Ahead of Wayne Rooney’s farewell appearance for England, Sports Mole looks at whether the all-time leading goalscorer would make it into his country’s best ever XI.
Much has been made of the gesture, from claims that it devalues a cap to arguments that Rooney deserves a proper send-off, but regardless of one’s standpoint it will be the end of an era for the Three Lions.
Rooney made his debut for his country in 2003 and has gone on to become the leading goalscorer in England history, in addition to making more appearances than any other outfield player – Thursday’s match will be his 120th.
The 33-year-old’s status as an English football legend is secure, then, but does he make it into the Three Lions’ greatest ever XI?
Here, Sports Mole has given itself the almost-impossible task of picking an all-time England team.
Peter Shilton is the only player to have made more appearances for England than Rooney, but even his 125-cap haul which spanned from 1970 to 1990 – when he helped England to the World Cup semi-finals – is not enough to earn him a place in the team. Shilton’s appearance total may well have been significantly bigger in any other era too, but competition from Gordon Banks and Ray Clemence ensured a golden period for English goalkeeping.
Clemence was another player in the running for the gloves, but Banks has the substantial advantage of having lifted the World Cup. Regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of all time, Banks played 73 times for England in all and pulled off what many regard to be the greatest save in football history when he denied Pele‘s header at the 1970 World Cup.
Banks’s fellow World Cup winner Bobby Moore is perhaps the easiest choice in the whole team having captained his country to their greatest ever triumph, but selecting who partners him at the heart of the defence is a much more difficult job.
Jack Charlton, Tony Adams, Terry Butcher, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell and Emlyn Hughes all deserve mentions, but Billy Wright gets the nod as the first ever international player to win 100 caps. The Wolverhampton Wanderers legend finished with 105 in the end and was revered as one of the great central defenders in his day.
Two more modern players provide the full-back width, with Gary Neville‘s major tournament record giving him the edge of Phil Neal, who was part of the England set-up during the 1970s when they often failed to reach the World Cup or European Championship. Neville is England’s most-capped right-back and was part of the team that made it to the Euro 1996 semi-finals.
Ashley Cole was often England’s best performer from their ‘Golden Generation’, appearing at five major tournaments and winning 107 caps overall to become his country’s most-capped full-back. Kenny Sansom, Ray Wilson and Stuart Pearce deserve honourable mentions too.
Things only get trickier as we move further up the field, with a plethora of legends including Paul Gascoigne, Glenn Hoddle, Nobby Stiles, Frank Lampard, Martin Peters, Alan Ball and Duncan Edwards missing out on a place in midfield.
It is a formidable trio, though, with Bobby Charlton ranking alongside Moore as one of the first names on the teamsheet. The Manchester United stalwart was England’s leading appearance-maker and goalscorer at the time of his retirement and was instrumental in helping the team to World Cup glory in 1966, scoring twice in the semi-final against Mexico.
Alongside him are two midfielders who could do it all. Bryan Robson would have significantly built on his 90-cap haul but for the injuries which blighted his still-brilliant career, while Steven Gerrard went on to make 114 appearances for his country before hanging up his boots after the 2014 World Cup.
The quality of the two wingers selected forces us to go with a 4-3-3 formation as the likes of David Beckham and John Barnes miss out in the wide positions, which instead go to the legendary duo Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney.
Both were giants of the game during their playing careers and are still regarded as two of the finest wingers the sport has ever seen, with Finney – able to pay on either wing or up front – scoring 30 goals in 79 games for England and Matthews – winner of the first ever Ballon d’Or at the age of 41 – enjoying a 23-year international career.
The centre-forward role is the most keenly contested in the entire team, with Rooney among the players to miss out. Jimmy Greaves, Nat Lofthouse, Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, Dixie Dean, Kevin Keegan and even the World Cup final hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst also have to play second fiddle to Gary Lineker.
Lineker was by no means the best all-round player from that selection, but in terms of goalscorers there were few better. The 1986 World Cup Golden Boot winner scored 48 goals in just 80 appearances for his country, leaving him behind only Rooney and Charlton in the all-time list.
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