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Ranking The Worst FIFA Cover Boys Of All Time

This year marks the final edition of the vaunted FIFA video game series under the current name. From the rough-looking first FIFA games of the early 90s to the modern masterpieces of today, dozens of soccer superstars have graced the covers, including Kylian Mbappé and Sam Kerr in FIFA 23, out Sept. 27/30, 2022. We all remember the most iconic FIFA cover boys, folks like Wayne Rooney, Edgar Davids, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but do you remember the more obscure cover stars?

As FIFA takes its licensing and goes home because EA Sports refused to double its payments to use the FIFA branding, I wanted to look back at some of the most iconic FIFA video game covers. Initially, I planned to go through the most iconic covers, like FIFA 2004, which had Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho and Alessandro Del Piero bursting off the plastic. But that’s boring. No, today we’re going to go through the worst and most obscure FIFA cover boys in the history of the series, if only so I can talk about Ben Olsen for a minute.

Our criteria for this list aren’t just the players who were garbage, but the players who you’d be surprised to learn made it onto the cover of one of the biggest franchises in the history of video games, players who didn’t deserve their spot on that coveted cover. We could fill this list with players who appeared on region-specific covers — for about a decade EA had different covers for different countries/regions, including 18 different covers in FIFA 16 — but then we’d just end up with a list of obscure Saudi, Japanese and Russian players. That’s boring, so we’ll mostly ignore covers from outside of Europe and the U.S.  

We here at The18 like to be inclusive, so when we want to talk about the FIFA cover stars, we should be careful to not overuse “cover boy,” which would leave out the women footballers who graced the cover art. But, honestly, there are no women who fit the mold of being either obscure or undeserving of such an honor. Plus, only a handful of women have even been given the opportunity to be on a cover, as women’s soccer has long been a gimmick at best in the minds of EA Sports. So we feel fine talking about the following players as the worst FIFA cover boys. 

So without further ado (there’s been way too much ado already and you probably skipped it anyway), here’s our list of the worst and most obscure FIFA cover boys of all time. 

Worst FIFA Cover Boys

David Platt and Piotr Świerczewski — FIFA International Soccer

We’ve got to start somewhere, so why not start at the very beginning with the first FIFA video game released in 1993?

The original FIFA, before annual nomenclature became a thing, featured a cover graced by Poland midfielder Piotr Świerczewski and English midfielder David Platt (other editions had Ruud Gullit with Packie Bonner). You’d be forgiven for not knowing either Świerczewski or Platt, who now belong in history only as the very first FIFA cover boys.

The image was taken from an international friendly between England and Poland, with Platt shielding the ball from Świerczewski near the corner flag. You cannot get much more obscure than this.

Świerczewski made 70 appearances in the Polish midfield while bouncing around with more than a dozen different clubs ranging from Saint-Étienne and Marseille to Gamba Osaka and Birmingham City. Platt came up through the Manchester United youth ranks and played for seven clubs in England and Italy, perhaps most notably three seasons with Arsenal. The midfielder scored 27 goals in 62 England caps; nothing to scoff at but not exactly a legend of the game.

Though both players have had middling coaching careers in recent years, both will always be remembered as the answer to the trivia question: Who was on the first cover of the FIFA series?

Erik Thorstvedt — FIFA Soccer 95

We won’t harp too much on the early days of FIFA, back before it was a video game behemoth, but the first club player to grace the cover of a FIFA title was Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt in the first FIFA with a year in its name. 

The first FIFA a year earlier didn’t include clubs teams, so it made sense to include a club player on the cover as the series introduced clubs, but Thorstvedt? The man made 173 appearances for Spurs and 97 for Norway, but he belongs alongside Platt and Świerczewski as an answer to a trivia question more than anything else.

We could have easily included Romanian Ioan Ovidiu Sabau and David McAteer from FIFA 96, but at this point EA was just throwing random photos onto the cover without worrying about finding big stars to promote the game. 

Pep Guardiola — FIFA 2000 (Spain)

In FIFA 98, EA Sports began putting huge, recognizable names on its FIFA covers — David Beckham, Paolo Maldini and even Roy Lassiter graced covers around the world that year. That was also the year FIFA began licensing hit songs for the games

By FIFA 2000, EA was creating more than a dozen different covers for various regions, including Vassilios Tsiartas (Greece), Pär Zetterberg (Sweden), Giovanni Rosso (Israel), Kim Byung-ji (South Korea) and Kiatisuk Senamuang (Thailand). (Quick side trip to discuss Rosso, also known as Đovani Roso. Born in Croatia, Rosso played most of his career in Israel, where he still resides and obtained citizenship. In 2019 he won a season of celebrity Survivor in Israel. A true FIFA cover boy legend.)

But let’s talk about Pep Guardiola on the cover of the Spanish edition of FIFA 2000. 

These days, Pep is known as one of the greatest coaches of his generation. He’s won big at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. Back in 1999 when FIFA 2000 came out, Pep wasn’t exactly a superstar. Though a club legend in Barcelona, he managed 47 Spain caps and wasn’t on the squad for the 1998 World Cup. There were much bigger stars in Spain at the time. Real Madrid’s Raúl and Fernando Morientes graced the Spanish covers the two years prior, so you can understand EA wanting to give Barcelona some love, but why not pick Rivaldo, Patrick Kluivert or Luís Figo or the burgeoning young midfielder Xavi if EA wanted a Spanish player?

Then again, the next year Spain’s cover boy was Gaizka Mendieta, a Valencia icon with 40 caps for La Roja, so I guess it could’ve been worse. 

In the U.S. that year, we got Eddie Pope on our cover. While not well known outside of the States, he was a towering figure on the USMNT for many years and a deserving choice. However, Italians got Vincenzo Montella on their cover, another odd choice, even if he bagged dozens of goals for Roma. 

