The Olympics have provided the nation with a constant stream of successes to celebrate over the last couple of weeks, but our Olympic men’s footballers were sadly not part of this. Once it went to penalties against the South Koreans, we all feared the worst and the outcome was almost inevitable given that the squad was predominantly English. That said, it was a young and relatively inexperienced squad that fought hard but in the end didn’t quite have the quality to challenge for a medal. So, in light of England’s Euro 2012 woes and Team GB failing to provide any consolatory medal, we have compiled the definitive English All-Time XI to remind ourselves of the truly world-class players that have represented the nation. With so many players to choose from, there were bound to be notable absences but if you’re reading this Pele, please forgive our decision to admit Nicky Butt.
Peter Shilton (125 caps, 0 goals) 1970-1990
Some may prefer World Cup-winner Gordon Banks, or perhaps even David Seaman, as the England All-Time number one, but Shilton managed to notch up well over a hundred England caps to become our nation’s most-capped player, despite beginning his international career at 32. Shilton also holds the record (jointly with Fabien Barthez) for most clean sheets at World Cup finals, with 10 clean sheets in 17 appearances.
Gary Neville (85 caps, 0 goals) 1995-2007
Neville was a top performer for both club and county. Despite lacking the pace usually associated with full backs, his overlapping runs and superb crossing more than made up for his slowness. Despite his aptitude going forward, it was in defence that Neville thrived, largely thanks to his impeccable reading of the game and tactical nous – attributes which have been exemplified in his recent work as a pundit and commentator for Sky Sports.
Bobby Moore (108 caps, 2 goals) 1962-1973
The word legend is used all too frequently in the media nowadays but it is a word befitting Bobby Moore. He was the consummate defender and played every minute of every single one of his England caps. Pele described England’s World Cup winning captain as the best defender he ever played against, which is high praise from a man more used to self-aggrandisement than praising other players.
Billy Wright (105 caps, 3 goals) 1946-1959
The Wolves legend was the first player in world football to surpass 100 international caps and was runner-up to the legendary Alfredo di Stefano in the 1957 Ballon d’Or (albeit by a large margin). Wright played for England 105 times, losing just 21 matches during that time and captaining England on a record 90 occasions.
Ashley Cole (98 caps, 0 goals) 2000-present
Cole is the only member of the current England squad to make the All-Time XI, and rightfully so. His performances for both club and country have marked him out as a genuinely world-class player, even in the twilight of his career. Furthermore, he is one of only a handful of England players in recent times to recreate his club form at international level; something which Wayne Rooney and others are yet to achieve.
David Beckham (115 caps, 17 goals) 1996-2009
The former England captain is probably the most recognisable footballer in the world, and has twice been the runner-up of FIFA World Player of the Year (1999 & 2001). Despite his unparalleled fame, Beckham’s devotion to the national side and the passion he showed whenever he played for England was unquestionable. Unlike some players in recent times who have retired from international football simply because they have been passed over for selection (for example Jamie Carragher and Ben Foster), Beckham (along with his close friend Gary Neville) has stated that he never intends to retire from international football – he is at his nation’s disposal; just as it should be, but refreshing patriotism nonetheless, especially in this age of overpaid, egocentric footballers.
Paul Gascoigne (57 caps, 10 goals) 1988-1998
The mercurial Gascoigne had his problems off the pitch, but his ability on the pitch was clear for all to see. Though his international career was cut short due to his battle with alcoholism and other personal problems, Gascoigne demonstrated his remarkable ability and, importantly, he produced stellar performances in big games and at major tournaments – shown by the fact that he is one of only seven English players to be named in a FIFA World Cup All-Star team (Italia ’90).
Bobby Charlton (106 caps, 49 goals) 1958-1970
England’s top goal-scorer and 1966 Ballon d’Or winner is probably the greatest player ever to don an England shirt. Having survived the tragedy that was the Munich air disaster of 1958, Charlton received his first England cap just over a month later, scoring on debut. This marked the start of Charlton’s meteoric rise to international recognition, winning the World Cup in 1966 as well as the Golden Boot for the tournament.
Tom Finney (76 caps, 30 goals) 1946-1958
Preston born and bred, Sir Tom Finney played for North End for his entire career. Finney was renowned for his dribbling ability and famously never received a booking during his 14-year career. Possibly the greatest tribute to Finney came from Tommy Docherty, who, when asked this year which modern day players are as talented as Finney, replied that only Lionel Messi could be compared to the great man.
Alan Shearer (63 caps, 30 goals) 1992-2000
The Premier League’s all-time top goalscorer and joint-fifth goalscorer for England had an incredibly slow start to his England career, scoring just five goals in his first 23 matches at international level. However, Shearer eventually managed to recreate his domestic form at Euro 96 and never looked back. His 25 goals in his subsequent 40 England games repaid the faith shown in him by Terry Venables and made Shearer a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.
Gary Lineker (80 caps, 48 goals) 1984-1992
England’s own fox in the box is famous for his prolific goalscoring record and for being squeaky-clean as a player (barring an unfortunate incident one night in Cagliari). Though he ended his career one goal shy of Bobby Charlton’s record, Lineker is undoubtedly England’s best striker. The decision by Graham Taylor to substitute Lineker in the Euro ’92 match against Sweden has retrospectively been criticised for robbing Lineker of the opportunity to break Charlton’s record but in reality it mattered very little. Taylor’s decision is only loosely analogous to Michael Atherton’s famously cruel declaration against Australia with Hick not out on 98; Lineker may have been denied the prestige of being the record-holder, but his legacy had already been secured.