Noble, Tavernier, Campbell: Who are England’s best uncapped footballers?

West Ham's Noble looks on.

Plenty of fans overlook it, but the immense pride and honour that must come with earning full international honours is incredible.

People are quick to view international breaks and training camps as a hindrance, simply waiting for the return of domestic football and hoping their favourite player doesn’t fall victim to injuries.

The truth is, though, that international football and those breaks are massively helpful to club football, and are relished by most top players.

England and English football fans have long had a strange relationship. At times a spark has been missing; a pure connection between fan and squad. But, like a toxic relationship, everyone is hooked back in when the major tournaments roll around, putting on their finest retro Three Lions gear and belting out Baddiel and Skinner with immense national pride.

Players feel it too. And with only so many spots up for grabs, the competition to make a squad and get on the pitch at any possible opportunity is always high.

It means that over the years, plenty of top class footballers have unfortunately missed out on getting that illusive international cap for England, despite absolutely being good enough at one point in their career. Timing is everything, and for these players, it just hasn’t appeared to be on their side.

14. Matt Jansen

Starting out with hometown club Carlisle, Jansen looked a young sensation in the 1990s and turned down an offer to join Manchester United before later heading to Crystal Palace and then Blackburn Rovers, where he started exceptionally well.

His prolific displays for Blackburn resulted in Sven-Goran Eriksson calling him up for a friendly in 2002, but he withdrew due to illness, ultimately costing him a spot at the World Cup. He was in a near-fatal car accident that summer, however, and never recovered his form.

Jansen never got called up
12 Jan 2002: Matt Jansen of Blackburn celebrates his goal and Blackburns fourth goal during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Blackburn Rovers and Charlton Athletic at Ewood Park, Blackburn. DIGITAL IMAGE. Mandatory Credit: Alex Livesey/ Getty Images

13. Steve Ogrizovic

Coventry’s record appearance holder, Ogrizovic started out at Liverpool but forged a fine legacy with the Sky Blues from 1984-2000 and was regarded as one of the best English goalkeepers around through the late 1980s.

Somehow, though, he never quite convinced Bobby Robson or Graham Taylor enough to force his way into the setup and earn a cap. Not even once.

Ogrizovic was the best goalkeeper not to be capped
14 Sep 1996: Steve Ogrizovic of Coventry City in action during the FA Carling Premiership match between Coventry and Leeds at Highfield Road in Coventry. Coventry went on to win the match by 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Gary Prior/Allsport

12. Michail Antonio

Called up to the England squad by two different managers but still not being able to make an appearance, the Three Lions have unfortunately lost out on Antonio.

The striker was first called up without being capped by Sam Allardyce in 2016 and was again called up a year later by Gareth Southgate, but had to withdraw due to injury. He has since become a full international for Jamaica.

Antonio has switched allegiance to Jamaica
LYON, FRANCE – APRIL 14: Michail Antonio of West Ham United applauds fans while being substituted off during the UEFA Europa League Quarter Final Leg Two match between Olympique Lyon and West Ham United at Parc Olympique on April 14, 2022 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

11. James Tavernier

There are still doubts over Tavernier’s abilities due to him playing in the SPFL, but with his consistent levels and the fact he finished Europa League top scorer in 2021/22, it’s hard to deny his quality.

Tavernier, a right back, has quite clearly demonstrated he has the tools and has absolutely been deserving of an outing for the Three Lions. Unfortunately, England has somehow produced around a million and one international level right backs in the last few years, meaning he’s had to miss out.

Tavernier has excelled in Scotland
SEVILLE, SPAIN – MAY 18: James Tavernier of Rangers FC reacts during the UEFA Europa League final match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Rangers FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on May 18, 2022 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

10. Curtis Jones

At just 21 and still developing in one of the best teams in the world right now in Liverpool, Jones has plenty of time to earn that cap, and we’d be surprised if it didn’t come before his career was over.

However, playing a rotation role at Anfield isn’t helping his cause, and with competition for places so high in midfield, a cap would surely come sooner if Jones could find more regular football elsewhere.

Jones has time to be capped for England yet
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 20: Curtis Jones of Liverpool in action during the Carabao Cup Semi Final Second Leg match between Arsenal and Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on January 20, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

9. Paul Davis

A key cog in the machine for the pre-Premier League era Arsenal, Davis won the 1987 League Cup and 1989 and 1991 First Division crowns with the Gunners.

447 appearances for Arsenal shouldn’t go unnoticed, but alas, it did. During his spell with the club from 1980 to 1995, the midfielder only got as close as the England B team in 1991. Very harsh.

