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The Courier Sport presents: the England best XI draft Part Five

Written by Sport, Sport Features

The crop of players is getting thinner and thinner as our writers talk through who they picked in rounds nine and ten.

Round Nine

Andrew White: Eric Dier

Image – Wikimedia Commons

With 40 caps already to his name having only just turned 26, Eric Dier’s England career is still an unfinished story. Despite this he has several memorable moments in an England shirt. What’s your favourite? Take your pick. His free kick against Russia at Euro 2016? His famous tackle against Sergio Ramos? How about that that penalty against Colombia, that you and your friends spent the night drinking and celebrating to? While admittedly Dier is open to criticism for his performances in a Spurs shirt, his performances for England are unquestionable. He has even captained England on one occasion, in November 2017 in the goalless draw against Germany.

Dier adds leadership and grit to a team that was blessed with it already, his defensive prowess gives extra protection to my attackers and allows Robson to push forward. If this team was a reality, Eric Dier would be the glue that holds it all together.

With many more moments in an England shirt to come, welcome to the team my son.

Tom Hardwick: Jackie Milburn

Jackie Milburn is, first and foremost, a Newcastle legend. He was the leading man in a team that won 3 FA Cups in the 1950s, scoring after just 45 seconds in the 1955 final to win what still remains Newcastle’s last major trophy. 200 goals for Newcastle (with another 38 in wartime fixtures) and your name on the main stand at St James’ Park certainly constitutes an impressive career, and despite making relatively few England appearances, Milburn’s international record is stellar. 10 goals in 13 appearances is no mean feat, especially given that England were not at their prime in the ‘50s. Milburn’s England career would surely have been better if not for the disruptive force of the Second World War, and if he was a decade younger, he may well have found himself in Alf Ramsey’s World Cup winning side. Regardless, Milburn was a superb striker, and his partnership with Stan Mortensen in my England XI is one to be feared.

Tom Moorcroft: Dele Alli

Image – Wikimedia Commons

I know what you’re thinking. “How could someone so young be warranted in a ‘legends’ side”. Well, after the conventional picks of Lampard, Gerrard and Scholes had gone, we had to look at some fresh faces to bolster our midfield. I couldn’t think of many future talents so deserving of a spot than Alli.

As his namesake suggests, he knocked-out the opposition early on in his career when, with MK Dons, he was responsible for a horrific 4-0 thrashing of Man United. That performance put him on the map and, after the scouts at Spurs signed him to the Premier League, he had his first England call up. In the 5 years in which he’s played for England, he’s already had 37 appearances, beating the likes of Nobby Stiles and Dennis Wise, and he’s only 23! He was sadly a presence in England’s poor Euro 2016 squad, but was also instrumental to England’s semi-final run at the 2018 World Cup. He even won the free kick which, after a Trippier masterclass, gave many England fans one of the greatest moments of their football lives. 

While young, Alli has recently seen a bit of form and, after the risks to football in the current climate decreases, he’ll hopefully continue on this path which may see him become an England legend.

Rebecca Johnson: Tommy Lawton

With Sheringham up front, serving more as a second striker being able to feed balls in, I realised I needed an out-and-out goalscorer. With many conventional strikers such as Kane, Lineker and Shearer gone, Tommy Lawton was my next choice.

Image – Wikimedia Commons

I’ve got an absolute steal here, as Lawton was your average pre-war striker, aka an unstoppable all-rounder. A dominating presence on the pitch, he could head the ball, score tap-ins, score from inside the box, outside the box, whatever you asked of him goal-scoring-wise- he could do it.

Scoring almost a goal every game, with 22 goals in 23 appearances, Lawton earns himself a spot at the top of the pitch where he’ll have chances aplenty thanks to balls coming in from Sheringham, Gazza and McManaman.

Colm Williams: Gary Pallister

In 1989, in his move from Middlesborough to Manchester United, he broke the British transfer record for a defender. Pallister made his England debut in 1988 despite playing in the English Second Division, a true indicator of his ability. Gary Pallister was a rock at the back and won four league titles in five seasons, cementing his place as a United legend. As a crucial player for Sir Alex Ferguson, it is down to poor selection he only won 22 caps for England. This is surely a reason for England’s lack of success during this period.

