England debuts: Ranking the 20 worst of the last decade from pointless to embarrassing

Dominic Solanke for England

England’s 3-0 win over Wales on Thursday night saw two more players added to the ever-expanding list of Three Lions debutants and the early signs for both are certainly encouraging.

Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin marked his first England outing with the opening goal, while Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka produced a solid showing at left wing-back after a somewhat nervous start.

But not every England debutant is quite so fortunate, or for that matter quite so justified in actually earning a chance for the Three Lions.

In this article, Give Me Sport run the rule over the worst England debutants of the last decade, ranging from pointless to downright embarrassing…

Pointless

This section is dedicated to debutants who had certainly proved themselves as reliable Premier League quality players prior to their debuts, but offered very little to the England squad at the time of their call-ups and ultimately endured incredibly short international careers.

20. Michael Dawson

Michael Dawson captains Hull City

Most countries wouldn’t sniff at a defender of Michael Dawson’s calibre - the only problem was that he emerged on the scene during perhaps the richest period for quality centre-backs in England’s history, not least including the likes of Sol Campbell, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Ledley King, Jamie Carragher and Jonathan Woodgate.

Despite making squads way back in 2006, it wasn’t until after serving as Fabio Capello’s only unused player at the 2010 World Cup that Dawson, at this point aged 27, made his England debut in a friendly against Hungary. Just over a year later, he’d make his fourth and final England appearance in a 2-0 win over Wales.

19. Leon Osman

Leon Osman in action for Everton

A fantastic player on his day, but there’s something insulting about making your England debut at 31, and only after the Three Lions’ supposed Golden Generation had pretty much all decided to pack it in.

Nonetheless, back in 2012 Leon Osman finally got his reward for quietly impressing at Everton for the previous eight seasons, getting to play alongside Steven Gerrard in midfield as Sweden gave the Three Lions a 4-2 battering.

Osman was later allowed a cameo appearance in an 8-0 win over San Marino, at which point the token gesture of giving him an England jersey because he probably deserved a few caps during his prime had run its course.

18. Kevin Davies

Kevin Davies holds up the ball

Another player who seemed to get an England cap purely because he’d hung around for long enough to eventually get one, Davies received his first and only Three Lions call-up at the age of 33, fittingly featuring in a scoreless draw with Montenegro.

The goal-shy, attritional target man style that had underpinned the successes of Bolton’s Premier League glory years was never a good fit for international football, and thus Davies swiftly returned from whence he came, winning knock-downs and flick-ons for the Wanderers.

17. Aaron Cresswell

Aaron Cresswell takes the ball past Lucas Moura

In fairness to Aaron Cresswell, he enjoyed a couple of good seasons at West Ham prior to his England debut and considering he was during his mid-twenties at the time, perhaps there was no harm in trying him out at international level - if only to see whether it suited his game.

But at the same time, Cresswell’s inclusion in one of Gareth Southgate’s first England squads was little more than a test to determine whether, in extreme circumstances, he could come in as an emergency back-up left-back.

Two years later and Ashley Young was starting at No.3 for the Three Lions at the World Cup, which tells you exactly how that experiment worked out.

16. Bobby Zamora

Bobby Zamora in West Ham training

Once upon a time, scoring eight Premier League goals for Fulham was apparently enough to earn you a chance in the England team, which is exactly what Bobby Zamora received from  Capello back in 2010. 

Zamora was capable of the spectacular on his day but had never really shown form good enough to justify playing at international level, not to mention the fact he was already 29 at the time.

Surprisingly, he was given another chance a year later, but that was the end of the road for the former Fulham and QPR man.

Big-club stupidity

This section of our rankings belongs to once young players who received a call-up for one single reason - they had recently started turning out for a top Premier League side. It’s almost unfair to label them pointless, unacceptable or embarrassing because at the time, it really wasn’t clear how their careers would pan out, so we’ll just stick with "big-club stupidity" - a term defined as stupidly gifting a youngster a cap because of the club he played for.

15. Jonjo Shelvey

Jonjo Shelvey shields the ball from N'Golo Kante

Perhaps the pinnacle of a period that can be best described as “If you’re English, we’ll give you a go”. Jonjo Shevley quite simply hung around the fringes of Liverpool’s squad for a few years and despite only making 11 Premier League starts for the Reds, was given the England nod by Hodgson in October 2012.

Although he was given a brief reprieve in 2015 amid England’s desperate search for some creativity and cultured passing from midfield, Shelvey’s lack of discipline always made him a poor fit for the Three Lions.

