With the international break just two weeks away and questions of the teams quality rife, it is prudent to investigate happier times, as we take a look at England players past and present to assemble the greatest England XI of all time.
Goalkeeper - Peter Shilton
Whilst names such as Banks and Seaman figure in the argument for England’s greatest man between the sticks, it is Peter Shilton, the most capped Goalkeeper in England history, that has won his place. Shilton made an incredible 125 appearances for England, spanning a 20 year period. Whilst this may have begun in somewhat unforeseen circumstances (due to Bank’s accident forcing his retirement) Shilton soon made it his own and held off stiff competition from Ray Clemence, who made 61 caps, less than half those that Shilton eventually made.
Famous for his impeccable shot –stopping ability, his impressive performances in major international tournaments sets him apart. Shilton excelled and to this day, he shares the record for most clean sheets at World Cups with the erratic Frenchman Fabian Barthez, notching up 10. Perhaps more remarkably is that he made his World Cup debut at 32, playing only 17 matches , giving him a nearly 60% clean sheet ratio, far superior to his competition.
Left Back - Ashley Cole
Possibly one of the most underrated players in England history is Ashley Cole, as his consistently top level performances and recent addition to the 100 Caps club, make him England’s most capped full back. Furthermore, despite the England teams that Cole has competed in not reaching the success at major tournaments (which the household names indicate they should have) this doesn’t weaken his position.
Since making his debut at the tender age of just 20 in 2001, Cole has made 105 appearances and has a strong disciplinary record, as despite his defensive responsibilities he has never seen red for the Three Lions. In turn, he has been a constant figure in the team at several major tournaments and received his greatest ever accolade as an England player in 2010, when he was named ‘England Player of the Year’.
His attacking flair and defensive stability make him a tremendously balanced player and he has found the magical formula of recreating domestic class on an international level.
Centre Back - Bobby Moore (Captain)
The first name on the team sheet, the defensive rock at the heart of England’s only World Cup triumph and well deserving of his place on the team is Bobby Moore. The West Ham defender captained England 90 times and was famed for being a true leader, inspiring the team and playing with passion, striving to achieve for his country. He evidently achieved this, winning 67 of the 108 games he played for England.
Even more inspiring is the influence his leadership had during the successful 1966 campaign, as despite a goalless draw with Uruguay, the English side bounced back to win their remaining group games and go on a tremendous run that would see them reach the final. It was then that Moore’s cool head and experience paid dividends, as the game moved into extra time. The rest is history, capped with the famous picture of Moore upon the shoulders of his team mates, with the trophy and World Cup success.
Centre Back - Stuart Pearce
The English public loves a trier, someone whose passion and pride to wear the three lions is evident. This is encapsulated in Stuart Pearce, as these qualities have never been more apparent than the famous penalty miss of Italia 1990, when he saw his spot-kick saved by Bodo Illgner (of West Germany) and sheer despair spread across his face, especially as they ultimately lost.
The bravery then transpired 6 years later, when Pearce shrugged off the ghost of Penalty Shoot Out past, as he stepped up against Spain in the Quarter-Finals of Euro 1996. In front of a packed Wembley, he struck the ball hard, with focus and determination. His reaction as the net bulged showed his passion, roaring with happiness at finding the net, years after the hurt of a semi-final exit.
It isn’t just this steely grit to succeed for the country that he loves setting Pearce apart but his defensive capability, as his fearless nature made him willing to put his body on the line to keep England in games, no matter the cost, earning him not only the nickname ‘Psycho’ but a place in the best ever XI.
Right Back - Gary Neville
Famous for his dogged determination and desire to challenge for everything (including most decisions) Gary Neville earns the nod at right-back. He is England’s most capped player in this position and saw victory 44 times in his 85 appearances. Neville’s presence in the team at the 1996 European Championship was also crucial, because his ability for long throw-ins gave England another dimension at times, especially when struggling in their group opener against Switzerland. Furthermore, it was a crucial part of the solid defensive unit that kept England in games and allowed the attacking aspect of the team to function. His record of being picked under 5 different managers also shows his importance and reputation as a key member of any England team that wishes to succeed.
Neville has also very much adhered himself to the English public in his role as a coach under Roy Hodgson’s team, seen in a recent game running down the touchline to remonstrate with the officials over a poor decision given against England.
Therefore, despite describing his own England career as “a massive waste of time” in his autobiography, ‘Red’, Neville is a good edition to the team as he was part of a fairly successful England defensive unit from a young age and impressed on many occasions for his country.
Midfield - David Beckham
When considering 21st century football, there are few names that have the iconic status of David Beckham, the poster boy of English Football. Whether it is advertising for clothes or fragrances, Beckham’s face is plastered all over society and few couples have the power associated with ‘Posh and Becks’. His role model like behaviour also makes him crucial, as he is a true professional; never embroiled in scandal and illicit behaviour away from the pitch, a rare example for young, aspiring footballers to follow.
