Top class: The band of United players who have been chosen by their countries for the Greatest Show on Earth. Leon Wobschall looks at the roll of honour.
FOR the second successive tournament, Leeds United will not have a playing presence at the greatest footballing show on earth – which starts in under a month’s time in Brazil.
As the competing 32 nations in this summer’s World Cup jamboree busily announce their provisional squads and players on standby this week, most Leeds players are already soaking up some sun on a foreign beach, as they were in the 2010 close season.
It was partly down to bad luck that Leeds didn’t have someone flying the flag for the club in the Rainbow Nation in 2010, with a serious Achilles injury sustained in March 2010 by Patrick Kisnorbo cruelly scuppering his hopes of a cherished place in Australia’s squad in South Africa.
Meanwhile, Max Gradel was overlooked by Ivory Coast selectors, with the Elephants blessed with an embarrassment of attacking riches in their squad including Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Gervinho and Yaya Toure.
In terms of the present-day scenario, the paucity of Leeds’ presence is a rewind to the late seventies, eighties and early nineties, when just one player, Frank Gray, represented the club in a 12-year spell spanning four World Cups from 1978-90.
Any fans seeking evidence of golden eras should think back to the World Cup in Korea and Japan in 2002 when Leeds had eight representatives in the competition, including four for England.
Four years later in Germany, two players on the books at Elland Road were among the names in their country’s respective World Cup squads, with Eddie Lewis in the USA party and Rui Marques picked for Angola.
Marques made two second-half substitutes appearances in the Group D clashes with Mexico in Hanover and Iran in Leipzig, while Lewis started the Stars and Stripes’ Group E encounters with the Czech Republic and Ghana, with the 2-1 reverse to the Africans in Nuremberg on June 22, 2006 being the last time a Leeds player has featured in a World Cup game.
It was all a far cry from 2002 when Leeds’ possessed four players in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England squad, only Arsenal and Manchester United had as many, with the quartet being Danny Mills, Rio Ferdinand, Nigel Martyn and Robbie Fowler.
Mills and Ferdinand were among nine England players who started all five matches before bowing out to Brazil in the last eight in Shizuoka with Fowler coming on at half-time in the 3-0 last-16 win over Denmark. Martyn was an unused sub in all the games.
That World Cup was also noteworthy for United for another reason with Robbie Keane’s last-gasp penalty for the Republic of Ireland in 1-1 second-round draw with Spain on June 16, 2002 being the last time a Whites player netted at the World Cup.
Club mates Ian Harte and Gary Kelly accompanied Keane to the far east with Ireland, with Leeds’ eighth representative being South African captain Lucas Radebe, who also scored at the tournament in the 3-2 group loss to Spanish four days before Keane netted against them.
It was United legend Radebe who had the honour of leading Bafana Bafana to their first World Cup four years earlier in France ʼ98, where Leeds’ other representatives were Gunnar Halle, Martin Hiden, Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink and Martyn.
Four years earlier in the US in 1994, none of the home nations qualified with Premier League representation largely restricted to Jack Charlton’s Ireland, whose party included a talented teenager by the name of Kelly, who became Leeds’ first representative at the World Cup since Frank Gray represented Scotland in 1982.
Paired in a group of death at Espana ’82 along with red-hot favourites Brazil and the Soviet Union, the Scots, managed by ex-Whites manager Jock Stein, were eliminated on goal difference for the third successive World Cup.
Gray played all three group matches for the Scots, with the games staged in Malaga and Seville, an accomplishment that four of his club mates and compatriots managed when the finals were held in Germany eight years earlier.
United – who had no representatives in Ally MacLeod’s squad in Argentina in 1978 – had a five-strong contingent in 1974, with captain Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Joe Jordan and goalkeeper David Harvey playing in all three matches against Zaire, Brazil and Yugoslavia.
The fifth White being Gordon McQueen, but he didn’t play through injury, despite being in Willie Ormond’s squad.
The first half of 1974 was a time when Leeds were at the top of the footballing tree, exemplified by the fact that their number of players in the Scottish squad was higher than the team who were then kings north of the border in Celtic, who had four.
It was a case of Leeds United 2 Zaire 0 with Jordan and Lorimer netting in the 2-0 victory in the opening game against the African minnows in Dortmund ahead of a 0-0 draw against Brazil in Frankfurt.
Jordan also netted a late leveller in the 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia, also in Frankfurt, but the Scots bowed out.
Along with then champions Everton, Leeds were the only clubs to possess four players in England’s World Cup squad of 1970, with their representatives in Mexico being Terry Cooper, Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter and Allan Clarke – who netted the only goal in the 1-0 group win over Czechoslovakia in Guadalajara.
Charlton had his joyous moment at Wembley on that never-to-be-forgotten day in 1966, with Hunter a member of Sir Alf Ramsey’s squad and one of 11 ex-players and staff awarded a World Cup winners medal in 2009.
This followed governing body Fifa’s decision to give medals to every non-playing squad and staff member from every World Cup-winning country from 1930 to 1974.