Back in the day it used to be a real honor to represent England at the international level. Players would slog it out for years and years at club level in the hopes of gaining an international call up. They used to have to put in amazing performances week after week just to be considered; nowadays if you’re an English national and have a couple of strong games, you can start to dream about putting on that English football jersey.
The English selectors, coaching staff and team management have been handing out international caps like Scout badges; numerous players have been given opportunities, have been tried and tested and have failed miserably. Some, for an unknown reason, have been given an extended run in the team, but have still fallen short of what it takes to cut it at international level.
On the other hand, the English management has also unearthed some gems since 2000 – world-beaters who could slot into any side and start making waves right away.
These are 15 players who have played for England since 2000, eight of the best and seven at the other end of the scale whose times at the top level have already been forgotten – sorry guys, we’re bringing it back up.
15 Best: Steven Gerrard
Stevie G is a legend at Anfield. He spent a staggering 17 years at the club before closing out his career in the MLS with L.A. Galaxy. His talent from a young age was evident for all to see. After progressing through the ranks with the Liverpool youth team, he was quickly called up to the senior team and was made captain. His leadership and maturity combined with his footballing prowess meant that it wasn’t long before he became a stalwart in midfield for the England side; unsurprisingly, he went on to become captain of England for a number of years too.
14 Worst: Anthony Gardner
In 2004, while shoring up the defense for Tottenham Hotspur, Anthony earned himself an international call up, not that even the most die-hard of English football fans would remember anything he did. He played for some decent teams during the course of his career, but couldn’t make any sort of impression on the international stage.
His first exposure to international football came under the management of David Platt. He gained a solitary cap at England Under-21 level, but had to wait another three years before being called up to the senior side. He came on as a substitute for John Terry and played 45 minutes but was then cast back into the shadows.
13 Best: John Terry
Anthony Gardener was one of England’s worst ever center-backs, partly because of his injuries and footballing ability, but also because he was competing for a place in the England starting line-up with John Terry.
12 Worst: Paul Konchesky
Paul Konchesky has spent his entire career – a career that’s almost two decades old – playing in the English leagues. He impressed at left-back for Charlton Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham, and was technically part of Leicester City’s Premier League winning 2016 side – we say technically because he was contracted with the Foxes but was out on a season-long loan.
11 Best: Wayne Rooney
If you know anything about football, then you’re going to have heard about Wayne Rooney. Rooney personifies what English football is all about; hard work, drive and determination and that British bulldog spirit – that never-say-die attitude. But Rooney’s one of those few English players that has something special about him – he has that x-factor.
After wowing at Everton, Rooney made the move to Manchester and quickly made Old Trafford his own, becoming captain and scoring a stack load of goals in the process. But he actually made his international debut before he joined United. He became the youngest player to play for England and has since gone on to play for England 119 times, scoring an impressive 53 goals in the process. When Stevie G retired, Rooney took over the captaincy, and it’s still a role he’s relishing.
10 Worst: Seth Johnson
Seth Johnson was another bullish, hard-working midfielder in his day. His loyalty to Crewe meant that he stayed at Gresty Road and helped them in their relegation battle, delaying his move to the PL with Derby County. His hard work paid off; Crewe avoided relegation, and Johnson impressed along the way. However, from that point on it was all downhill for Johnson.
9 Best: Joe Hart
When David Seaman played his last game for England between the sticks, England was in a pickle as to who was going to replace him. Replacing one of the best goalkeepers in the world wasn’t going to be easy, and England found that out the hard way, trying out a lot of keepers before settling on David James. He was Seaman’s understudy for many years and made for an able replacement, but towards the latter end of his career, costly errors began creeping into his game and England was on the lookout again for another keeper.
8 Worst: Michael Ricketts
During Ricketts’ 14-year career, he played for 11 different teams as a striker; that just goes to show what teams thought of his goal scoring ability and how many were keen to retain his services. It’s actually amazing that his career lasted as long as it did. As a striker, his primary objective was to score goals, and Ricketts just didn’t do that; hence he got shifted about a lot.
7 Best: Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole’s possibly one of England’s most underrated players. He spent the majority of his career with Arsenal and Chelsea in the PL, but also had a stellar international career, gaining 107 caps between 2001 and 2014. He was a vital cog in England’s football machine and played pretty much all the time whenever he was available, but when people discuss great England players, his name is one that tends to get overlooked.
6 Worst: Jermaine Jenas
Football fans will probably know Jenas more for his punditry than his time on the pitch. He’s a regular on TV as a football analyst, despite still being quite young at 33. He retired from the game after being released by QPR and his debilitating knee injury failed to get any better. In fact, his entire career was blighted by injuries – one of the reasons he didn’t play more for England.
5 Best: Peter Crouch
Peter Crouch can count himself unlucky. He didn’t get the accolades he deserved that his goal scoring record warranted, and just as quickly as he was picked up, he was discarded by England. A lot of you are therefore probably wondering why and how Crouch makes this list; it’s because he was an impact player, and boy did he make an impact whenever England called upon his services.
4 Worst: Scott Carson
We’ve mentioned how England struggled to find a decent replacement between the sticks when David Seaman retired. Joe Hart’s now established himself as the number choice, but for awhile England was giving a lot of keepers a try in the hope that they might unearth some special talent. Scott Carson was one of those keepers who was given a shot, but it just didn’t work out; four caps in four years says it all. He had a decent time of it at the England Under-21 level, and so was thrust onto the big stage. But it was a baptism of fire for Carson, who made a serious error in only his second game.
3 Best: Theo Walcott
Theo Walcott seems to have been around for ages. That’s because he has been; he started playing for England in 2004, and his talent was evident for all to see. A couple of years later, he was promoted to the senior team at the tender age of 17, under Sven-Göran Eriksson’s management. This surprised many people because at that point, Walcott had only made 13 appearances for his club side, Arsenal. But Sven saw something in him and introduced him to the world stage.
2 Worst: Alan Smith
Alan Smith possesses a pretty generic name and he’s a pretty run-of-the-mill player too. As a midfielder, he enjoyed a relatively successful start to his career and made a name for himself as a dependable player at Leeds and then Man United and Newcastle. It was therefore no surprise that he was given an opportunity to prove himself on the international stage. In fact, Smith was given plenty of opportunities – 19 to be exact – but failed to make any noteworthy contributions. He did manage to get himself sent off in a Euro 2004 qualifier – thankfully it didn’t cost England.
1 Best: James Milner
People began to take notice of James Milner when he was with Aston Villa. He became a stalwart in the center of the park and put in a string of impressive performances, which led to him being named as Aston Villa Fan’s Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year. When Man City came into money, Milner was exactly the type of player they wanted. He signed for City for a fee thought to be in the region of £26m. It was around this time that he earned his first international cap with the England setup. International football didn’t faze him, and he was a consistent performer for the next seven years.
Milner’s now retired from international football, but was renowned as being a versatile player. He can play in a number of different positions, possesses great defensive ability and is more than just handy going forward. He’s only just retired, but England will no doubt miss his services.
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