14. Calum Chambers

Calum Chambers holds off Dan James

At no point during a thoroughly impressive debut season for Southampton was Calum Chambers mooted as a potential England debutant, as Roy Hodgson looked to mastermind a side for the 2014 European Championship. But it’s amazing what a big-money move to Arsenal can do - a few games into his Gunners career the versatile defender had suddenly done enough to earn his first Three Lions cap.

Since then, Chambers’ career has been on a downward trajectory, suffering relegations while on loan at Middlesbrough and then Fulham. He’s now 25 and having just recovered from a very serious ACL injury, another England outing any time soon looks some way off.

13. Steven Caulker

Steven Caulker warming up for Liverpool

If you thought the Flanagan call-up was bad, Steven Caulker's impressive season on loan at Swansea City wasn't enough to earn him a debut, but a seven-game Premier League run back at parent club Tottenham Hotspur apparently did the trick.

Caulker actually scored on his first England outing, but after completing a move to Cardiff City - where he captained the team and scored five goals - was never considered for the Three Lions again.

Last year, the centre-back sought to make his case for switching international allegiances to Scotland instead. 

12. Jon Flanagan

Jon Flanagan in action for Rangers

Some players waited their whole careers to earn the right to play for England - Jon Flanagan needed just 35 Premier League outings for Liverpool to apparently justify his first and only Three Lions cap under Roy Hodgson.

In fairness, Flanagan had emerged as one of the surprise breakthrough acts during Liverpool’s 2013/14 title charge, while an ability to play either side of the defence obviously made him a useful member of any international squad.

But fast forward to present day and the full-back is now 27 and without a club after being released by Rangers. Would he have got the same opportunity if he’d been on the books at Crystal Palace or Stoke rather than Liverpool? Almost definitely not.

11. Dominic Solanke

Dominic Solanke in action for Bournemouth

This one is still quite baffling and arguably deserves to belong in the next category. Dominic Solanke had barely kicked a ball as a senior footballer when Southgate surprisingly gave him the nod in November 2017.

That probably had something to do with the fact that, in addition to a strong record for England across the youth levels, Solanke had just audaciously decided to leave Chelsea for Liverpool, which seemingly doubled down on the level of big-club stupidity.

Solanke didn’t do much during his 15 minutes as an England player and didn’t do much for Liverpool either - except fetch them a decent transfer fee from Bournemouth, where he’s continued to underwhelm.

Unacceptable

This section is dedicated to players who, even at the time, clearly weren’t good enough to be playing for England, their call-ups leaving the nation baffled and bemused. Believe it or not, there’s actually a worse category to follow - but these lads weren’t quite that bad.

10. Jake Livermore

Jake Livermore wrestles for the ball

Jake Livermore would belong in the previous section had his first cap for England after a breakthrough 2011/12 season at Tottenham been the end of it. But the combative midfielder is placed in the unacceptable category purely because Southgate bizarrely adjudged him to be the solution to England’s engine room problems in 2017.

That theory only lasted a handful of games as England either produced disappointing results - like a 2-2 draw with Scotland - or failed to score, such as in 0-0 affairs with Brazil and Germany. It’s safe to say Southgate’s side have come a pretty long way since then.

9. Ryan Mason

Ryan Mason in action for Hull City

Big-club stupidity would apply here as well, were it not for the fact Ryan Mason wasn’t even good enough to play for Tottenham when he got his call-up to the England squad towards the end of the 2014/15 season.

Indeed, having spent the vast majority of his career in the lower leagues out on loan, Mason suddenly became a Spurs regular, purely because Mauricio Pochettino wanted an energetic central midfielder without a massive ego.

He was always a stop-gap solution for the new Spurs boss and after making just eight Premier League starts the following season, he was sold to Hull City. 

8. Matt Jarvis

Matt Jarvis celebrates scoring for Norwich

Talk about a flash in the pan. Towards the end of a half-decent season for Wolves, which saw him rack up 10 Premier League goal involvements, Matt Jarvis unexpectedly became the club’s first England representative since the days of Steve Bull.

But form is temporary and a move to West Ham at the end of the following campaign saw Jarvis’ completely nosedive, only managing four goals across two seasons with the Hammers. For some reason, England have always struggled to produce top quality left wingers, but Jarvis was never going to be the solution.

At 34, he now plays for Woking.

7. Nathaniel Chalobah

Nathaniel Chalobah in action for Watford

We’ve already covered big-club stupidity, so how about some idiotic favouritism? Nathaniel Chalobah was a key part of Southgate’s tenure as England U21s boss, making a staggering 40 appearances in that age group across five years.

So when the former Chelsea youngster finally got the chance to play semi-regular Premier League football at Watford, Southgate jumped at the chance to call him up to the England squad in 2017, albeit Chalobah having to wait over a year more to get his first cap due to injuries. 

