The best English players ever

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 12: Wayne Rooney of England smiles as he talks to Ashley Cole after being substituted during the FIFA 2014 World Cup Group H qualifying match between England and San Marino at Wembley Stadium on October 12, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)
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An enduring hotbed of football talent, England has produced some of the finest players the game has ever seen.

From the country's 1966 World Cup-winning heroes, to greats of the modern game, we've picked out the best English footballers of all time.

Let's dive straight in!

32. Gary Neville

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 5: Gary Neville celebrates after the final whistle in the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Manchester United v Liverpool at Old Trafford on April 5, 2003 in Manchester, England. (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

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One of the most decorated English footballers of all time, Gary Neville won eight Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues with Manchester United, spending his entire career with the club and captaining them for five years.

The tenacious right-back won 85 caps for England between 1995 and 2007, featuring at two World Cups and three European Championships.

31. Duncan Edwards

December 1956: Duncan Edwards of Manchester United. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

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Tragically killed in the Munich air disaster aged just 21, Duncan Edwards was a truly prodigious talent, described by Manchester United teammate Bobby Charlton as the best player he had ever seen – and the only one who made him “feel inferior”.

A highly versatile defensive midfielder, Edwards was a two-time First Division champion with United and scored five goals in 18 England caps before his untimely death in 1958.

30. Ray Wilkins

Ray Wilkins of England, 1980

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Ray Wilkins starred for Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan and Rangers, among others, during a career which yielded FA Cup and Scottish top-flight glory.

The midfielder – who was regarded as one of the most courteous figures in the game – was a key player for England for much of the 80s, featuring at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups and earning 84 caps in all.

29. Jude Bellingham

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17: Jude Bellingham of England reacts during the UEFA EURO 2024 European qualifier match between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium on October 17, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

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Jude Bellingham only made his professional debut in 2019 – and it’s a mark of his prodigious talent that he already earns a spot on this list.

In fact, ‘prodigious’ is now an understatement: by the age of 19, he had established himself as one of England’s most important players – and shortly after his 20th birthday, the world-class midfield all-rounder was well on his way to becoming a legend at Real Madrid.

28. Raheem Sterling

Chelsea's Raheem Sterling during Chelsea 1-1 Red Bull Salzburg in the Champions League on 14 September, 2022 at Stamford Bridge, London, United Kingdom

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Raheem Sterling became the most expensive English footballer of all time when he joined Manchester City from Liverpool for £49m in 2015 – and he would go on to become one of his country’s most successful players of the modern era.

A four-time Premier League champion with City, Sterling – who made his England debut as a 17-year-old – won PFA Young Player of the Year and the prestigious FWA Footballer of the Year award in 2018/19.

27. Jack Charlton

English footballer Jack Charlton (1935 - 2020) of the England World Cup team, UK, July 1966. (Photo by Norman Quicke/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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A 1966 World Cup winner with brother Bobby, Jack Charlton was a giant of the English game (and later, as a manager, the Irish game).

Unlike Bobby, however, Jack spent his entire career with Manchester United’s arch-rivals Leeds – where he made 726 appearances and scored 95 goals (a fine effort indeed for a centre-back), winning the First Division title, FA Cup and two Inter-Cities Fairs Cups.

26. Bryan Robson

Manchester United midfielder Bryan Robson, 1988.(Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images)

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Famously nicknamed Captain Marvel for his heroic performances, Bryan Robson wore the armband for both Manchester United and England, captaining his country on 65 occasions – among the most of any Three Lions player.

A regular scorer from midfield, Robson – who captained United to their first two Premier League titles – held the record for the quickest ever World Cup goal for 20 years – thanks to his opener against France after 27 seconds in 1982.

25. Geoff Hurst

English footballer Geoff Hurst of the England World Cup team, UK, July 1966. (Photo by Norman Quicke/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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The first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final – and, until Kylian Mbappe repeated the feat in 2022, the only one – Geoff Hurst assured himself of immortal status in English football with his exploits against West Germany at Wembley in 1966.

An FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup winner with West Ham – where he spent most of his career – the striker retired one goal short of the 300-mark.

24. Billy Wright

Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club forward Billy Wright (1924-1994) during a Division 1 match against Arsenal, October 18th, 1958. The score was a 1-1 draw. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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A one-club man with Wolves – helping them to three First Division titles and the FA Cup between the late 40s and late 50s – Billy Wright was the first player ever to win 100 caps for any country.

Remarkably, the great centre-half featured in 70 consecutive internationals for the Three Lions, who he captained at the 1950, 1954 and 1958 World Cups.

23. Tom Finney

Preston North End Football Club forward Tom Finney (1922-2014) during training with the England squad at Stamford Bridge for a friendly international match against the USSR, October 20th, 1958. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Named FWA Footballer of the Year twice during the 50s, Tom Finney was one of the best players in the world during his prime, scoring 210 goals for hometown club Preston North End and a further 30 for England.

Renowned for his sportsmanship, the forward helped Preston to the 1954 FA Cup final and was a First Division runner-up with them in the 1952/53 and 1957/58 seasons.

22. Peter Shilton

MONTERREY, MEXICO - JUNE 03: England goalkeeper Peter Shilton in action during the FIFA 1986 World Cup match between Portugal and England on June 3, 1986 in Monterrey, Mexico. (Photo by David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images)

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Among a select group of players to have made 1,000 or more career appearances, Peter Shilton was capped 125 times by England, serving as their number one goalkeeper at the 1982, 1986 and 1990 World Cups (falling victim to Diego Maradona’s Hand of God at Mexcio 86).

At club level, Shilton enjoyed considerable success with Brian Clough’s legendary Nottingham Forest side in the late 70s and early 80s, winning the First Division, League Cup and back-to-back European Cups.

21. Michael Owen

14 Feb 1998: Michael Owen of Liverpool celebrates his goal during the FA Carling Premiership match against Sheffield Wednesday played at Hillsborough in Sheffield, England. The match finished in a 0-1 victory for the visitors Liverpool. \ Mandatory Credit: Phil Cole /Allsport

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Eighteen-year-old Michael Owen’s superb solo goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup marked him out as one of the hottest properties in world football – and he did go on to fulfil that promise.

If not for the hamstring issues which plagued him throughout his career, Owen – who burst onto the scene at Liverpool and later played for Real Madrid and Manchester United – would have had an even greater career, but the 2001 Ballon d’Or winner was something seriously special between the late 90s and early 00s.

20. Glenn Hoddle

English soccer player Glenn Hoddle of Tottenham Hotspur FC holding newspapers celebrating his outstanding performance with his team, London, UK, 5th December 1979. (Photo by Mike Lawn/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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A tremendously gifted midfielder, Glenn Hoddle’s genius inspired Tottenham to successive FA Cup victories at the beginning of the 80s – before he took his considerable talent abroad to help Monaco to the French title.

England manager from 1996 to 1999, Hoddle was capped 53 times by the Three Lions, featuring in their squads for the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.

19. John Barnes

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JUNE 09: John Barnes poses in the home team dug out for an official photograph shortly after signing for Liverpool from Watford at Anfield on June 09, 1987 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

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Hugely popular among Liverpool and England fans alike, John Barnes was a force to be reckoned with during the late 80s and early 90s, tearing it up down the left wing for club and country.

Voted England’s greatest ever left-footed player by readers of The Times in 2016, Jamaican-born Barnes – who won two top-flight titles and two FA Cups with Liverpool – earned 79 caps for the Three Lions.

18. Paul Scholes

2 Jan 2002: Paul Scholes of Manchester United celebrates his second goal during the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford, Manchester. United won 3-1. \ Mandatory Credit: Alex Livesey /Allsport

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A one-club man at Manchester United, making the best part of 700 appearances before retiring in 2011 – and going over that mark after briefly returning to football the following year – Paul Scholes was up there with the best midfielders in the world for much of his career.

