theo Walcott, Adam Johnson, João Moutinho and Karim Benzema are just a few of the big names that were excluded from their national teams last summer.
Whether their absence from the World Cup was the right choice is a debate for another time, but the big question is how have these players bounced back from missing the tournament of tournaments. Some players have become more motivated and are on a mission to become the best. Others have gradually dipped in form or on their last legs before they wind down their careers.
Call it a wake up call or call it additional motivation, but players like Nasri, Walcott, Pato and Moutinho have benefited this season from the summer break and have become better players for it.
Who knows what was really going on in Raymond Domenech’s mind when Nasri was passed on for the World Cup?
Rumors had surfaced that he did not get along with some of the veterans.
Legend has it that there was a bus incident where Nasri would not give up his seat for Thierry Henry and that created dissension between the old and new generation.
Regardless of why he was kept off the national team, his form at Arsenal this year has been very impressive.
With Cesc Fàbregas missing several games this year, Nasri has been able to handle multiple roles.
Not only has he been an effective playmaker, he has also been quite a threat on either flank in Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 formation.
After nearly 30 games in all competitions this season, the Frenchman has scored 14 times which has already eclipsed every other seasonal goal tally.
In addition to his scoring ability, he has been integral in setting up many important goals for the Gunners.
If this keeps up, Nasri will definitely be a top ten midfielder.
Laurent Blanc, since becoming the new manager for France, has already included the midfielder in recent friendlies.
When Walcott made the English squad for the 2006 World Cup, he was selected based on his long term potential and had zero games under his belt in the EPL.
Between 2006 and 2010, he was marred with inconsistency and injuries.
The only bright spot was his hat-trick against Croatia in an early World Cup Qualifier.
After that game, Walcott was unimpressive as he was unable to find any sort of groove at the club level. Depending on whom you ask, the then 20-year-old was unsurprisingly left off the World Cup squad, despite featuring in several friendlies leading up to the tournament.
The first reaction by many Arsenal supporters was not so much disappointment, but the sentiment that Walcott could use the summer to fully recover from his various injuries and get his head on straight after going back and forth between the sub-21’s and senior national team and his club duties.
So far this season, he has come back as a more mature and stronger winger.
His finishing ability is more consistent and outside of his one injury he had earlier this season, he has been fit enough to play consistently and his form has followed.
All it took was a string of playing regularly to show the world what he is really made of.
Barring any major injury, expect to see the speedy winger get involved in more games for both club and country.
When you score a goal in your debut game for the Brazil national team at just 18-years of age, you are pretty much on top of the world.
That is exactly how Pato began his international career.
Unfortunately, Pato was not a fit in the Dunga system.
Rumors about Pato’s attitude and his disappointing performance in the 2008 Olympics basically sealed his fate, which was evidenced when he had no impact during the Confederations Cup and in several qualifiers.
As time passed, players like Luis Fabiano and Nilmar Da Silva stepped up and made the most of their opportunities and earned a regular place in Dunga’s lineup.
Pato, on the other hand, had a decent strike rate for AC Milan, but could not replicate any sort of form in the yellow shirt. Plus, his season ending injury at the club level made Dunga’s decision to keep him away from South Africa very easy.
Like Walcott and Nasri, the summer vacation from football proved to be the best thing that happened to the Brazilian.
Under new coach Mano Menezes, Pato has featured and scored in three matches.
His form at Milan has been very impressive, as he has scored 10 goals in 17 matches thus far.
Looks like the reality check from Dunga served its purpose.
The Pato we will see in the Copa América will be far more different than the version we saw in 2008 and 2009.
One player, who is not mainstream, that was kept off his national team is João Moutinho.
After the 2006 World Cup, Moutinho was a regular for Portugal and featured in all four games during the 2008 UEFA European Championships.
At the club level for Sporting Lisbon, Moutinho became somewhat of a problem child and did everything possible to get out of his contract.
At one point, Sporting Chairman, José Eduardo Bettencourt, referred to him as a “rotten apple” and called his conduct “deporable.”
Perhaps it was his off-field antics during the 2009-10 season that kept him off the national team before the World Cup (although he was a reserve prior to the World Cup – very disappointing for someone who played in every game in the Euro’s just two years earlier).
For the 2010-11 season, Moutinho was shipped off to FC Porto, where he is an integral part to one of the top teams in Europe this year.
Because of players like Moutinho and Fernando Belluschi, Porto’s midfield has been one of the strongest in all of Europe.
As a result of his strong performances for Porto thus far, Moutinho has been a regular part of the Portuguese squad for the 2012 Euro Qualifiers. L
ooks like Moutinho will be a key player to Portugal’s midfield in the future.