His on the pitch performances too make him a true great, ranging from the memorable, yet heart-breaking red care against Argentina, to the outstanding quality of his free kick against Greece in front of a nervous Old Trafford crowd in 2001. The goal was crucial, as it assured England’s safe passage to the 2002 World Cup Finals.
Midfield - Paul Gascoigne
Few could forget the Paul Gascoigne strike against Scotland in Euro 1996, as after wrong footing Colin Hendry, he let fire and beat the helpless Andy Goram. What followed was the famous, yet controversial, ‘Dentists Chair’ celebration, where ‘Gazza’ laid down whilst his teammates squirted drinks at him.
In turn, the famous yellow card that Gascoigne was shown in the semi-final against West Germany in Italia 1990 is another iconic moment. The card rendered him unavailable for selection had England reached the final and the cameras showed the visible distress on his face, as tears formed in his eyes. Ultimately, England lost the game on a penalty shoot-out but it had been a successful tournament for Gascoigne who was named in the Team of the Tournament for his complete midfield displays.
Gascoigne played his last game for England in 1998, as after wrecking the then England Manger, Glenn Hoddle’s room in a fit of rage after not being selected for the 1998 World Cup team, he never featured for the side again. He won a surprisingly low 57 caps for England, scoring 10 goals and creating many more with his incredible technique and ability to pick out a pass at any range.
These famous moments make him a true England great; greatness that was possibly overshadowed by later problems with alcohol abuse but it is ultimately the ‘Gazzamania’ that surrounded the talisman that makes him a key member of the team.
Midfield - Bryan Robson
Bryan Robson was a hugely influential captain for England, leading them to many major tournaments and insuring safe qualification. He also led the team by example and during his tenure as captain Robson gave many great performances, his greatest arguably being the 8-0 win over Turkey which he scored a hat-trick in. Performances at this time were of such high quality that he was the first name on the team sheet for Bobby Robson who claimed him to be the best player in England.
He was a hugely passionate player, whose stamina to fight for his country would last the fully 90 minutes, making attacking runs even at the games death to gain an advantage and constantly putting his body on the line. It was these very endeavours that saw him christened ‘Captain Marvel’ and found him a place in the nations heart, as representing England was more than just a job for Robson. In fact actually, this passion somewhat held him back, as it often ended in injury and caused him to miss major tournaments or qualifiers with serious injury. How good Robson could have been is, as a result, somewhat unknown, but it is certain that he was good enough to enter England’s best ever XI.
Midfield - Bobby Charlton
Charlton’s attacking midfield play was a key feature of the World Cup winning 1966 team, as he was freely able to break from midfield and finish with tremendous success, racking up an incredible 49 goals for England from midfield. His position as England’s highest ever goal scorer is far more impressive, as it is a position usually associated with strikers, yet Charlton could easily balance midfield duties with free-scoring attacking play.
Never was this balance of midfield talent more clear than the 1966 World Cup campaign, as his performances in both the Semi-Finals and Final illustrate his versatility. In the Semi-Final his forward-thinking attacking style was flowing, as he scored 2 goal, both a beautiful curling effort and a powerful strike following good link-up play with Geoff Hurst. However, in the final, he was far quieter; as his balance was far more defensive, often claimed by many fans that his work shadowing Franz Beckenbauer meant both players were essentially marked out of the game. Both roles were just as crucial though and he ultimately earned a reputation as one of the greatest midfielders of all time, an all-round midfield talent.
Striker - Gary Lineker
Clinical is a word that completely epitomises Gary Lineker, as his England goal scoring record is superb, finding the net 48 times in just 80 games, bettering a goal every 2 games. His form at major tournaments also puts fellow England strikers to shame, as to this day he is the only England player to have won the Golden Boot at a World Cup, achieving the feat with his 6 goals at Euro 1986.
Lineker is also one of only two England players to have scored a hat-trick at FIFA World Cup finals, with his trio of strikes against Poland in 1986 and in doing so, scored the second quickest hat-trick in World Cup history.
Even more remarkable though, is that Linekar never received a yellow or red card in either his domestic or international career, despite making a combined 546 appearances for club and country. Clearly, Linekar is a rare gentleman of football and not just one of the greatest strikers in England’s history but also football history, retiring just 1 goal short of Bobby Charlton’s record 49 England goals.
Striker - Jimmy Greaves
The final addition to the team is Jimmy Greaves, the England international with the best scoring rate, as he struck 44 goals for England in just 57 games, giving a prolific striking record for the Three Lions. Along with this, no England player has scored more hat-tricks for England than Greaves, as he has 6 to his name, finding his top form on many occasions for his country.
He is also unlucky not be have been in the famous England team that toppled West Germany in the 1966 World Cup, as he had started every game until the Quarter-Finals when first injury and then the form of Geoff Hurst kept Greaves from featuring in the latter stages of the tournament; only receiving his medal in 2009 after a FA appeal.
Greaves is very worthy of a place in the team and it is considered that if he had made more appearances for England he would almost certainly have remained the highest scoring player, because his prolific nature meant he found it hard to not score for England, still holding the record for calendar year goals for England (at 13).
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