An integral member of United’s 1998/99 treble-winning team, Scholes earned 66 caps for England – and almost certainly would have won many more if not for the difficulty of accommodating him and contemporaries Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same side.

17. Gary Lineker

MONTERREY, MEXICO - JUNE 11: Gary Lineker of England celebrates after his hat trick after the FIFA 1986 World Cup match against Poland at the Universitario Stadium on June 11, 1986 in Monterrey, Mexico. England won the match 3-0. (Photo by Mike King/Allsport/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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The first England player to win the World Cup Golden Boot, poacher extraordinaire Gary Lineker top-scored with six goals at the 1986 tournament – despite the Three Lions only making it as far as the quarter-finals.

A 1988/89 Cup Winners’ Cup winner with Barcelona, the former Everton and later Tottenham man and Match of the Day presenter’s 48 international goals made him one of his country’s all-time leading scorers.

16. Ashley Cole

COVENTRY, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 07: Ashley Cole of Chelsea looks on during the FA Cup Sponsored by E.ON 6th round match between Coventry City and Chelsea at the Ricoh Arena on March 7, 2009 in Coventry, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

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One of the greatest left-backs of all time, Ashley Cole got his hands on 13 pieces of major silverware across glittering spells with Arsenal and Chelsea.

Included in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year on four occasions, Cole was capped 107 times by England during a 13-year international career, featuring at three World Cups and two European Championships.

15. Rio Ferdinand

London, UNITED KINGDOM: Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United gestures to a teammate against Tottenham Hotspur during the Premiership match at White Hart Lane in London 17 April 2005. Manchester United won the game 2-1. AFP PHOTO ADRIAN DENNIS Mobile and website uses of domestic English football pictures subject to subscription of a license with Football Association Premier League (FAPL) tel : +44 207 298 1656. For newspapers where the football content of the printed and electronic versions are identical, no licence is necessary. (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)

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Rio Ferdinand broke the mould as far as English centre-backs went in the early 20th century – and it brought him enormous success with Manchester United.

More ‘continental’ in his playing style, Ferdinand – who earned 81 England caps – was a supreme ball-player and goes down as one of the finest defenders ever to grace the Premier League – which he won six times, in addition to 2007/08 Champions League glory.

14. John Terry

LONDON - FEBRUARY 08: John Terry of Chelsea in action during the FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between Chelsea and Everton at Stamford Bridge on February 8, 2006 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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Another all-time great Premier League centre-back, John Terry spent almost his whole career with Chelsea, captaining them and the national team.

Skipper for the Blues’ first five title triumphs of the Premier League era – and their maiden Champions League victory in 2011/12 – Terry was named 2004/05 PFA Players’ Player of the Year and was England’s sole representative in FIFA’s 2006 World Cup All Star Team.

13. David Beckham

SAPPORO - JUNE 7: David Beckham of England in action during the Group F match against Argentina of the World Cup Group Stage played at the Sapporo Dome in Sapporo, Japan on June 7, 2002. England won the match 1-0. DIGITAL IMAGE. Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

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As instantly recognisable icons of English football go, there have been few bigger than David Beckham, inspirational captain of his country for six years during the 00s.

A 1998/99 treble winner with Manchester United, Beckham’s career was full of classic moments – including his lob from the halfway line against Wimbledon in 1996, which made him a household name, and that stoppage-time free-kick against Greece to send England to the 2002 World Cup.

12. Steven Gerrard

Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard holds the trophy in front of his team mates after winning the Champions League final soccer match against AC Milan at the Ataturk Olympic stadium in Istanbul May 25, 2005. Liverpool made European soccer history by coming from 3-0 down to beat favourites AC Milan 3-2 on penalties in an astonishing Champions League final that had finished 3-3 after extra time (Photo by liewig christian/Corbis via Getty Images)

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Hero and skipper of Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League final and 2006 FA Cup final comebacks – and many more games besides – Steven Gerrard is nothing less than a legend at Anfield.