Pat Harland: Cliff Bastin (manager)

Just like so many England managers I was drawing a blank as to who should be playing on the left wing. So after a short bit of research I landed on my decision of Cliff Bastin, Arsenal legend and third highest scorer for the gunners. Tragically had his career interrupted by the second world war, medically unable to serve he played in matches to entertain the civilian populace. After the war he only played 7 matches before retiring from injury. He was a valuable servant to his country scoring twelve in twenty-one despite having his career interrupted during his prime.

Jack Smillie: Declan Rice

Image – Wikimedia Commons

Let’s pretend this article is written in 2030 not 2020; you’ll all be calling me a visionary once Rice proudly lifts the 2026 World Cup trophy in New York. The glory days will have returned, football will be on it’s way home courtesy of a first class British Airways jet, the sun will be shining, beer gardens will be bouncing, Carling will be flowing, life will be good. And, of course, a 27-year old Declan Rice will have played an instrumental role. A future team leader, the Mark Noble that England never had, the English Pirlo. At the time of writing, Rice has 7 caps for England following his infamous allegiance switch from Ireland, and has thus far proved himself worthy of the Three Lions badge in the Nations League and the 2020 Euros qualifications.

Joe Smith: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

The Ox. The frequently injured. The midfielder of dreams. As you can tell, i’m trying to hype up my average players as to give me a bit of leverage in this draft, where i’ll admit, i’m not doing too well. He still plays a key role in the frankly excellent Liverpool squad, part of a cracking mid three. As far as his international career goes, the Ox has done alright. 35 appearances for the senior side with a solid 7 goals. An injury meant he was left out of Southgate’s 2018 world cup squad and i think it’s fair to say his international career ended there.

Sesh Subramanian: Mason Mount

Ox was going to be my pick but when he was taken just before my turn, I turned to Chelsea’s central midfielder Mason Mount. This is a guy who is yet to enter the prime of his career and yet he is already enjoying a stellar season than most peers his age at the highest level. Mount has already made six appearances for England and scored once and is far more comfortable in the Three Lions shirt than most people would be. He is creative, he is direct and he can score goals from midfield. Playing for Chelsea, this could in some ways be a future Lampard in the making and I want to snap him up early.

Stan Gilyead: Paul Parker

Parker had a short and sweet England career. He only won fifteen caps, but the games he played were packed full of memorable moments. Having broken into the side a year earlier Parker was an important part of England’s Italia ’90 campaign, playing every game. He assisted Linekar’s goal in the semi against West Germany and was an unexpected standout player for England. Despite this he struggled to maintain his place in the side following the tournament, and when a young Gary Neville burst onto the scene in the mid 90s it became clear that his international career was coming to an end. Few players have packed as much into such a short international career and alongside Italia ’90 teammate Mark Wright, Parker will make a solid addition to my backline.

Toby Bryant: Glenn Johnson

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Perhaps not the first choice right-back, but at his best Glenn Johnson was a force to be reckoned with. The full-back made appearances at all of the 2010 World Cup, Euro 2012 and the World Cup 2014 for the Three Lions. Assists were a regular bonus of Johnson’s maurading runs, four in one game coming against Andorra in 2010!

Rory Ewart: Ledley King

I understand this may be seen as a rogue-ish call. Ledley King, however, in my opinion, was one of the most unfortunate players to have been thwarted with injury throughout their career.

King played internationally for eight years, a good indicator already that he was a player that was in high regard for some years by multiple managers. Despite this, he only amassed 21 appearances, comparatively less than his partner at the back for my team, Gary Cahill, who received over 60 caps in the same amount of years.

Despite setbacks to his body, many a footballing influencer was able to see the talents King had at his disposal when fit. Former England boss Fabio Capello described him once as “one of the best centre-backs”.

Dom Lee: Paul Robinson

Paul Robinson had the reflexes of an energizer bunny and was just as unpredictable. At his best Robinson could fly around the goal, stopping every shot threw his way with acrobatic save after acrobatic save. At his worst it looked like he was playing without hands. Robinson kept 24 clean sheets in 41 appearances for England which is an impressive statline considering he was playing under the (mis)guiding hand of Sven. I’m hoping Southgate can encourage him to play at his best and keep out the opposing strikers.