The only problem is that youth national teams are filled with next-big-things who didn’t make it, and now aged 25, Chalobah appears to fit perfectly into that category.

6. Jack Cork

Jack Cork controls the ball

Jack Cork is the kind of player who will be mentioned by a half-drunk talkSPORT phone-in guest when they’re moaning about the state of the England national team.

“I can’t believe someone like Dele Alli is still getting a chance when Jack Cork is playing fantastically every week at Turf Moor,” they will declare, despite anybody with an ounce of footballing intelligence understanding the gigantic chasm of ability between Burnley’s holding midfielder and a 24-year-old who has 50 Premier League goals under his belt already. 

If you were to split all English midfielders into those good enough for the Premier League and those not good enough for the Premier League, Cork would be the barrier in between. If you’re as good as him or better, you should expect to play top flight football - if you’re not, then it’s the Football League for you. 

That is Cork’s ultimate purpose and throughout his eight years in the Premier League has rarely shown much more than that. His England outing three years ago continues to baffle.

Embarrassing

So here we have it folks, our final category houses England debutants whose selections in the Three Lions squad genuinely embarrassed the nation, in all instances clearly being well below the required standard and either being completely anonymous or hilariously terrible on their debuts. These lads are the worst of the bunch.

5. Ryan Shawcross

Stoke City captain Ryan Shawcross

Five seasons of hoofing it clear for Stoke City finally earned Ryan Shawcross the chance to show what he could do for England in 2012, but rather unsurprisingly the centre-back’s attritional style didn’t work out on the international stage and his Three Lions debut was a complete disaster.

Replacing the aforementioned Caulker against Sweden, a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic ran riot against Shawcross to net a hat-trick in the final 15 minutes of the game and seal a 4-2 win. It was a humiliating showing and Hodgson never dared call up Shawcross again, instead leaving him to a quiet life of Pulis-ball.

4. Fraizer Campbell

Fraizer Campbell playing for Hull City

Fraizer Campbell has carved out a very interesting niche for himself of being a poacher-style striker who doesn’t actually score many goals - at least not at Premier League level, which you’d think would be a pretty good indicator of his chances as an England international.

Nonetheless, despite having a mere six top flight goals to his name at the time, Stuart Pearce decided to throw Campbell in at the deep end during his interim management spell, fielding Campbell for the last ten minutes in a defeat to the Netherlands.

Since then, he’s gone on to become a mediocre scoring force in the Championship, his most potent campaign to date being twelve goals for Hull in 2018/19. Cheers Psycho.

3. Carl Jenkinson

Carl Jenkinson is subbed off

Carl Jenkinson was seemingly handed an England cap by Hodgson in 2012 purely to ensure the relatively recent Arsenal signing wouldn’t elect to play for Finland instead, having represented them at U19 and U21 level.

As it transpired, Hodgson needn’t have bothered. Jenkinson’s career has only gone in one direction, albeit in no small part due to constant injury problems, and at the age of 28 he’s now in the Championship with Nottingham Forest.

While Finland have missed out on a potentially handy defender, England have been lumped with another one-cap wonder.

2. Martin Kelly

Martin Kelly gives a thumbs up

Martin Kelly is the proud owner of the shortest ever career of an England player and to be frank, it’s not hard to see why. Measuring in at a lofty 6 foot 3, to say full-backs of Kelly’s style have gone out of fashion over the last few years would be a bit of an understatement - in fact, even when he was called up in 2012 they were decisively old-school.

At that point he’d only actually made 24 Premier League appearances and were it not for the fact those came for Liverpool, it’s almost certain he’d never have been handed an international debut.

Kelly never featured for England beyond his record-setting two minutes and 39 seconds and after a couple of years was sold to Crystal Palace, where he still serves as a bit-part defender.

1. Jay Bothroyd

Jay Bothroyd celebrates scoring for QPR

If you thought the likes of Kevin Davies, Bobby Zamora and Fraizer Campbell were bad, Jay Bothroyd’s England outing really takes the biscuit.

This is a striker who, throughout his entire career, never scored more than two goals in a single Premier League season, and for that matter only actually played 62 games in the English top flight, in no small part due to the fact he quite simply wasn’t very good - pointlessly powerful trademark free kick excluded.

In fairness, his England outing came amid an affluent spell for Cardiff City in the Championship. But it’s quite incredible that there were no other forwards anywhere in the country deemed more worthy of a test on the international stage.

Bothroyd appeared as a second-half substitute against France and then faded back into relative nothingness, these days turning out in the Japanese top flight.

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