Ranked! Lion cubs: England's 20 youngest debutants

Jude Bellingham
(Image credit: Getty)

Since the first official international match on November 30 1872, over 1,000 players have been chosen by 15 managers to represent England. As the sport has developed and evolved in the intervening years with the modern game’s emphasis on stamina and fitness, the age of England’s debutants has dropped.

Conversely, all of the 15 oldest England debutants were pre-war, with the exception of 38-year-old Leslie Compton, who made his debut in 1950 and remains the oldest outfielder to win his first cap.

With only post-Second World War debutants taken into consideration, here are the 20 youngest players to win their first England cap.

20. Gareth Barry (19 years, 97 days)

Gareth Barry

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 53

Barry made his debut in a pre-Euro 2000 friendly against Ukraine under Kevin Keegan. 

Following an injury to Blackburn winger Jason Wilcox, Barry travelled to the tournament co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands but didn’t feature as England crashed out in the group stage. His full debut came that September but following Keegan’s resignation, Barry found his opportunities limited.

It was only when Steve McClaren replaced Eriksson that Barry was recalled, following an international exile of four years. He played under eight different England managers and went on to captain the side in a friendly against Egypt at Wembley Stadium in March 2010. 

Barry played at the World Cup later that summer but missed out on the Euro 2012 squad after picking up an injury in the final warm-up game against Norway that proved to be his last appearance. 

19. Jimmy Greaves (19 years, 86 days)

Jimmy Greaves

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 57

A World Cup winner, Greaves made his England debut during a tour of the Americas in 1959, scoring in a 4-1 defeat to Peru in Lima. He went on to score 44 times for England in 57 appearances, and remains fifth on the all-time goalscorer list for the national team. 

His scoring exploits include six hat-tricks – more than any other player – and he notched four in the final warm-up match ahead of the 1966 World Cup in a 6-1 victory over Norway. 

Greaves played all three group games at the World Cup but was injured against France, ruling him out of the knockout stage of the competition. Geoff Hurst replaced him and although Greaves was fit for the final, Alf Ramsey was reluctant to change a winning team and the rest is history. 

18. Glen Johnson (19 years, 84 days)

Glen Johnson

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 54

Having made his debut as a first-half sub for the injured Gary Neville, Johnson racked up a half-century of appearances over an 11-year spell. He had to wait to become a regular, but after Neville's last cap in 2007 Johnson represented England at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups as well as Euro 2012.

Although he was called up by the then stand-in manager Gareth Southgate in October 2016, Johnson didn't won another cap after England's awful 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil.

17. Aaron Lennon (19 years, 48 days)

Aaron Lennon

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 21

Winger Lennon was named in England’s 2006 World Cup squad having never before played for England - his debut against Jamaica came after Sven-Goran Eriksson’s announcement and just before the start of the tournament in Germany.

Lennon appeared 21 times for England, losing just twice – on penalties at the quarter-final stage in Germany against Portugal and in a 2010 World Cup qualifier in Ukraine.

Despite his relatively few international caps, he represented England at two World Cups, starting the 2010 group games against the USA and Algeria. 

16. Bukayo Saka (19 years, 33 days)

Bukayo Saka

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 18

Saka pulled on the Three Lions for his debut against Wales in a 2020 friendly that marked the second game in a row where four players made their England debuts. It went well: England won 3-0.

Saka was the youngest among them, having only become a regular fixture of the Arsenal side the previous season. He has since gone on to become an integral part of Gareth Southgate's group, starting three matches at Euro 2020 - and, cruelly, missing the decisive penalty in the final against Italy.

15. Rio Ferdinand (19 years, 8 days)

Rio Ferdinand

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 81

Ferdinand was selected for four consecutive World Cups but only appeared at two, having failed to get on the pitch in 1998 and withdrawing injured in 2010. Altogether, he played in 10 World Cup matches, with England keeping seven clean sheets.

Despite his extensive World Cup career, Ferdinand never played in a European Championship: he didn't make Kevin Keegan's squad in 2000, was serving a ban in 2004 and England didn't qualify in 2008.

