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.
He retired from club football a couple of months ago having retired from international football a couple of years previously, but left the game a legend. If you were in any doubt as to how good Gerrard was, he was named in the UEFA Team of the Year and FIFA World XI three times.
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.
Anthony had a decent spell for Spurs, but aside from that, there was nothing much to say about him. Sure, his numerous injuries didn’t help matters, but he’s still one of England’s forgotten players.
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.
Terry may not be the most loved player – his career’s been clouded in numerous bouts of controversy – but there’s no doubting his skill in defense and his leadership qualities. He’s regarded to be one of the best defenders in the word, so unsurprisingly, he was a permanent fixture of the England side for nine years. For much of this time, he was captain too, but was relieved of that responsibility after issues in his private life began making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. He stepped away from international football in 2012 and his club career looks to be winding to a close too, but he’ll always be remembered as one of England’s greatest ever defenders.
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.
Paul was, once upon a time, a well-known name in English football due to his solid performances in defense – performances which led to him gaining a couple of international caps. But he failed to impress and was soon cast aside, never to play for England again. Paul’s a hard worker and a decent player, perfectly suited to club football, but he didn’t have what it takes to make a success of things at international level.
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.
Rooney’s one of England’s all-time leading goalscorers and best ever players, not just since 2000. He’s only 31, so could go on to break a stack load of club and international records before he calls time on his career.
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.
Due to his exploits with Crewe, he earned a solitary England cap, but he just couldn’t stay fit enough for a long enough period of time to build on his career and gain more international experience. From 2001 onward, Johnson was very rarely one hundred percent fit; he played now and again, but serious injuries got the better of him and ultimately finished off his career prematurely at the age of 28.
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.
While this was going on, Joe Hart was making waves at Manchester City. He had impressed while out on loan, and returned to become City’s first choice keeper. Since then, his career’s just gone from strength to strength. He’s amassed 68 international caps, has a record four Premier League Golden Glove awards, and is considered to be among the best keepers in the world; he’ll still be England’s number one goalkeeper for a long time to come.
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.
It was very early on into his footballing career that Ricketts enjoyed a decent time of it. He showed a few moments of brilliance which led to his international call up, but he failed to impress during the 45 minutes he played and was cast aside, never to play for England again. From that moment, goals eluded him, and he couldn’t recapture that form that led to his international call up.
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.
At left-back, Cole was one of the best in the world. He ruled that left flank, possessed great defensive abilities and caused nightmares for the opposition teams going forward. Consequently, he’s England’s most-capped full-back and has won a stack load of accolades, including the England Player of the Year award in 2010. He’s now retired from internationals and England has struggled to find an apt replacement.
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.
Jenas played 21 times in six years for England, but failed to set the world alight. He played in midfield, so was constantly competing with the likes of Lampard and Gerrard for a place in the starting line-up, which was never going to happen. He had chances but failed to make the most of them, and add his injuries into the mix and it’s safe to say that Jenas enjoyed a pretty dismal time of it at the international level.
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.
Crouch has never been a glamorous player, but he knows how to make it work for himself and he’s been mightily effective as a striker. England liked playing big guys up front; they liked hoofing it up to big lumps down the pitch who could hold up the ball and bring others into the game. Crouch is another big guy at 6-foot-7. Lanky and ungainly, he’s awkward to play against, can hold up play, and can score too. In fact, he has a terrific goal scoring record for England, and has scored 22 times in 42 appearances.
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.
He let in a rather innocuous 30-yard shot, which caused England to lose the match against Croatia and fail to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2008 Championships. England boss Steve McClaren was criticized for choosing such a rookie keeper for such a crucial match, and was booted out the door.
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.
Ten years on and Walcott’s still in the mix when it comes to internationals. He hasn’t been able to cement a regular starting position due to his yoyoing form for England and Arsenal over the years, but he’s always in the squads when fit, and is primarily used as an impact player due to his blistering pace, balance and skill set. Messi – arguably the greatest player to have ever played the game – has said of Walcott: “He’s one of the most dangerous players I have ever played against." That’s high praise indeed.
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.
Alan Smith is one of those players who’s had a decent career at club level, but international football was just too much for him. He’s now winding down his career with Notts County, and any chances of him adding to his 19 international caps are all but over.
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.