Top ten players better for England than their clubs

Ian Watson

Some England players seem to relish the international stage more than their club duties. Including a couple of Gareth Southgate’s main men…


10) David Beckham
This isn’t to say that Becks was crap at club level – he very obviously was not. But the former Three Lions skipper always raised his level when reporting for international duty, especially when he was arriving from anywhere but Old Trafford.

Of Beckham’s 115 caps, a little under half were earned after he left Manchester United. He played 36 times for his country while representing Real Madrid; 14 times he flew back from LA Galaxy, and five occasions while playing for AC Milan.

Becks had to raise his game to continually prove himself. Steve McClaren recalled the midfielder after inexplicably ending his international career in the wake of the Euros in 2006 while he was still doing the business for Real Madrid. He had already been bombed by Fabio Capello at Real when he announced he was going to Los Angeles, but the Italian still saw enough in his international performances to select him while playing in MLS.


9) David Platt
Okay, cards on the table… we were struggling for a tenth name and tried very hard to avoid including Platt. But he makes this list very much in the Beckham bracket of ‘very good for his club, even better for England’. In Platt’s case, for MOST of his clubs.

The midfielder was England’s most consistent performer for the first half of the 1990s. After his breakthrough on the international scene at the 1990 World Cup, Platt headed back out to Italy a year later, first with Bari, before an iffy year at Juventus and a couple more productive seasons at Sampdoria. At the time, he was England’s most successful export but that was hardly a difficult field in which to stand out. His international exploits continually overshadowed his club fortunes with Graham Taylor making him England captain.

Platt certainly struggled to recreate his international form when he returned to England with Arsenal. His first year at Highbury reaped his lowest goals tally since he had struggled to get in the Juventus side, but he remained a prominent part of Terry Venables’ squad, even if he was just on the periphery of the XI at Euro ’96.


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8) Darren Anderton 
The former Spurs winger had wretched luck with injuries. Were it not for his fitness problems, Anderton would have won many more than the 30 caps he earned over seven years, predominantly under Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle.

But his injuries, which saw him average 21 appearances per season in his last 10 terms with Tottenham, rarely coincided with major tournaments, and Venables and Hoddle relied on the right-sider. Anderton managed only three Spurs starts in the Premier League after September 1995 for Spurs but Venables trusted him enough to start every game at Euro ’96.

Hoddle too preferred Anderton to David Beckham at the start of the World Cup in 1998. Even when Beckham came in for the last group match against Colombia, Anderton retained his place and scored a superb opener before Becks’ headline-hogging free-kick.


7) Danny Welbeck
Welbz was rarely ever first choice for Manchester United, Arsenal or even at Watford. Injuries had a big say in his status at club level, but the striker never scored double figures in the Premier League. Since leaving Manchester United in 2015, he hasn’t bagged more than five in a season.

But like a good number of other forwards on this list, Welbeck seemed to find international goals rather easier to come by. He has 16 from 42 appearances, having played for three different permanent managers. For England, he has bagged every 145 minutes. At club level, his minutes-per-goal rate extends to 274.

Regardless of his England record and some encouraging form for Brighton, the 30-year-old Welbeck finally appears finished at international level. Shame.


6) Jordan Pickford
‘Over-emotional’ Pickford gets pelters in the Everton goal and much of the stick he receives is deserved. His form for the Toffees, at times in the last couple of seasons, has been wretched.

But for England, Pickford has barely put a foot wrong. Southgate doesn’t like to tinker too much with his stoppers and Pickford has been Gareth’s guy. Since he won the battle with Jack Butland to keep England’s goal at the World Cup in 2018 (prior to the current break from which he is absent through injury) Pickford has missed only four internationals, all friendlies aside from one dead-rubber qualifier.

Even when he was dropped by Carlo Ancelotti last November, Southgate suggested his England place was secure: “There is nobody who I think is challenging seriously at the moment to push him out of that position.” The form of Nick Pope and Sam Johnstone might have altered that view slightly, and had Dean Henderson been a regular for Manchester United, Pickford’s place may have been in more jeopardy. But as it stands, the 30-cap keeper is likely to be No.1 this summer, even while Ancelotti considers replacing him in Everton’s goal.


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5) Eric Dier
Dier is one of those brilliant examples of a player cherished by a manager, even if few other people can fathom the faith Southgate seems to have in the Tottenham defender.

There must be better options at centre-back than Dier. Even Jose Mourinho has run out of patience, keeping the 27-year-old on his bench for the last five Premier League matches. His last four Premier League starts all ended in defeat.

That isn’t to say Dier has ever really let England down. But with plenty of central defenders itching for an opportunity, simply not sh*ting the bed is surely not reason enough to keep picking him.

4) Andros Townsend

That was the winger’s response to Paul Merson after the pundit claimed in 2015 that ‘if Townsend can get in then it opens it up for anybody’.

It seemed harsh since Townsend had already notched twice in three starts and three substitute appearances prior to scoring again against Italy. For Hodgson, the then-Tottenham winger was a reliable pick, despite not being everyone’s cup of tea.

Merson’s problem? Townsend was struggling to establish himself in the Tottenham team when Hodgson was calling upon him for the national team. Hodgson was at Old Trafford to see Townsend hooked by Mauricio Pochettino after half an hour but that didn’t shake the England manager’s faith. Even when Townsend was exiled at Spurs and sent to Newcastle on loan, he had a place in the England squad, which he kept for two further caps when he moved on to Palace.


3) Darius Vassell
Vassell was a decent striker at Premier League level, though he only managed double figures once, when he scored a dozen for Villa in 2001/02. It was during that campaign that he was given an England debut, when he scored this worldie against Holland in Amsterdam.

Darius Vassell scores on his England debut

For the two-and-a-half years he was in the England team, his international goals record bettered his club haul. For Villa, between his England debut and his final international appearance at Euro 2004 when a bare-handed Ricardo saved his spot-kick, he netted 22 goals in 77 Premier League games.

For England he netted six in 22, though only a half-dozen of those games were from the start. He averaged only 40 minutes per game, and a goal every 147 minutes when he was in the side. Stuart Pearce was so impressed by Vassell and his versatility across the forward line that he took him to City in 2005, where he averaged a goal every 512 minutes.


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2) Peter Crouch
The big man was never prolific for his clubs. In 17 full seasons in the Premier League, with Villa, Southampton, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Spurs, Stoke and Burnley, he hit double figures only three times. Across his top-flight career, he averaged a goal every 268 minutes. At his most efficient, at Villa, he netted every 146 minutes.

But for England, 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. His five-year England career is perhaps best remembered for the Robot, but for Eriksson, Capello and McClaren, Crouch was much more than a shape-throwing beanpole.


1) Emile Heskey
Heskey blazed the trail for Crouch. The former centre-forward wasn’t a noted Premier League marksman – he scored more than 10 only once in 18 seasons in the top flight across spells at Leicester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Wigan and Villa. But for the Golden Generation, alongside Michael Owen, his value was rarely questioned.

With 11 assists, Heskey laid on more goals for England than the seven he scored. In 62 caps. You don’t play that often for England, across four different managers – six if you include Howard Wilkinson and Peter Taylor – without bringing something to the table.

For those that still aren’t sure, Heskey explained himself to FourFourTwo: “I created a lot, could hold the ball up and understood my roles. Other players loved playing with me.” Especially Owen. “We just clicked as a partnership. It was back in the day when the big man-little man front two was in fashion. We were both very quick, I was physical, and he was prolific, so it just worked. We didn’t spend much time together away from the pitch, though.” Which illustrates his point about being quick…