14. Mason Greenwood (18 years, 339 days)

Mason Greenwood

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 1 

The Manchester United forward's first senior call-up was a bit of a mixed bag. Greenwood made his first England appearance against Iceland in the Nations League in September 2020, following a breakthrough season at Old Trafford, netting 17 goals in 49 games.

But he and Manchester City's Phil Foden broke quarantine procedures in place for the squad to prevent a coronavirus outbreak by inviting two women back to the team hotel.

Greenwood has not played for club or country since being arrested on suspicion of raping and assaulting a woman in January.

13. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (18 years, 284 days)

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 35

Oxlade-Chamberlain was named in Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad before he’d made his international debut. His first appearance came a fortnight after the announcement of the 23 players selected for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine when he came on as a substitute in a warm-up against Norway. 

He made his full debut days later in a victory over Belgium and started in England’s first group game against France.

'The Ox' was called up for the World Cup in 2014 but didn’t feature, and missed the 2018 World Cup with injury. His international prospects have faded due to a lack of game time for Liverpool.

12. Luke Shaw (18 years, 236 days)

Luke Shaw

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 21

Shaw twice replaced Ashley Cole: on his debut in a 1-0 friendly win over Denmark, then in the 2014 World Cup squad, prompting Cole’s international retirement. He became the youngest player to appear at the 2014 World Cup, but arguably hasn't kicked on since joining Manchester United.

Shaw now faces stiff competition for the left-back spot from Ben Chilwell and the emerging talent of Crystal Palace's Tyrick Mitchell.

11. Jack Wilshere (18 years, 222 days)

Jack Wilshere

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 34

Jack Wilshere's England story typifies his career. He made his debut at 18 amid great expectations, but was limited to just 34 caps in six years as injuries hindered his progression.

In a 2013 friendly encounter at Wembley, Wilshere's excellence against Brazil drew comparisons to Paul Gascoigne, but his influence waned in subsequent seasons. 

Wilshere's last international appearance came in 2016. He hung up his boots earlier this year, aged just 30.

10. Marcus Rashford (18 years, 208 days)

Marcus Rashford

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 46

Rashford became the youngest ever Englishman to score on his debut when he volleyed home after just 138 seconds against Australia at the Stadium of Light. He had made his first-team debut for Manchester United just four months earlier and such was his impact he was called into the England squad for Euro 2016, making two substitute appearances.

Rashford's career has stagnated over the last couple of years, but he will still be hopeful of making it into Gareth Southgate's squad for Qatar.

9. Jadon Sancho (18 years, 200 days)

Jadon Sancho

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 23

Looking for more chances for first-team appearances, Sancho swapped Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017. He established himself as one of the best young players in Europe during his time in Germany, before joining Manchester United in 2021.

Sancho made his maiden England appearance in a 0-0 draw with Croatia in the Nations League in 2018. He's now been capped 23 times by his country and will hope to be a starter at the upcoming World Cup.

8. Duncan Edwards (18 years, 182 days)

Duncan Edwards

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 18

Busby Babe Edwards became the youngest player to play in the top flight of English football in April 1953 when he made his Manchester United debut aged 16 years and 185 days. 

He played his first England game two years later, almost to the day, in a Home Championship encounter with Scotland – the first of 18 appearances before his untimely death in the aftermath of the Munich air crash, aged just 21.

In a professional career of less than five years, he helped United to two league titles, two Charity Shields and the semi-final of the European Cup, playing over 150 matches. In his 18 England appearances he scored five goals.

7. Micah Richards (18 years, 143 days)

Micah Richards

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 13

England’s youngest-ever defender, Richards made 13 appearances for the national team – all before his 24th birthday. The Manchester City defender played the full 90 minutes on his debut, a 1-1 draw against the Netherlands, and played seven of the 12 matches in the doomed Euro 2008 qualifying campaign.

Following Steve McClaren’s departure, Richards won what turned out to be his final cap in caretaker Stuart Pearce's only game – again, against the Netherlands.