ONE LAST CHANCE
Even though time may not be on their side, there is still an opportunity for these players to play in at least one international tournament before it is too late.
Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso
In what can be considered a crime in football, Diego Maradona kept both Zanetti and Cambiasso from playing in South Africa, despite leading Inter Milan to the Champion’s League glory.
Since Maradona was ousted, Sergio Batista has decided to use both players for the Albiceleste in preparation for the 2011 Copa América.
While neither player has come of age since their World Cup absence, both are still vital to both club and country.
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Where can we even start with one of the top strikers of the past decade?
Several signs pointed in his favor for going to South Africa, but the final decision was made by Bert van Marwijk to rely on Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar as the two main strikers.
Could van Nistelrooy have made a difference against Spain?
Who knows, but since van Persie went down with injury early on in the 2010-11 season, van Marwijk recalled van Nistelrooy for Euro qualifiers and it appears that the veteran will stick around as van Marwijk was quoted as saying that "I still see van Nistelrooy as a player who can be of value to the team in 2012."
Hopefully, legendary striker can ride off into the sunset by playing in the Euro 2012. The odds could be in his favor as van Persie is injury prone.
A quality striker for the past several years, Bent was omitted from both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
His name has always been atop of lists of strikers who are constantly overlooked for the international stage.
Hopefully, the next four years will belong to Bent as he is in a good position to earn a spot for the Euro Championships.
PLENTY TO OFFER
These absentees from the last World Cup will be around for several years to come
A recent injury has knocked him out of the picture for the next few months, but the winger has shown he can offer plenty for both Manchester City and England by making the scorer’s sheet two times in two Euro qualifiers in the fall of 2010.
The 2010 World Cup may have been too soon for the Eastlands star, but he will be in the national team picture for years to come.
Was it the sex scandal that kept him off the World Cup roster or was it his dip in form since leaving Lyon two seasons ago?
Nevertheless, his goal-game ratio under Laurent Blanc has been quite impressive.
What Benzema has in his favor is the lack of world-class strikers in the French system. What is not in his favor is his club form week in and week out for Real Madrid.
Manager José Mourinho has recently brought Emmanuel Adebayor as added depth up front, so Benzema needs to get his form in check otherwise he will just be another overpaid striker with no focus.
At one point, he was supposed to be the next Ronaldinho, but instead he got lost in the shuffle at Manchester United and has not played in a real international tournament since the 2008 Olympics (2007 Copa América, if you are counting official FIFA tournaments).
Fast forward to the present day, Anderson has been able to find form with the Red Devils and was rewarded with a new contract through 2015.
As a result of this regained form, Man Menezes called up Anderson for the upcoming friendly against France.
It is not too late for the 22-year-old to fulfill the hype that he generated when he played for Grêmio and Porto.
Giuseppi Rossi, Mario Balotelli and Davide Santon
Both Italian strikers were kept off the World Cup team because of bad timing.
In Rossi’s case, his form heading into the World Cup was not up to standard while Balotelli’s timing involved being the main distraction to Inter Milan’s amazing 2009-10 season.
As for Davide Santon, his absence was due to injury and lack of appearances for Inter, but he will be around for many years to come.
Since the World Cup, all three have earned caps for Italy and will continue to do so as they find a way to make Italian football enjoyable once again.
At this point in their careers, it is all about nostalgia.
When their name comes up, most people will respond, “Remember when....”. That is how you know their time is coming to an end.
For all Raúl has done throughout his career, it is almost a shame that it was not even a topic of discussion that he be included in Spain’s national team’s plans since 2006.
Now that he is not even playing for Real Madrid these days, he is still trucking along in the Bundesliga for FC Schalke 04.
At this point in his career, do not expect anything more than a few more goals from him at the Champion’s League level.
Ever since winning the Champion’s League title in 2006, everyone has been hoping to see the Ronaldinho who won the player of the year in 2004 and 2005.
It did not happen in 2007 when Brazil won the Copa América without him and Kaká.
It certainly did not happen during the Olympics when Ronnie was partying in the Olympic Village instead of focusing on the gold.
During the World Cup Qualifiers, he was ineffective, to say the least.
Yet, the fans were still hoping he would find his old self in South Africa.
When that was not even a possibility, all were hoping he could find a new motivation with Mano Menezes as the new manager. Even though he earned one cap against Argentina, it is highly unlikely that he will have a long-term role with the national team.
There are literally a dozen other midfielders and attackers who have more potential than Ronaldinho for the Seleção. Now that he is back in Brazil playing for Flamengo, Ronnie’s best purpose will be to sell out every stadium in Brazil and help improve sales of jerseys.
Even though all these players did not have a role in the 2010 World Cup, the future looks bright for many of these players, while Father Time is looming over the shoulders of several others here.