Ten surprising England tournament squad selections

Matt Stead

Steve Bull – 1990 World Cup
Remember how weird it was when Cardiff striker Jay Bothroyd received an England cap in 2010? Or how strange it was when David ‘one cap, one goal’ Nugent of Preston was called up in 2007? How about when then-Sunderland duo Kevin Phillips and Michael Gray were drafted into the national side by Kevin Keegan in 1999? Now just consider how peculiar it would have been if any of the aforementioned four, then plying their trade in English football’s second tier, had actually made an international squad for a major tournament.

In 1990, that was a reality. Steve Bull, then of Third Division side Wolverhampton Wanderers, was selected by Sir Bobby Robson for Italia ’90. Alan Smith had just plundered ten goals in 38 games to help Arsenal finish fourth in Division One, but Bull’s 24 goals in 42 games two tiers lower caught Robson’s eye. Bull, the last player to be capped by England while playing club football outside of the country’s top two tiers, played four games as the Three Lions reached the semi-finals.


Tony Adams – 1990 World Cup
Bull was a surprise selection from Robson, but Adams was a shocking omission. The manager offset the blow by naming him as a “future England captain”, but Robson favoured Mark Wright of Derby County over Adams, in spite of Wright having struggled with a thigh injury in the build-up to the tournament. Then just 21, Adams did indeed eventually become England captain, as well as the only man to represent the country in major tournaments across three different decades, but his absence from the Italia ’90 squad was an unexpected setback.


Paul Gascoigne – 1998 World Cup
‘I thought about trying to talk to him but knew I couldn’t, not while he was in this state. He would never take it in. He had snapped. He was ranting, swearing and slurring his words. He was acting like a man possessed. He was a different person now. He had snapped. I stood there and he turned as if to go again, then came back with a barrage of abuse. Physically he wasn’t 100%, mentally he was all over the place.’

Writing in his book, ‘My 1998 World Cup story’, then-England manager Glenn Hoddle chronicles the moment at which he told Paul Gascoigne that he would not be chosen to play in France. Then at Middlesbrough, the 31-year-old’s personal life had begun its spiral out of control, with claims of alcoholism and weight issues leveled at the midfielder, although his renowned talent remained. Gascoigne would never play for his country again.


Rio Ferdinand – 2000 and 2012 European Championships
One of the finest central defenders of our generation, Rio Ferdinand has not enjoyed the greatest of fortune when it comes to major international tournaments. He was named in the squad for the 1998 World Cup, but did not feature. A drugs-related ban ruled him out of selection for the 2004 European Championship. He played both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, but missed out through injury in 2010. His omissions from the 2000 and 2012 European Championships are far more controversial, however.

In 2000, Ferdinand was selected as reserve by Kevin Keegan. Then just 22, Ferdinand had impressed for ninth-placed West Ham. “The gaffer has his own opinion and his is the one that’s important so I just have to go back to West Ham and go on working hard,” was the defender’s response.

Twelve years later, Roy Hodgson was faced with a dilemma: John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, both, or neither. The fourth was not an option. To Hodgson, neither was the third. Terry had been embroiled in a racism scandal with Ferdinand’s brother Anton at club level, and the relationship between the two had understandably deteriorated. Hodgson opted to choose Terry, and Ferdinand – who had missed out on the Premier League title with Manchester United on goal difference – was left at home.


Trevor Sinclair – 2002 World Cup
On May 9, 2002, Sven-Goran Eriksson named his England squad for the World Cup in South Korea and Japan. Danny Murphy was named among the reserves. Steven Gerrard and Kieron Dyer had both been selected, but picked up groin and knee ligament injuries respectively. Their inclusions remained uncertain, and Sinclair was added to the standby list. The full squad travelled to Dubai on May 13, with Sinclair confirmed as a back-up for Dyer. Steve McManaman, who would win a Champions League winners’ medal two days later with Real Madrid, was surprisingly overlooked.

On May 21, the squad was named. Gerrard was ruled out; Murphy was drafted in; Dyer was included. Sinclair, unhappy with being on standby away from his pregnant wife, flew back home. The next day, original standby Murphy fell awkwardly in training, and Sinclair completed another 6,000-mile journey to return and replace him. Then 31, the West Ham winger made four appearances in Asia, and was actually praised for his performances.


Theo Walcott – 2006 World Cup
What were you doing when you were 16? While most of us were busy enjoying Tchaikovsky’s greatest works, reading Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ and drinking fine wines (or listening to Natasha Bedingfield, reading as little as possible and drinking White Lightning on the local park), Theo Walcott was busy heading to a World Cup with his country. Despite not having played a single game for Arsenal since joining from Southampton, the teenager was a surprise selection by Eriksson to head to Germany. As a result, Jermain Defoe (nine goals in 36 games for Tottenham), Darren Bent (18 goals in 36 games for Charlton) and Marlon Harewood (14 goals in 37 games for West Ham, and I’m only slightly joking) were left at home as fully-grown adults cursing a young boy for stealing their place.


Theo Walcott – 2010 World Cup
A surprise inclusion four years earlier, Walcott became a shock exclusion ahead of the tournament in South Africa. According to manager Fabio Capello, he could not find room for all of Walcott, Aaron Lennon and Shaun Wright-Phillips in his squad. Only one fast midget would survive. Having scored just three goals in 23 from the wing for Arsenal that season, Walcott, who struck a memorable hat-trick in qualifying against Croatia, was omitted. Lennon met the same fate, and Manchester City winger Wright-Phillips made the cut.


Jamie Carragher – 2010 World Cup
Considering just how well England did to scrape through a group containing USA, Slovenia and Algeria, before being decimated by Germany in the first knockout round, it is little wonder that Capello’s squad contained more than one surprise. One came in the form of Jamie Carragher, who had not represented his country since 2007. The Liverpool defender had been previously reluctant to provide back-up to John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, but was persuaded to return at the age of 32 as cover centrally and at right-back. With Ferdinand ruled out with a knee injury in the build-up, Carragher’s prospects improved. He came on as a substitute in the first game, a 1-1 draw against USA, before starting the stalemate with Algeria. Having been booked in both games, he was suspended for the third, and was an unused substitute against Germany. Describing his return as a “one-off”, Carragher would retire from international football for a third time after the tournament.


Martin Kelly – 2012 European Championship
What can you do in two minutes? Oh really? Your girlfriend must be delighted with you. It’s usually about a minute and a half for me on a good day. Well done, mate.

For Martin Kelly, he can enjoy a whole England career in two minutes. His late substitute appearance against Norway on May 26, 2012, stands as the shortest England career of all time. The Crystal Palace defender may yet receive another call-up, but it’s rather unlikely.

Then again, it seemed implausible four years ago, particularly ahead of an international tournament. Fresh from making 12 Premier League appearances for a Liverpool side which finished eighth that season, Kelly benefited from an injury to Gary Cahill, with former Reds manager Roy Hodgson handing him a chance. A chance to sit on the bench, as Kelly was ill for the first two games and was an unused substitute for the latter two, but a chance nonetheless.


Ashley Cole – 2014 World Cup
Luke Shaw. Ashley Cole. Leighton Baines. Youth, experience, and a balance between the two. That was the choice facing Roy Hodgson in 2014 as he named his England World Cup squad. Three players had produced strong cases to be selected at left-back. Described by Hodgson himself as “one of the hardest decisions of my career”, Cole, who had helped Chelsea finish third in the Premier League and secure a Champions League berth, was omitted. When only offered a place on the standby list, Cole almost crashed his car in disgust, and promptly retired from international duty.


Matt Stead