Round Ten

Dom Lee: Gareth Southgate (manager)

Image – Wikimedia Commons

Finally our saviour has arrived! After a revolving door of painfully average managers for what seems like the best part of 15 years England have finally found someone to lead them to glory. Gareth Southgate has a quality which many past managers in his position have lacked… empathy. Southgate understands what the players are going through when they pull on the white shirt all too well and actually motivates them rather than putting them down. This kind of encouragement clearly gets the best out of his players as we saw at the last world cup. Tactically Southgate is pretty flexible playing to the strengths of his team and can hopefully make do with a 4-4-2 diamond which I’m planning on playing. He led the England team to the Semi Finals in 2018 and with the squad I’m assembling it just might be coming home!

Rory Ewart: Trevor Francis

What a coup so late in the draft. Receiving his first England appearance from Don Revie in 1977, Francis went on to earn a further 52 appearances.

Image – Wikimedia Commons

His prolific goalscoring record from his time at Birmingham City may not have been quite replicated in an England shirt, Francis was a pivotal squad member for the World Cup in 1982, scoring against Czechslovakia and Kuwait. Francis was additionally able to end his career on a particularly high note, claiming his final cap in a victory against the ‘Auld Enemy’ Scotland in 1986.

Toby Bryant: Nigel Martyn

The next former Toffee to make my XI, Nigel Martyn’s England career was largely overshadowed by David Seaman. When he got the chance between the sticks, on 23 occasions, Martyn did come good. Most notably, against Spain in February 2001, the keeper came on for David James and went on to save a Javi Moreno penalty in a 3-0 win. More heroics for our team please Nigel!

Stan Gilyead: Graeme Le Saux

Football’s most famous Guardian reader, Graeme Le Saux, is a decent pick so late in the draft. There have definitely been better England left backs, but Le Saux is an underrated talent. Whilst staying defensively solid he always managed to be a creative force, regularly marauding up the pitch in support of attacks. He had a sweet left foot and a mean set piece delivery, whilst his sole goal for England, a spectacular long-distance effort against Brazil, has been voted the eighteenth best England goal of all time. Injury limited his England career to only 36 caps and one major tournament, but he was good value for them and provides my team with a solid option at left back.

Sesh Subramanian: Terry Venables (manager)

Continuing with theme of Chelsea and Tottenham, I am going for Terry Venables as my manager. Having led the side to a semifinal finish in Euro 96 on home soil, it was unlucky that he did not get a contract extension to last him till the next World Cup. His brand of attacking football enthralled the country that year and could have been so much more had it not been for a penalty shootout. Venables was tactically astute and players who played in Euro 96 under him including Alan Shearer and Gareth Southgate would say that they learnt a lot from him, which is incredibly hard to do when you yourself are one of the best players in your country and already know so much about the game.

Joe Smith: Phil Jones

Image – Wikimedia Commons

For the fifth time this draft, sorry everyone. Labelled in our draft groupchat the ‘Punishment player,’ Phil Jones was the guy you’d get if you missed your turn in the draft. I, however, picked him myself. Why you ask? I have no clue? 27 appearances for the England senior team with zero goals, as well as zero impact. I still don’t really know how he got into the 23 man squad for the 2018 world cup, but if there’s one thing i’ll never do, it’s question Southgate.

Jack Smillie: Tim Flowers

Flowers made 11 appearances between 1993 and 1998, making the squad for both the ‘96 Euros and the ‘98 World Cup. Flowers’ clean sheet percentage is one of the best. Sitting at 54.6%, that’s higher than Shilton, Seaman, Banks and Pickford. Regardless, at this point in the draft, goalkeepers were scarce to come by. But with an experienced man like Flowers sitting comfortably behind my back four, my defense is sound.

Pat Harland: Danny Rose

Image – Wikimedia Commons

The 29 capped left back despite dropping down the pecking order at his parent club Tottenham and ending up out on loan at Newcastle he remains a valued member of the England national set up. A versatile defender he is also a very capable player going forward an excellent player and well deserving of being in my side.