6. Callum Hudson-Odoi (18 years, 134 days)

Callum Hudson-Odoi

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 3

Hudson-Odoi came on as a substitute to play the final 20 minutes of a 5-0 Euro 2020 qualifier victory over the Czech Republic, becoming the youngest ever player to make his England debut in a competitive fixture.

Three days on, he became the second-youngest ever player to start a competitive match for England, after Wayne Rooney.

Hudson-Odoi has not played for the country of his birth since 2019, leading to reports that he could be set to switch his international allegiance to Ghana.

5. Borussia Dortmund: the Blackout centenary shirt (2019)

Michael Owen

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 89

Owen will forever be remembered for his impact at France 98. By the time his international career came to an end 10 years and 42 days later, he had captained the side nine times in 89 appearances for England, more importantly bagging 40 goals – putting him sixth in the list of all-time top goalscorers for the Three Lions, behind only Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker and Jimmy Greaves.

Owen is one of only 11 Englishmen to represent their country at three World Cups, following his French breakthrough with campaigns in in South Korea and Japan in 2002 and Germany 2006. 

He also played at Euro 2000 and Euro 2004, with his goal against Portugal at the latter making him the only England player to score in four major tournaments. 

4. Raheem Sterling (17 years, 341 days)

Raheem Sterling

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 77

Sterling's debut was somewhat overshadowed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored all four of Sweden's goals including a barely credible overhead kick. Sterling had to wait until March 2014 for his second cap, where he put in a Man of the Match performance against Denmark at Wembley.

Sterling’s form saw him selected for the World Cup in Brazil later that year, where he played a part in all three group games as England disappointed. Sterling’s influence began to increase throughout the Euro 2016 qualification campaign, contributing two goals in eight appearances as England won every game en route to the final tournament in France.

Though he played at the 2018 World Cup – where England, you won't have forgotten, got to the semis – it wasn't until October of that year that he broke a 27-game dry spell for his country with two goals in a 3-2 victory over Spain. Sterling was back to his best at Euro 2020, where he was England's standout performer.

3. Jude Bellingham (17 years, 137 days)

Jude Bellingham

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 15

Having made the well-trodden path from Birmingham City to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, Bellingham had just four Bundesliga appearances under his belt when he made his way out onto Wembley's hallowed turf for his England debut. Bellingham came on for the final 17 minutes of a routine friendly victory over Ireland, with the Three Lions already 3-0 up.

He has now played 15 times for his country at senior level, after just four appearances for the Under-21s. The 19-year-old could be a regular starter at the 2022 World Cup.

2. Wayne Rooney (17 years, 110 days)

Wayne Rooney

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 120

A fresh-faced Rooney made his debut against Australia in February 2003.  When he called time on his England career almost 14 years later, he’d won 120 caps, scored 53 goals and captained the team on 22 occasions. It could have been very different had Rooney accepted an offer to play for the Republic of Ireland, who approached him at the age of 16.

His critics will point to his poor return in major tournaments, with his strike against Uruguay in 2014 his only World Cup goal in 11 appearances. His record is markedly better in European Championships with six in 10 matches, but it will be a source of regret that he was unable to replicate his vast haul of club silverware with the national side. 

1. Theo Walcott (17 years, 75 days)

Theo Walcott

(Image credit: Getty)

Caps: 47

Sven-Goran Eriksson raised more than a few eyebrows when he selected Theo Walcott in his World Cup squad in 2006. The 17-year-old had made just 13 first-team appearances in his career and none since joining Arsenal the previous January.  Despite fitness concerns over Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, Walcott didn’t get on the pitch in Germany.

Eriksson defended Walcott's selection over the likes of Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe, claiming it would stand him – and England – in good stead for forthcoming tournaments. Given that Walcott has only played in four matches for England at major tournaments – and none at a World Cup – history has not proven Eriksson right.

Since his debut against Hungary in 2006 Walcott has appeared 47 times for England, but, perhaps indicatively, he has only completed 90 minutes for the national team on four occasions.

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

With contributions from