Glenn Murray is the fourth-top scoring Englishman in the Premier League this season: a major international tournament year, no less. How did the top five English goalscorers fare in similar positions down the years?
Alan Shearer (Blackburn, 31 goals) ✓
Robbie Fowler (Liverpool, 28) ✓
Les Ferdinand (Newcastle, 25) ✓
Teddy Sheringham (Tottenham, 16) ✓
Ian Wright (Arsenal, 15) ×
Chris Armstrong (Tottenham, 15) ×
“I have always said who to leave out would be the most difficult decision of my footballing life,” said England manager Terry Venables in May 1996, announcing his squad for the upcoming European Championships. It featured a mix of exuberant youth – Phil Neville was the youngest member at 19 – with vast experience provided by Stuart Pearce (34), David Seaman (32) and Teddy Sheringham (30). Thirteen of the 22-man squad had ten caps or fewer at the time.
Venables’ most difficult decisions were to drop Rob Lee and Dennis Wise from his squad, but also to choose which of his in-form strikers to rely on for a first major international tournament on home turf for 30 years. The top four English scorers in the 1995/96 Premier League season made the cut, but Ian Wright and Chris Armstrong, who both struck 15 goals in north London that season, missed out. And not just on that Cathay Pacific flight.
World Cup ’98
Michael Owen (Liverpool, 18) ✓
Chris Sutton (Blackburn, 18) ×
Dion Dublin (Coventry, 18) ×
Andy Cole (Manchester United, 16) ×
Darren Huckerby (Coventry, 14) ×
If you ever doubted the maverick managerial qualities of Glenn Hoddle, consider his England squad selection for the 1998 World Cup. Of the top five English goalscorers in the 1997/98 Premier League season, only Michael Owen made his final 22.
His other three strikers were an injury-ravaged Alan Shearer, who had scored just two goals in 17 games for Newcastle, as well as Les Ferdinand (5 goals in 22 games) and Teddy Sheringham (9 in 31). They had scored fewer Premier League goals combined than Owen that season; it was quite the goalscoring burden to place atop the 18-year-old’s shoulders.
Chris Sutton ended his own chances by turning down the opportunity to play for England B, while Dion Dublin got the nod over Andy Cole for Hoddle’s 30-man provisional squad. “Ian Wright and Michael Owen are in a similar mould to Andy Cole, but Dion Dublin can give us other options,” was the manager’s explanation for Cole’s omission, but Dublin joined him on the scrapheap when eight more players were cut. Including Paul Gascoigne, who took the rejection particularly well.
Kevin Phillips (Sunderland, 30) ✓
Alan Shearer (Newcastle, 23) ✓
Michael Bridges (Leeds, 19) ×
Andy Cole (Manchester United, 19) ×
Chris Armstrong (Tottenham, 14) ×
Harry Kane will hope to join these ranks soon, but as one of only two Englishmen to score 30 Premier League goals in a tournament season, Kevin Keegan could hardly ignore Kevin Phillips. The Sunderland striker stayed on the bench for each of England’s three matches at Euro 2000, yet his mere presence in Belgium and the Netherlands was just reward for a remarkable campaign with Sunderland.
With Michael Bridges justifiably dismissed as an unrealistic squad candidate, Andy Cole ruled out with a toe injury and Chris Armstrong criminally overlooked once again, Alan Shearer was the only other top-scoring Englishman to make the squad. Michael Owen (11 goals in 27 games), Emile Heskey (10 in 35) and Robbie Fowler (3 in 14) duly joined him.
World Cup 2002
Alan Shearer (Newcastle, 23) ×
Michael Owen (Liverpool, 19) ✓
Robbie Fowler (Liverpool and Leeds, 15) ✓
Andy Cole (Manchester United and Blackburn, 13) ×
Michael Ricketts (Bolton, 12) ×
James Beattie (Southampton, 12) ×
Darius Vassell (Aston Villa, 12) ✓
With Alan Shearer’s international retirement after Euro 2000, England were forced to experiment a little with their forwards for the 2002 World Cup. Michael Owen was an inevitable choice for Sven-Goran Eriksson, while Robbie Fowler was picked after reigniting his goalscoring form upon leaving Anfield for Leeds. Emile Heskey (9 goals in 35) booked a seat on the plane again, while 36-year-old Teddy Sheringham (10 in 34) joined 21-year-old Darius Vassell in South Korea and Japan. Andy Cole was ignored for a third straight tournament, while Michael Ricketts was robbed.
Alan Shearer (Newcastle, 22) ×
Michael Owen (Liverpool, 16) ✓
James Beattie (Southampton, 14) ×
Kevin Phillips (Southampton, 13) ×
Les Ferdinand (Leicester, 12) ×
Shearer continued to expertly tease England by being the country’s top Premier League goalscorer in a tournament year during his international retirement. Six other players reached double figures for goals in the league in the 2003/04 season, but the only one other than Michael Owen to make Eriksson’s final squad was Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard (10 goals in 38 games). Beattie, Phillips and Ferdinand were joined by Andy Cole (11 goals in 34 games) in watching Wayne Rooney, Emile Heskey and Darius Vassell take the remaining three striking places. Now there’s an international tournament forward line.
World Cup 2006
Darren Bent (Charlton, 18) ×
Frank Lampard (Chelsea, 16) ✓
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United, 16) ✓
Marlon Harewood (West Ham, 14) ×
Alan Shearer (Newcastle, 10) ×
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool, 10) ✓
James Beattie (Everton, 10) ×
Darren Bent was outscored by only Thierry Henry and Ruud van Nistelrooy in the 2005/06 Premier League season. When England manager Eriksson was asked how he came to the decision to omit both him and another young, in-form forward in Jermain Defoe, he simply replied:
“Probably not too logically. Sometimes you do it on feelings as well and I am excited about Theo Walcott.”
