A big hoo-ha is made every time an England player retires from international duty. It brings up that age-old discussion – is it disrespectful to take yourself out of squad contention by retiring or not? The fact that the majority of England players don’t formerly retire makes this Top 5 a little harder to produce. The likes of Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe and Gareth Barry have not retired from England duty as such. Neither have Aaron Lennon or Scott Carson.
So, here is a collection of the five best English players to have retired from Three Lions duties.
Derby County’s Ashley Cole will go down in history as one of the greatest left-backs the sport has ever seen. Cole holds the record for the most FA Cup winners’ medals as a player. The Arsenal academy graduate was first capped by England in 2001. He went on to win 107 caps for his country – more than any other England fullback in history. Although Cole never actually scored for England, he has been an attacking threat throughout his career, picking up well-taken goals and world-class assists wherever he has been, but most-notably for Arsenal and Chelsea. His career has also taken him to Crystal Palace, Roma and LA Galaxy.
Now aged 38, Cole has so far appeared just twice for Derby – scoring his first ever FA Cup goal in a defeat to Brighton last month. Although things may not have got off to a flying start under former teammate Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole is still a capable left-back and a tireless athlete. He takes fifth place.
Gary Cahill and Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy made it clear after the World Cup that they were both “taking a step back from international football”. They stated that if Gareth Southgate found himself in a selection crisis because of injury that they would be happy to come back in. However, seeing how Southgate’s pool of players has grown in recent months, that appears increasingly unlikely. We can then consider these two, effectively, semi-officially retired.
Cahill, himself, was a mainstay in England’s back-line between 2011 and 2017. The Chelsea captain, although he has played just seven times this season, has won an impressive 61 caps for England. In this eight-year stint as an international, Cahill hit the back of the net for the Three Lions five times, scoring against Bulgaria, Holland, Peru, Scotland and Nigeria. An effective and sturdy defender at Bolton Wanderers, he moved to Chelsea in 2012, and six months later put in outstanding displays as the club saw off Barcelona and Bayern Munich to win the UEFA Champions League.
This season, Cahill has very much played a cameo role for Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea, often not even being named on the matchday squads. However, the 33-year-old still has enough left in the tank to ensure he enjoys a strong end to his career when he finally makes that inevitable transfer away from Stamford Bridge this summer. Who knows where he will end up?
A player that perhaps left English football sooner than expected, Wayne Rooney is England’s leading goalscorer and is a legend of the English game. The Everton teenage sensation was snapped up by Sir Alex Ferguson at quite a price, but through his 13 years at Manchester United he more than paid back the £26 million of faith placed in him in 2004. Four goals at Euro 2004 as an 18-year-old made him an instant hit with England fans. He went on to score 53 goals for them, over a Three Lions career that spanned 15 years and 120 matches.
The debate that surrounded his charity international with the USA in November is all in the past now, and most England fans would agree he was a hard-working and hard-to-replace servant to his country. His first season in the MLS with DC United went exceedingly well. His 12 goals in 21 matches would have been enough on their own, but plenty of assists; a few perfect last-ditch challenges; and the fact that many of his DC goals were stunning long-range efforts only confirmed that Rooney has still got it.
This is a player whose fitness, professionalism and hunger could see him playing well into his late-thirties. Rooney is no longer world class, but is a more-than-capable veteran, nonetheless.
One of the best examples of how that fairy-tale journey from non-league football to Premier League stardom can come true, Jamie Vardy’s breakthrough season was of course Leicester City’s title-winning campaign. Between July 2015 and July 2016, Vardy scored 24 Premier League goals, won the Premier League, won the Premier League Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards and scored in Euro 2016 for England in their derby against Wales. It all happened very fast for Vardy. But every time he has stepped up a level, he has been able to cope with the increases in pressure and difficulty.
His raw pace and shoot-by-all-means attitude has made him a fresh and unique player in his half-decade in the Premier League. And for England, he has always played in exactly the same way. It’s this level of unpredictability he brings that has seen many of his best displays in red and white come against the world’s best nations. His first England goal was that glorious backheel in Berlin, as Roy Hodgson’s men saw off world champions Germany 3-2. He went on to score seven times for England, with the Netherlands, Spain and Italy amongst the nations to concede to the former Fleetwood Town man.
This season, Vardy has scored 10 league goals already, and is well placed to finish as one of the Premier League’s top scorers for the fourth year running.
This is a player who really is aging like a fine wine. Milner’s career started in the same rich vein of form that it is ending in. He made his Premier League debut in 2002, becoming the youngest ever league scorer at 16, although he has since been overtaken by James Vaughan. James Milner’s youth career continued to blossom, and in the process he became the most-capped England U-21s player ever.
His early years with his beloved Leeds United and then Newcastle United prepared him for transfers to Aston Villa and then to Manchester City. Five years at City came to an end in 2015, when he joined Liverpool in the summer on a free transfer. He soon became vice-captain, and it is at Liverpool in his later years that Milner has become such a dependable and industrious central midfielder. In Liverpool’s inspiring run to the Champions League final last season, he broke the record for most assists in a single campaign – nine.
For England, Milner was always an honest and dependable winger. He was a particular favourite under Hodgson and, although he only represented the Three Lions for seven years, he played over 60 times. England didn’t see the best of James Milner, but Liverpool fans certainly are doing. He’s the best retired England player still active at club level.