Ben Olsen — FIFA 2001 (U.S.)

Ben Olsen wasn’t the first American to grace the cover of a FIFA game; Roy Lassiter, Kasey Keller and Eddie Pope were immortalized as FIFA cover boys before. But Olsen might be one of the most cursed FIFA cover stars.

Olsen had himself a fine career by many standards. He made more than 250 appearances for D.C. United and 37 more for the U.S., including one at the 2006 World Cup. But it always felt like injuries kept him from fulfilling his potential. 

In late 2000 as FIFA 2001 was coming out, Olsen was sent on loan to Nottingham Forest. He started well with two goals in 18 appearances, becoming a fan favorite. A permanent move to the English First Division side looked likely. Then a horrible ankle injury struck, requiring four surgeries. Even still, he might have returned to Nottingham had MLS not been a stickler on a $2.5 million price tag for the 25-year-old. 

Alas, Olsen never signed permanently with Nottingham Forest and injuries continued to plague his career. 

After his playing career, Olsen coached D.C. United for 10 years and briefly served as president of the NWSL’s Washington Spirit. But I’ll always remember him as a midfielder who combined silky smooth skills with undying passion and desire to help his team on and off the pitch, and one who bizarrely was a FIFA cover boy. 

Freddy Adu — FIFA 2006 (North America)

FIFA 2001 and 2002 featured some odd choices on the regional covers, notably Polish-Canadian forward Tomasz Radzinski on the U.S. cover of FIFA 2002. But from FIFA 2003 to 2005, EA’s cover boys went hard, including that iconic 2004 cover. This was when FIFA was staking its claim as the soccer video game, complete with all the licenses you could want. 

Then came the FIFA 2006 cover, when EA Sports slurped up the Freddy Adu Kool-Aid just like every other media outlet around. 

We all know the history of Freddy Adu. Hyped as the next Pelé, the young American became the youngest MLS player ever in 2004 and by 2006 he looked like he was on his way to becoming at the very least a solid U.S. player. Sadly, he wound up becoming a soccer vagabond, playing for 15 different clubs over the next 15 years, never living up to the hype. Though not officially retired (he’s still just 33 as we publish this), Adu was undoubtedly a cautionary tale for overhyping young athletes.

But hey, he got to share a FIFA cover with Ronaldinho and Omar Bravo, so he’s got more street cred than you.

Kevin Kurányi — FIFA 09 (Germany)

Skipping over some odd choices like Mexico’s Francisco Fonseca and USA’s Jozy Altidore, we move right along to Kevin Kurányi on the German cover of FIFA 09. Kurányi holds a weird place in German football lore, a rare player on the national team who wasn’t born in Germany (he’s a Rio de Janeiro native) who had a strained relationship with national team coach Joachim Löw. Despite 19 goals in 52 caps, he was rarely a major player for Germany, with his only goals at a major competition coming at the 2005 Confederations Cup. In 2008, Kurányi was arguably in his prime, in the midst of a successful stint with Schalke, and he appeared in Germany’s Euro 2008 final defeat to Spain. 

Eight days after FIFA 09 came out with him on the German cover, Kurányi was kicked off the national team. Not chosen in Löw’s 18 to play against Russia, he left the stadium at halftime. Löw promised he’d never play for the national team again, and he was right. 

Stephan El Shaarawy — FIFA 14 (Italy)

In FIFA 13, EA Sports began picking global stars who would appear on all covers, often with regional stars alongside them. On the Italian cover of FIFA 14 next to Lionel Messi was Stephan El Shaarawy, one of the most enigmatic Azzurri players in recent memory. 

At times, it looked like El Shaarawy, an Italian of Egyptian decent, was the next big thing in Italy, bursting onto the scene as a precocious 18-year-old at AC Milan in 2011. Expectations for the young winger were as high as his iconic mohawk.

In the 2012-13 season before FIFA 14 came out, he scored 19 goals in all competitions, including two in the Champions League. But El Shaarawy scored just two goals in the second half of the Serie A season, hinting at a future decline.

After being on the Italian cover of FIFA 14 (released Sept. 27, 2013), El Shaarawy made nine appearances all season in 2013-14. Injuries played a role, but he never recaptured that blistering form of 2012 (or lived up to his superb player card in FUT 14). 

Marco Reus — FIFA 17

After four straight years of Messi gracing the FIFA covers, EA Sports decided to let the fans decide who would star on the front of FIFA 17. In a fan vote that also included Anthony Martial, Eden Hazard and James Rodríguez, fans chose Marco Reus, a 28-year-old in his prime at Borussia Dortmund.

Reus is a superb player both in real life and the video game, where his combination of speed and shooting made him lethal during this period of FIFA games that put an emphasis on speed over all else. But after being picked to star on the cover, Reus suffered two injury-plagued seasons from 2016-18. Though he scored 17 goals in the 2018-19 Bundesliga campaign, injuries have kept him from reaching the heights expected of him when he usurped the FIFA cover from Messi.

Ever since the FIFA 17 cover curse, EA Sports has strictly chosen only the biggest superstars to be FIFA cover boys — Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo Nazario, Neymar, Eden Hazard, Virgil van Dijk, Zinedine Zidane, Kylian Mbappé, Trent Alexander-Arnold, João Félix and Erling Haaland are the only cover athletes since Marco Reus. While some could argue Félix and Hazard have struggled since gracing the covers, they’re worthy names.

FIFA 23 will feature Sam Kerr on the Ultimate Edition, the first time a woman has been on the cover of a global edition. It will be the last time any player is placed on a FIFA cover, as the series will change its name to EA Sports FC next year

Maybe that will help us forget about some of these worst FIFA cover boys of all time. 

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