It was the inclusion of the uncapped Arsenal teenager that was the true curveball. With Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen struggling with injuries, the only fully-fit forwards in the final England squad for the 2006 World Cup were Walcott and Peter Crouch.
Not so, according to Eriksson. “Joe Cole is a striker as well so in reality we have seven defenders, nine midfielders and five strikers – it is depending on how you use Joe Cole,” said the manager. And he did score that bloody brilliant goal against Sweden, to be fair. But 12 years on, it is difficult not to wonder what might have been with Marlon Harewood leading the line.
World Cup 2010
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United, 26) ✓
Darren Bent (Sunderland, 24) ×
Frank Lampard (Chelsea, 22) ✓
Jermain Defoe (Tottenham, 18) ✓
Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa, 13) ×
It turns out that Darren Bent is the most unfortunate striker in England’s history. Four years after finishing behind only Henry and Van Nistelrooy in the Premier League goalscoring stakes before being overlooked for the 2006 World Cup, the Sunderland forward repeated the trick. Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney were the only players to score more in the 2009/10 campaign, but Fabio Capello ignored his claims this time.
Bent had been named in the Italian’s provisional 30-man squad along with Theo Walcott (3 goals in 23 games), but both made way for Emile Heskey (3 goals in 31 games) and his glorious step over against Algeria in the group stages. Gabby Agbonlahor never stood a chance.
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United, 27) ✓
Grant Holt (Norwich, 15) ×
Danny Graham (Swansea, 12) ×
Frank Lampard (Chelsea, 11) ×
Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea, 11) ×
Jermain Defoe (Tottenham, 11) ✓
“He hasn’t given anyone opportunities – people like Nathan Dyer and Danny Graham from Swansea didn’t even get a look in, but that’s life,” said Grant Holt in October 2012, describing Roy Hodgson’s decision to overlook him for the England squad for the European Championships just months prior as “ridiculous”.
Hodgson waited four years to offer a reply, using the public clamour to pick Mark Noble in 2016 as a more recent example. “There is always a player or two or three that are in the news with many people thinking they should have been selected or are better than the ones I have selected. There is only space for 20 outfield players and I can’t unfortunately cap every player who is having a good season. Before the World Cup it was Grant Holt so there is always someone.”
Norwich’s Holt may have felt aggrieved at the time, as might Swansea’s Graham, but at least Daniel Sturridge took his omission well. “I’m upset about it, but not too much,” was his response. He watched Andy Carroll (4 goals in 35), Theo Walcott (8 in 35) and Danny Welbeck (9 in 30) score three of England’s five tournament goals as they reached the quarter-finals in Poland and Ukraine.
And Frank Lampard was injured; Hodgson didn’t just go rogue.
World Cup 2014
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool, 22) ✓
Wayne Rooney (Manchester United, 17) ✓
Jay Rodriguez (Southampton, 15) ×
Steven Gerrard (Liverpool, 13) ✓
Rickie Lambert (Southampton, 13) ✓
There was the decision to drop Ashley Cole for Luke Shaw, prompting the former’s international retirement. The call to only offer Michael Carrick a place on the standby squad was questioned, while just three of Roy Hodgson’s final 23-man England squad had scored more than eight international goals.
“There were a number of decisions which were not easy to make,” said the manager at the time, but further forward, many were made for him. Seven of England’s top eight goalscorers in the 2013/14 Premier League were chosen, with Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez (15 goals in 33 games) the unlucky outlier. Although, considering their early exit in Brazil, perhaps he was the fortunate one.
Still, at least Rodriguez’s teammate – and Mauricio Pochettino’s best mate – Rickie Lambert found a way in.
Harry Kane (Tottenham, 25) ✓
Jamie Vardy (Leicester, 24) ✓
Jermain Defoe (Sunderland, 15) ×
Troy Deeney (Watford, 13) ×
Dele Alli (Tottenham, 10) ✓
Unlike Grant Holt before him, Troy Deeney took the unlikely prospect of international recognition in his stride. “I do not want to be put in because I scored a burst of goals just before the Euros; I want it to be over the course of the season,” said the Watford striker, who ended the 2015/16 campaign with 13 goals in 38 games.
It was a respectable return, but England had a rare embarrassment of striking riches to choose from two years ago – remarkable to think when considering their actual performance at the tournament. Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy were assured places next to Wayne Rooney, while Daniel Sturridge was always likely to be picked if his body could withstand the rigours of time and a slight summer breeze.
The fifth striker spot was pitched as a battle between Danny Welbeck (4 goals in 11 games) and Theo Walcott (5 in 28), with Jermain Defoe never considered a contender despite his Sunderland form. Yet even with an injury to Welbeck, Walcott was pipped by an inexperienced teenager; Marcus Rashford (5 in 11) had beaten him at his own game.
World Cup 2018
Harry Kane (Tottenham, 24) ?
Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, 15) ?
Jamie Vardy (Leicester, 13) ?
Glenn Murray (Brighton, 11) ?
Wayne Rooney (Everton, 10) ?
The top three will go, while Wayne Rooney made Gareth Southgate’s decision a little easier by skulking off into international exile of his own accord. More room to get Glenn Murray on the plane, at least. And with The Sun reporting that Southgate is ‘considering a sensational’ call-up…
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