A long-standing tradition in international football is that players retire after tournaments. Peter Shilton did so after Italia ’90 and Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard did too after World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Although no England players have hung up their shirts post-Russia, there is of course a more brutal way for your England career to end – simply not being called up again. Here is a list, in increasing likelihood, of players who may well have worn The Three Lions for the final time, already. And if not, then their England swansongs are not too far away.
It probably sounds extremely harsh of me to start with the refreshingly athletic pest that is Jamie Vardy. But that is exactly what I am going to do. To be fair though, I was hardly going to include Andy Carroll or Phil Jagielka. This is a list of England players who could conceivably play on for a further while but may not. Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were the core two of Leicester City’s title-winning campaign in 2016. However, Jamie Vardy is now 31, and that will at some point begin to catch up with him.
His twenty-six England caps may well hit thirty, but much less likely forty. The majority of his seven goals have come in prestige friendlies, including strikes against Germany, The Netherlands, Spain and Italy. Roy Hodgson fans may well remember his equaliser against Wales at Euro 2016, too. All of this bodes well for Vardy, but you have to be more than refreshing and athletic and a pest to remain an international deep into your thirties. Jamie Vardy is England’s non-league revolutionary, but his days may unfortunately be numbered. He can blame his age and England’s fine youth system for that.
33 this side of Christmas [sorry to mention the festivities in August], Gary Cahill played a firmly sat-down role in Russia this year. His return to international football in the pre-tournament friendly with Nigeria was firmly justified by that Slabhead-esque header into the roof of the net. Some may not know he has appeared over sixty times for his country now, and that was his fifth goal. However, he hadn’t had a terribly good time of it prior to that, and had been well out of favour for Antonio Conte at Chelsea [now long gone].
Cahill was once labelled England’s next John Terry and, comparing his five goals in 61 to Terry’s six in 78, he really isn’t too far behind anymore. Gary Cahill has been a committed and capable representative for Fabio, Roy and [briefly] Southgate, but you’d get good odds on him needing to cancel the family holiday in the summer of 2020. Then again… Cahill for ITV punditry anyone?
The internet includes many things. But none are more plentiful than memes of ‘Dat Guy Welbz’. Often mocked for his not-so-clinical style of play, the former Manchester United graduate and player was first capped way back in 2011. He bizarrely debuted against Ghana, his parents’ country of origin. But since then, a rather average club career has set him back from ever realising the promise he held as an England youth player. The Arsenal man never hit the ground running at United, nor at his current club.
That said, his England career is remarkably impressive. With sixteen goals in forty caps, Welbeck has already surpassed the goal-scoring exploits of Trevor Francis, Stanley Matthews and Teddy Sheringham for their country. Take a minute, and then read on. A huge fourteen of his sixteen England goals came during Roy Hodgson’s reign as manager, and since 2012 he has scored for his country in every year, bar grim 2016. Danny Welbeck is not lacking youth, nor a reputation in international football. He is simply lacking the killer instinct that would make him a player worth representing your club, as well as your country. Cheers for the memories Danny, but let’s give some of the younger forwards a go now.
This is maybe a complete contradiction to the Andy Carroll point made earlier, but I would like to stress that Walcott is a more likely choice to call up in the coming few years than Carroll or, say, Aaron Lennon. His international career began in 2006 when he was packed on a plane as a teenage prodigy and chucked on the bench for the World Cup. Since then, things have been very unpredictable for Walcott. A hat-trick in his second England match made him an instant favourite with the tabloids, but he had to wait a further four years to score again. Fair enough though, it was at a major tournament. Sometimes Theo Walcott has left a pitch having played like a world-class forward, others he has left as an out-of-his-depth winger. A failure to ever commit to any one position [partly from him and partly by Arsene Wenger] meant a move was finally triggered this year. A decent start at Everton may have hinted at a resurgence, but that now seems unlikely.
Thrown into the limelight way too early, Walcott’s potential, equal to that of Wayne Rooney’s or Paul Gascoigne’s, will never be reached now. The press’ early obsession with Theo didn’t help, but a case could be make that he is simply too nice a person to ever possess that true killer instinct mentioned earlier. Theo Walcott will go down as a promising player with an underwhelming career. Time is not on his side, but let’s hope for his sake he has a cracking season in Merseyside, before firing in a belter to win England the first ever Nations League title. Is that plausible? It may be unlikely he’ll even play again for his country, never mind hit the back of the net once more.
The mistreatment of Joe Hart, one of football’s nicest and most professional men, will likely have cut his time at the top at least half a decade short when we look back in ten years. Manchester City’s, and England’s, number 1 for nearly a decade, his shoddy performances at Euro 2016 saw him shipped out to Torino for a rocky loan spell, before times were equally unpredictable at West Ham last term. In 2012 experts were labelling him world-class. Today, with no disrespect, he signed for Burnley for the same money spent by Juventus on Ian Rush in 1987. Forget inflation. Joe Hart has travelled to every tournament since World Cup 2010, but Gareth Southgate’s decision to leave him out of the squad this time round may have signalled the beginning of the end for Hart.
At 31, the former Birmingham City man will be competing with fellow shot-stoppers Tom Heaton and Nick Pope for a place at Burnley and England now. Only Peter Shilton has been capped more times for England as goalkeeper than Hart, who now sits level with David Seaman on 75 caps, but above the legendary Gordan Banks. Of those 75 caps, 43 brought clean-sheets. Thanks to San Marino for that. Joking aside, that is quite some company to be in amongst and Hart’s England career will certainly go down as a deservedly long one. The question is whether it will go on any longer…
Vardy’s deft flick against Germany; Cahill’s headers-a-plenty; and Welbeck’s crazy backheel against Sweden at Euro 2012, are all cracking memories that won’t be forgotten. Eternal too are Walcott’s Croatia hat-trick in 2008 and Joe Hart’s world-class heroics in Slovenia in 2016. These five players’ days in England white and red are numbered, but all five have shown passion and pride when representing so-called ‘Albion’. Only time will tell whether their successors can do the job as well as they did.