Paul Davis never got the England call-up
Undated: Paul Davis of Arsenal shields the ball from Alvin Martin of West Ham United during a match at Highbury Stadium in London. Arsenal won the match 1-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Dan Smith/Allsport

8. Dennis Mortimer

Over 600 appearances in the Football League, a First Division Title, a European Cup and more, Mortimer was a key figure in football through the 1980s.

He was the captain as Aston Villa lifted the European Cup in 1982 and captained the England B team, but somehow never got the full call-up.

Mortimer is a European champion
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 06: Villa player Dennis Mortimer takes on Graham Baker of Southampton during a First Division match at Villa Park on October 06, 1979 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. (Photo by Duncan Raban/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

7. Kevin Nolan

Nolan’s ascent as a youth corresponded with his club’s as Bolton Wanderers became Premier League regulars in the early 2000s, with Nolan emerging as one of England’s brightest young midfielders.

Flirting between the Championship and the Premier League throughout his career, Nolan established himself as a mightily experienced midfield cog, but somehow never got a game for England, even in a rather dismal early 2010s period for the Three Lions.

Nolan was good enough for England
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 8: Kevin Nolan of West Ham United celebrates after scoring the first goal of the game for his side during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and West Ham United at Villa Park on February 8, 2014 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)

6. Ivan Toney

Time is still very much on the side of Toney, and should Brentford continue to impress in the top flight in the coming seasons, he could well get himself out of this list.

He’s been good enough for a cap already, though, but just hasn’t been able to attract the attention of Southgate and worked his way into an incredibly stacked pool of strikers. It won’t be an easy job.

Toney still has time
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND – MAY 07: Ivan Toney of Brentford during the Premier League match between Brentford and Southampton at Brentford Community Stadium on May 7, 2022 in Brentford, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

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5. Mark Atkins

A Premier League winner, Atkins proved his worth and enjoyed his best season to help Blackburn win the title in 1994/95.

More often than not, a campaign like his would be good enough to propel you into the international setup, even briefly, but Atkins wasn’t so fortunate and his best opportunity to get an England cap passed him by.

Atkins is a Premier League winner
12 Aug 1995: David Unsworth of Everton slides in to tackle Mark Atkins of Blackburn during the Charity Shield final at Wembley Stadium in London. Everton won the match 1-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/Allsport

4. Will Hughes

Hughes was regarded as one of the most promising young English players around in the mid-2010s and was constantly linked to Liverpool. Representing England all the way up to under-21 level, it still hasn’t quite happened for him.

A slow burner of a player, Hughes has found his feet at a resurgent Crystal Palace, and if Patrick Vieira can find a regular spot in the starting XI for him, there’s no doubt that Southgate could call on the talented midfielder.

The best players to not be capped by England
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 08: Will Hughes of Crystal Palace celebrates at full time following victory in the Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Millwall and Crystal Palace at The Den on January 08, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

3. Kevin Campbell

With over 200 appearances for Arsenal as they won domestic and European silverware and a career as a reliable goal getter in the Premier League over two decades, it’s a mystery that Campbell never got capped once for England.

So much so, that Campbell is the player with the most goals without capped for the Three Lions at full, senior level. Immensely strange decision.

Campbell makes the list of best uncapped English players
30 Nov 1994: Portrait of Kevin Campbell of Arsenal ‘steaming” during a Coca Cola Cup match against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in London. Arsenal won the match 2-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Mike Hewitt/Allsport

2. Mark Noble

Looking beyond the laughs and jokes, and the sometimes over the top cries from West Ham fans, there is a serious underlying point about how Noble never got one singular England cap during his career.

Having retired at the end of the 2021/22 season as a one club man, the chance to get one is officially gone. Noble represented England at various youth levels and captained the under-21s, which makes his career-long exclusion from the senior squad all the more confusing.

Noble has retired without an England cap
LONDON, ENGLAND – MAY 15: Mark Noble of West Ham United looks on during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on May 15, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

1. Steve Bruce

Admittedly, it took a while for Bruce to be considered a truly great defender. It took a while for him to truly establish himself after moving to Manchester United in 1987, but when he did, he was helping them to their first few Premier League titles.

By the mid-to-late 1990s, Bruce was more than good enough to make the England squad and had the top winning pedigree to match, but the opportunity passed him by. And by the time he’d left United in 1996, that chance was gone.

Bruce was never capped for England
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 19: Manchester United defender Steve Bruce pictured before his debut for United against Portsmouth at Fratton Park after his move from Norwich City, in December 1987 in Portsmouth, United Kingdom. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

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