Marcus Rashford in line to equal Jermain Defoe’s unwanted England record

Marcus Rashford and other England sub favourites.
Marcus Rashford and other England sub favourites.

Holding the record for the most England sub appearances is a curious ‘achievement’. And Marcus Rashford is in line to join Jermain Defoe at the top if he comes off the bench against Belgium.


10) Emile Heskey (62 apps, 22 as sub)
He’s top of this list of England players who were better for country than club, with Michael Owen his biggest fan as they formed the last great ‘big man, little man’ combination for England. He was phenomenal in that famous 5-1 dismantling of Germany back when nobody dismantled Germany.

He never quite had the same relationship with Wayne Rooney, culminating in the absolute clusterf*** of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The last of Heskey’s 22 appearances off the bench came in that 4-1 defeat to Germany when he replaced the ineffective Jermain Defoe.


9) Peter Crouch (42 apps, 23 as sub)
Surely the ultimate ‘offers something different off the bench’ player, he also features high on that ‘better for country than club’ list. For England, the usually goal-shy Crouch bagged 22 times in 42 games – only 19 of them from the start – and was good for a goal every 99 minutes. His 0.52% strike rate is marginally better than Alan Shearer, Bobby Charlton and Wayne Rooney. 

Actually started the first two games of the 2006 World Cup after that hat-trick v Jamaica but was firmly back on the bench when things got serious. That would become a pattern as he started less than a third of the games for which he was available. His last appearance in 2010 was also marked by his final goal for England; he never quite recovered from being third fiddle behind Andy Carroll and Jay Bothroyd. Who could?


8) Phil Neville (59 apps, 23 as sub)
Included in three European Championship squads (including the disaster of 2000) but never made it to a World Cup, despite his versatility making him a very useful man to have on the bench.

Played under six England managers, the last of which – Steve McClaren – used him as a sub in three successive 3-0 wins. It’s when he left him on the bench that it all started to go wrong, so there’s a lesson there. Still remains at No. 50 in the England ladder of a website that used to be very good.


7) Joe Cole (56 apps, 25 as sub)
Too fancy-dan to be initially trusted by England, 17 of his first 19 caps came off the bench. Was then pretty much first choice for three years that sandwiched the 2006 World Cup, which featured *that* goal v Sweden.

He then once again became a peripheral figure under Fabio Capello and, along with Heskey, made his final England appearance from the bench in that World Cup shoeing by Germany. He later said that England had been let down by a lack of “tactical sophistication” at World Cups, which is probably code for ‘Joe Cole should have played more’.


6) Owen Hargreaves (42 apps, 25 as sub)
“The problem I’ve got is that the English public don’t know me,” said Hargreaves after he was repeatedly and ludicrously booed by England fans in the summer of 2006. Thankfully for Jude Bellingham, things have changed in the 18 years since.

Extraordinarily, that was five years into his England career and within another two years – when Hargreaves was just 27 – his England career would be over. Eventually he had won over the sceptical England fans, named England Player of the Year for 2006 just months after he had been roundly booed.


5) Kieron Dyer (33 apps, 25 as sub)
A ‘not quite’ player for England, Dyer only twice started back-to-back England games. It probably didn’t help his cause that he literally never scored for England.

Was the first substitute off the bench during that 2002 World Cup defeat to Brazil, which might have been a symptom of that lack of “tactical sophistication” cited by Cole, who stayed on the bench during that game. His final appearance – in a 2-1 friendly defeat to Germany in which he replaced Alan Smith – saw him make what was then a record 25th sub appearance.


4) James Milner (61 apps, 25 as sub)
Retired from England duty in 2016 after playing just a few minutes of that disastrous tournament, bringing an end to a seven-year international career in which he was rarely anything less than useful. Unfortunately for Milner, his peak years came under Roy Hodgson, who gave him a lot of starts but also a lot of sub appearances.


3) Jordan Henderson (81 apps, 26 as sub)
The most-capped England player on this list, and you really would not bet against him limping to 100. Has been to six major tournaments and will definitely go to a seventh. Sometimes starts those tournaments on the bench; pretty much always worms his way onto the pitch.


2) Marcus Rashford (60 apps, 34 as sub)
Been to four international tournaments but never been a first-choice pick, having made the very silly mistake of timing his best form for non-tournament seasons. Came off the bench for Wayne Rooney as England exited Euro 2016 to Iceland, came off the bench for Raheem Sterling as England lost at the 2018 World Cup to Croatia, came off the bench for Henderson to miss a penalty in the Euro 2020 final and came off the bench for Phil Foden as England lost to France at the 2022 World Cup. It’s not a great record.


1) Jermain Defoe (57 apps, 35 as sub)
Made his final England sub appearance, replacing Jake Livermore (oh those were dark days), over 13 years after his first sub appearance, when he replaced Darius Vassell. Played under five England managers but was rarely seen as first choice by any. Only seven of his 20 England goals came from the bench, which might have been a compelling argument for more England starts but in reality was a good argument for leaving him on the bench.