Colm Williams: Ron Flowers

Heralded as England’s greatest ever penalty taker, with an 100% conversion rate from the spot. This essential in any team to have a player who can step up to the spot and guarantee you a goal, and even more important for any England team that goes to a penalty shoot-out. A member of the winning 1966 World Cup team, he was a well rounded midfielder who would would bring composure to those around him. He was also the first Englishmen to ever score in a European Championship. Furthermore only Billy Wright has appeared in more consecutive games for England than Flowers, showing he was a reliable player of great consistency. He also provided goals from midfield, netting 10 goals in 49 caps.

Rebecca Johnson: Sam Allardyce (manager)

Every team needs a good manager, and who else would I have other than the man who has a 100% win rate as England manager? With an Adam Lallana goal against Slovakia in the World Cup qualifiers earning him this record, Sam Allardyce is my manager.

Big Sam may have left the role of England gaffer “by mutual consent” after “allegations of malpractice”, but there’s always a what if hanging over his tenure as manager. After seeing him as manager of Sunderland first-hand and helping us to our last “great escape”, I was one of those aggrieved Sunderland fans annoyed that the FA had robbed us of a half-decent manager. Allardyce gets a lot of stick for his long-ball and defensive tactics, but sometimes you need to go back to basics. With a team like mine, Allardyce is able to exercise creative freedom and prove his critics wrong. The FA may not have your back Sam, but I do.

Image – Wikimedia Commons

Tom Moorcroft: Chris Smalling

With centre backs going at an alarming rate, I was very limited in my choice for Tony Adam’s partner. I thought that whoever was put with Adams would have his strong words of guidance to see them through the game. In that sense, I needed someone with a strong physical presence. Someone who, at one time or another, was mirrored with one of the best CBs to ever play. I’m talking, of course, about Smalldini.

Chris Smalling’s career, more notably in the Prem with Manchester United, has been something of a rollercoaster. He’d have an odd season when he dominated the backline, then the next season he’d fall to a sub-par level. However, with his recent form in Rome, being described as a “totem of [Roma’s] defence”, I could see him doing bits at the back.

His England career has seen him play 31 games and at the age of 30, although not a regular face at the moment, he could burst back into the team at any time. At the end of the day, with over 200 league appearances he’s a seasoned veteran, and clocking in at 6’4’’ he’d strike fear in any wise centre-forward. As long as he continues in the form in which he’s had in recent years, he could be a tidy replacement for any of the current England CBs.

Tom Hardwick: Ross Barkley

Image – Wikimedia Commons

It’s hard to believe that Ross Barkley has been an England international for 7 years, but the 26 year old won the first of his 33 caps way back in 2013. He seemed destined for greatness when he emerged at Everton, and although his move to Chelsea may have started slowly, there are hopes that he will come into his own under Frank Lampard’s tutelage. Barkley has 6 international goals, 4 of which came in the most recent Euro qualifying campaign, as he helped England reach the now-postponed Euro 2020 comfortably. Barkley is still young in footballing terms, and if he can consistently display the attacking prowess that drew comparisons to Paul Gascoigne early in his career, his England career will blossom.

Andrew White: Mike Basset (manager)

An English footballing legend in the world of fiction, Mike Bassett guided England to the 2002 World Cup semi-finals. After manager Phil Cope had suffered a heart attack, Bassett took over the reigns with three World Cup qualifiers remaining. Despite a slow start to the job, England just about qualified for the World Cup. An old-schooled manager, Bassett was renowned for his belief in returning football to the basics. His preferred formation was “4-4-f**king-2”. Bassett’s team needed to beat Argentina in their last group game to progress from the group stage, doing so in a 1-0 win. Wins against Romania and France followed. This meant England had reached the semi-finals for the first time since 1990, equalling England’s best performance since winning the trophy in 1966.

Bassett is a brilliant manager for my team due to his “never say die” attitude, Bassett’s England were always underdogs with himself an unfancied manager. By the end of the 2002 World Cup, he and his England team were national heroes. I want a never say die attitude to transcend through the players, and there is no better England manager for this than Mike Bassett.

Last modified: 30th March 2020

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