A spate of injuries to regulars such as Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney has given other players the chance to shine for their country in recent months. Jamie Vardy, Dele Alli, Danny Drinkwater and Eric Dier have lit up the Premier League this season, and when given their chance by England recently they grabbed it with both hands. But what happens when everyone returns to full fitness? Will they just become another example of players ignored by England, while the so-called “established” players are instantly restored to the line up?
History has shown that each England manager has players that they trust implicitly, and are almost seen as undroppable. Alan Shearer was a good example of this, as between 1994 and 1996 he went almost two years without scoring for his country. Despite the fact that Terry Venables had Robbie Fowler, Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand and Ian Wright, Shearer retained his place regardless. This kind of attitude has cost many players a genuine shot at an international career.
Listed below are ten players who were never given a real chance by their country. Despite having stellar careers at club level, they all earned less than twenty caps for England, and in some cases none at all. It’s probably fair to say that most of them would walk into the current squad if they were playing today.
Les Ferdinand; 1993 – 98. 17 caps, 5 goals
A superb striker who had the misfortune to be around when at a time when England were inundated with options up front, in his time with QPR. “Sir Les” would regularly score 20 goals or more per season, and carried this on during a two-year spell at Newcastle. Despite his superb form at club level, England’s strike force would tend to be Alan Shearer and whichever striker was in form at that time. He was selected for both the Euro 96 and 1998 World Cup squads, but didn’t play a single minute in either tournament.
Mike Summerbee; 1968 – 72. 8 caps, 1 goal
Rated by many Manchester City fans as one of their greatest ever players, Summerbee was unfortunate to be at his peak at a time when England were reigning World Champions. Although instrumental for a City side that won the league title, FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup, he was overlooked for the 1970 World Cup squad, and played just five full games for his country.
Steve Bruce; 0 caps, 0 goals
One of Sir Alex Ferguson’s earliest signings, Bruce was a key player for Manchester United in the early 1990’s. When you consider the number of trophies he won at Old Trafford, it is amazing that Bruce was never capped. If this wasn’t strange enough, Neil Ruddock, Keith Curle, Colin Cooper and even Carlton Palmer were tried in the centre of defence during the 1990’s. He was offered the chance to represent his country in a friendly in 1995, but turned it down stating that he would rather be uncapped than chosen out of sympathy.
Matt Le Tissier; 1994 – 97. 8 caps, 0 goals.
One of the strangest stories of them all, Matt Le Tissier was seemingly ignored by England for choosing to stay at Southampton for his entire career. Despite offers from practically every top English club, he chose to remain where he was happy. He was the first midfielder to amass 100 Premier League goals, but became another statistic of England’s tendency to overlook maverick players. A good example of this is the fact that 75% of his international appearances were in friendlies, and he was completely overlooked for Euro 96.
Rodney Marsh; 1971 – 73. 9 caps, 1 goal.
A fantastic talent, but with a reputation as a troublemaker seemingly counting against him in terms of his international prospects. Often fined by the F.A. for retaliatory behaviour to those who fouled him, Marsh was overlooked for the 1970 World Cup, despite an impressive goals tally for QPR.
He did help England win the now-defunct British Home Championship in 1972, with his only goal for his country coming in that same tournament. It is rumoured that his attitude was not appreciated by Sir Alf Ramsey, which maybe explains why such a great player’s England career lasted less than eighteen months.
Clive Allen; 1984 – 88. 5 caps, 1 goal.
One of the most prolific goalscorers of the 1980’s, Allen was perhaps unfortunate that Gary Lineker and Mark Hateley were ahead of him in the pecking order when he was at the height of his powers. Injuries restricted his appearances for Tottenham in the run up to the 1986 World Cup, and he was left out of the squad completely.
The following season Allen scored 49 goals in all competitions, with 33 of them in the league, which is still a record in English football – he was awarded with just one England cap for his troubles. In 1988, he won his fifth and final cap for his country at the age of 27.
Andy Cole; 1995 – 2001. 15 caps, 1 goal.
Five league titles, two F.A. Cups and a Champions League win, playing for the top team in the country and, until recently, the second highest goalscorer in Premier League history, despite these achievements, Cole was constantly overlooked by England managers. Hoddle’s decision to leave him out of the 1998 World Cup squad is still a baffling one, having hit 25 goals that season. Their spat was made public after the manager accused Cole of needing six or seven chances to score a goal. Cole responded by calling Hoddle a coward.
Fifteen caps in six years, the first four all under different managers, is hardly giving someone a fair crack of the whip – especially when the alternative was often Emile Heskey.
Stan Bowles; 1974 – 77. 5 caps 1 goal.
It seems that playing for QPR was the way to avoid being selected for England over the years. Stan Bowles was the star player in the club’s greatest ever team, which finished as league runners up in 1976. Like the man he replaced at Loftus Road, Rodney Marsh, he was seen as a bit of a troublemaker but with a special talent – and was recognised by the club’s fans as their greatest ever player in 2004. This did not help his international aspirations, however, as he won just five caps in three years under three different managers.
Ray Parlour; 1999 – 2000. 10 caps, 0 goals.
A man whose contribution to all of Arsène Wenger’s early successes at Arsenal often goes unheralded. Nicknamed “The Romford Pelé” by Gunners fans, his tireless and energetic performances were often overshadowed by the likes of Anelka, Bergkamp, Henry and Vieira. Not a maverick of a player by any stretch of the imagination, but usually one of the first names on Wenger’s team sheet.
With all that he achieved at Highbury, it’s amazing that his international career spanned less than two years before he was placed in the England wilderness. In fairness, a knee injury ruled him out of Euro 2000, but once Sven-Göran Eriksson took charge, Parlour never played for his country again, despite being called up to several of his squads.
Billy Bonds; 0 caps, 0 goals.
Rated by many as the greatest player never to play for England, and a lynchpin of the West Ham side for more than two decades making almost 800 appearances, Bonds was selected for the squad in November 1977 in a World Cup qualifier against Italy, but did not get on to the pitch. In 1981, a rib injury prevented him from making his debut in a friendly against Brazil. By this time, Bonds was nearing his 35th birthday and realised that his chance had gone.
England have always tried to pick a “settled” side, and often gone for reliability and players the managers have been comfortable with. Following the 1970 World Cup, it was ten years before England qualified for a major tournament again. The list above contains four players who were at their peak in this period (Summerbee, Bowles, Marsh and Bonds) who only just about amassed more than twenty caps between them, despite being among the best players in English football in their respective positions. Would England have qualified for some of these tournaments if they had indulged their talents, rather than ignored them?
When England manager Glenn Hoddle decided to leave Paul Gascoigne out of the 1998 World Cup squad, Le Tissier would have been the perfect player to fill the role of playmaker. Instead he went for Paul Ince and David Batty, who were great players but without the same creative influence. Hoddle was ahead of his time in the way he wanted England to play, but the system was dependant on a player like Gascoigne or Le Tissier – players who could produce something out of the ordinary. The nearest thing England had in that position was 32-year-old Rob Lee, who inexplicably was called up.
Given some of the players ignored by England, it’s no exaggeration to say that they deserve their lack of success. The annoying thing is that fans and pundits alike complain that we don’t produce the players to win tournaments, but when we do we alienate them. If players like Marsh and Le Tissier, with the talent they possessed, had been born in Italy or Brazil, they would been embraced by their country and probably had the team built around them.
England have some really good up and coming players, some of whom could be top class in the future. It is important that they don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.