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English wonderkids: What will England look like by the 2026 World Cup?

Phil Foden
(Image credit: Getty)

Remember when we all thought Ravel Morrison would deliver England a World Cup? English wonderkids haven't always been ones to hang your hat on...

Still, the current generation looks pretty good. While years ago, you'd hope that Wayne Rooney was still at his best long into his 40s, these days, you can't move for young English talent in the Premier League (and the Bundesliga, of course). 

As Noah and the Whale infamously found out, predicting what could happen in five years' time is incredibly dangerous. Who could've accounted for Jadon Sancho or Marcus Rashford? 

Feel free to bookmark this and come back in 2026 to laugh at FourFourTwo, when Sean Dyche inevitably names his 30-man squad composed of kids born after the 2010 World Cup, Dwight McNeil after his second Ballon d'Or and Lionel Messi after FIFA changes its rules around naturalising citizens to appeal to bigger audiences. 

GK: Dean Henderson

In 2026, Jordan Pickford will be 32 and hopefully just as visibly furious as ever. Dean Henderson will be 29 and Aaron Ramsdale 28, with debate no doubt focusing on whether England choose the stopper with better hands or feet.

We're going for the safe option on this occasion - since that's generally what an England manager would go for, right? Freddie Woodman, Josef Bursik and Etienne Green should all be a little more well-known by then but 2026 might come a little too soon. Nick Pope should still be kicking about, aged 35, and no doubt still Burnley's most outstanding player. 

RB: Trent Alexander-Arnold

Trent Alexander-Arnold

(Image credit: Getty)

He's had to wait in a queue behind Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier while he sweeps plaudits a-plenty - but right back should be all 28-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold's by 2026, after his two main rivals wind down in their late thirties.

There's plenty of competition there, too. Reece James will be 27, Tino Livramento 23, Max Aarons 26, Tariq Lamptey 26 and any number of English regen right-backs could pop up out of nowhere between then and now to re-reinvent the position. Aaron Wan-Bissaka will be 28 by the 2026 World Cup though - and no doubt still waiting for a call-up. 

CB: Ben White

It's hard to set your watch by John Stones. While many of us thought he'd become Rio Ferdinand reincarnated by now, he's certainly shown superb form in an England shirt - but at 27, he's not yet Manchester City's go-to defender. By 2026, aged 32, he might not be the best option for his country anymore in a relatively limited field.

Ben White is the natural successor and assuming he develops, he could be England's first-choice centre-back by then, aged 29. Joe Gomez, too, will be 29, while Ben Godfrey will be 28 and Japhet Tanganga 27. The future of England's defence is a lot brighter than when Stones was pushing through. 

CB: Marc Guehi

Eventually, Harry Maguire will trundle off into the sunset. He'll be 33 by the time North America stage the World Cup; why that's by no means definitely past it - look at the Italian defence at Euro 2020 - there may be younger, trendier defenders waiting to usurp him.

Marc Guehi is maybe an outside shout but looking at Crystal Palace's impressive rebuild, the defender is exactly the kind of quiet leader who could grow into a role in an international backline over the next decade. He'll be 26 by 2026 - he might be England's captain at a homesoil World Cup in 2030. 

LB: Ryan Sessegnon

Ryan Sessegnong Jose Mourinho Tottenham

(Image credit: PA)

Luke Shaw is in the prime of his career at 26 and has displayed career-best performances over the last 12 months. Ben Chilwell is two years younger, with his whole career ahead of him. Tyrick Mitchell is incredibly accomplished for 22 and Brandon Williams is 21. So we've chosen none of them, naturally.

You don't lose talent - and Ryan Sessegnon had it coming out of his ears. He's faltered at Tottenham, thanks to injury and Jose Mourinho not particularly trusting him. Sounds like Luke Shaw, right? In 2026, Sessegnon will be the same age Shaw was at Euro 2020: and as an attack-minded full-back, he could well thrive down England's left flank. 

CM: Declan Rice

Declan Rice's ascension to becoming one of the best midfielders in Europe over the last 18 months - yeah, we said it - has been astounding. He doesn't look like a flash in the pan, either.

The 22-year-old star of Euro 2020 will be in the prime of his career come 2026. Perhaps he'd have taken West Ham to consecutive Europa and Champions League glories by then; either way, he'll probably be England skipper for this World Cup. 

CM: Jude Bellingham

Jude Bellingham

(Image credit: Getty)

Rarely has there been a more obvious future star of the English game than Jude Bellingham, who will still only be 23 by 2026. By then, he may well be playing for one of the Big Six back in his home country - and he'll be well on his way to becoming one of the greatest midfielders of all time (with a little bit of luck).

Curtis Jones seems the appropriate understudy to Bellingham for this far-off tournament, while Conor Gallagher offers a little more thrust from the midfield. Don't write off the likes of Morgan Gibbs-White or Lewis Cook to rise into the England squad - a la Kalvin Phillips - while 31-year-old James Ward-Prowse may get a call as a veteran, on account of his set-piece delivery. James Milner will no doubt still be going strong too, despite his international retirement still holding up in five years.

RW: Bukayo Saka

The question with Bukayo Saka is not so much how he can improve in the next five years: it's more how embedded into the national consciousness he'll become. The 20-year-old plays like he's ten years older, his decision-making and movement is superb and with the more time he spends developing, the harder it becomes for anyone else to displace him from the side. 

That includes Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi - both of whom should be in the England squad for 2026. Noni Madueke will be 24, Harvey Elliott 23 and Shola Shoretire 22. The depth of talent that England have in this position is glorious. 

AM: Phil Foden

FIFA 22

(Image credit: Getty)

It's not beyond the realms of possibility that Phil Foden could retire as England's greatest-ever player. He's 21 now and already one of the best players on Earth. In five years' time, he'll be the beating heart of the Three Lions, all being well. 

Emile Smith Rowe seems the likely deputy in terms of style for 2026, while Angel Gomes, Ebere Eze, Jacob Ramsey and Tino Anjorin could well establish themselves as top attacking midfielders by then. And then there's James Maddison, who will be 29 by 2026 and potentially an assist machine by then - if he ever gets his chance in an England shirt... 

LW: Mason Mount

Similarly to Bukayo Saka, it seems like England will always have a spot reserved for managers' favourite, Mason Mount. Mount will be 27 by 2026: he probably won't have left Chelsea by then and he's likely to be one of the first names on the team sheet, judging by his trajectory thus far.

Mount on the left does however mean no spot for Marcus Rashford, who will be 28 by then, while Raheem Sterling will be 31 and probably as good as ever. Both will probably still be around the England set-up: it all depends on how the manager then will want to set up. 

ST: Mason Greenwood

Mason Greenwood celebrating his goal against Wolves

England have never had too many problems producing decent forwards. Harry Kane will be 33 by 2026 and probably still keen as ever to take every penalty going, while Tammy Abraham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin will both be 29. Ivan Toney will be 30: he might be a late bloomer and one of the best strikers in Europe by then. Eddie Nketiah will be 27, Ollie Watkins 30 and Folarin Balogun 25. 

Having assumed Cristiano Ronaldo's berth for Manchester United though and established himself as one of the best goalscorers in Europe, a 25-year-old Mason Greenwood would seem the likely candidate to lead the line. There's fierce competition for this spot: do you go with experience? Physicality or a runner off the shoulder of the defender? The ageing Kane or a youngster? It seems some decisions are eternal when it comes to England...

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Mark White

Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. He is a keen player of the Football Manager series and creates Twitter accounts for his Fantasy Premier League team every year, before losing interest in his team every September.