Cristiano Ronaldo now has one of the rarest distinctions in FIFA World Cup history to go alongside his long list of achievements.
With his departure from Manchester United coming before Portugal played their first fixture of the ongoing FIFA World Cup 2022, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner became one of the few players to participate in the tournament as a free agent in its long history.
While many players participating in World Cups are often part of small clubs, it is rare for a player, especially at a professional level, to be not attached to any club during the tournament.
Let’s take a look at some players who were free agents during past FIFA World Cup tournaments.
#4: Craig Moore
Craig Moore was a part of the Australian squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, even though he announced his international retirement two years earlier.
The Australian centre-back had a long career, spending most of his years with the Rangers. After a brief stint in the Premier League with Newcastle United, Moore captained Australia’s A-League side Queensland Roar.
In January 2010, Craig Moore moved to AO Kavala in the Greek Super League, only to leave just two months later. That left him without an attachment to any club during the World Cup.
During the tournament, his impact was limited but featured regularly in the starting XI in their group stage games. He eventually retired from the game after Australia’s early exit that year.
#3: Tony Cascarino
Ireland’s Tony Cascarino took part in the 1994 FIFA World Cup as a free agent after Premier League side Chelsea released him before the tournament.
The striker’s time at Chelsea was beset with injuries, and as a result, he suffered from poor form in the two seasons he was attached to the Blues. He scored just eight goals in 40 appearances for Chelsea but was an automatic pick for the Irish side heading into the World Cup.
Although he was selected in the squad, Tony Cascarino was not utilised by Ireland in the tournament. But that would not be the end of his career as he would go on to sign for Marseilles after the tournament and join the Irish squad for the 1999 World Cup as well.
#2: Frank Lampard
Widely regarded as one of Chelsea’s all-time greats, Frank Lampard is perhaps the most recent example of a free agent in the World Cups.
The Everton manager had a long and distinguished career at Stamford Bridge, being a regular appearance in the midfield between 2001 and 2014.
The announcement of his release by Chelsea came as a surprise, especially as Lampard insisted that any decision on his future would be taken after the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
With the World Cup just days away, Frank Lampard decided to focus on what is likely his last World Cup with England. He also had the opportunity to captain the Three Lions in their last group-stage game against Costa Rica.
After the tournament, Frank Lampard decided to retire from international football, immediately grabbing a contract with Manchester City.
#1: Zinedine Zidane
The most high-profile player to have this unique distinction, Zinedine Zidane returned from retirement to lead his team to World Cup finals in 2006.
Zidane announced his retirement from international football in 2004 even as France was going through a historic slump in its form. Almost all veteran players from the 1998 World Cup champion side have retired, and France managed to barely qualify for the tournament.
Zinedine Zidane was urged by everyone to come out of retirement and was even offered the captaincy of the team on his return.
Les Bleus struggled past the group stage, but Zidane took control of the game starting in the second round. With three goals during the knockout rounds, the former Real Madrid manager took France all the way to the finals, restoring France’s lost glory. His controversial send-off from the finals that eventually cost France the trophy is still remembered by fans.
He retired from all formats of the game after the World Cup and went on to become one of the greatest managers to ever grace the game.
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