But the 2005/06 PFA Players’ Player of the Year and 2008/09 FWA Footballer of the Year brought his A-game to the international stage, too, racking up 114 England caps, captaining the Three Lions 38 times and playing at six of the seven major tournaments for which they qualified between 2000 and 2014.

11. Frank Lampard

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 30: Frank Lampard of Chelsea celebrates during the Barclays Premiership match between West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea at the Hawthorns on October 30, 2004 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

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Without wishing to get too involved with the never-ending debate over who was better out of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, we think Lampard just about edges it thanks to his exploits for Chelsea and England.

Also capped over 100 times by his country, Lampard played an integral role in three Premier League title triumphs at Chelsea – with whom he also won the Champions League – and is one of a handful of midfielders to score 20+ goals in a Premier League campaign, netting 22 times in 2009/10.

10. Paul Gascoigne

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15: England player Paul Gascoigne shoots to score the second England goal during the 1996 European Championships Group match against Scotland at Wembley Stadium on June 15, 1996 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

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England have never had another player quite like Paul Gascogine. Adored for his genius on the pitch and his infectiously buoyant personality, Gazza was a superstar in the early 90s.

One of the most gifted players the country has ever produced, the midfielder – a 1990/91 FA Cup winner with Tottenham – scored some truly iconic goals, perhaps none more notable than his stunning volley against Scotland at Euro 96 (complete with the famous dentist’s chair celebration.

9. Stanley Matthews

Stanley Matthews looks through an album of the last 25 years before a dinner held in honour of his 25 years as a professional footballer at The National Sporting Club, 1956. (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/National Science & Media Museum/SSPL via Getty Images)

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Knighted will still playing (ok, he did go on until he was 50, but still), Stoke City, Blackpool and England legend Stanley Matthews is rightly remembered as one of the finest players of all time.

The iconic Wizard of the Dribble won the inaugural Ballon d’Or in 1956 – as well as FWA Footballer of the Year twice, 15 years apart (in 1948 and 1963). Capped 54 times by his country, the twinkle-toed outside right inspired Blackpool to 1952/53 FA Cup glory, stealing the show in what came to be known as the Matthews final against Bolton Wanderers (despite teammate Stan Mortensen’s hat-trick!).

8. Alan Shearer

LEEDS, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 21: Newcastle United striker Alan Shearer celebrates with his trademark one armed salute after scoring the only goal in a 1-0 FA Premier League victory against Leeds United at Elland Road, on September 21st, 1996 in Leeds, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive)

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The ultimate goalscorer, Alan Shearer found the net 409 times for club and country over the course of his career – with more than half of those goals coming for Newcastle, the club where he pretty much became a god.

For Blackburn Rovers – where he was an English champion in 1994/95 – and Newcastle, Shearer racked up a whopping 260 Premier League goals, winning three straight Golden Boots between 1995 and 1997. Capped 63 times by England, he also finished as top scorer at Euro 96.

7. Gordon Banks

British footballer Gordon Banks (1937-2019), England goalkeeper, punches the ball clear of the cross bar as he makes a save during the 1963–64 British Home Championship match between England and Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff, Wales, 12th October 1963. England won the match 4-0. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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Legendary goalkeeper of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team, Gordon Banks was undoubtedly one of the greatest shot-stoppers ever to play the game – as he demonstrated in stunning style with his miraculous save from Pele at the 1970 World Cup.

Named FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year six times, Banks was voted 1972 FWA Footballer of the Year and lifted the League Cup with both Leicester and Stoke City.

6. Jimmy Greaves

UNITED KINGDOM: Tottenham Hotspur player Jimmy Greaves looks on circa 1962. (Photo by Don Morley/Allsport UK/Getty Images)

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First Division top scorer in no fewer than six seasons, Jimmy Greaves earned legendary status at Chelsea and, most notably, Tottenham – as well as for England, of course.

One of the most clinical marksmen of all time, Greaves got on the scoresheet 513 times for club and country in all, winning two FA Cups, the Cup Winners’ Cup and the World Cup (as well as a Serie A title during a 13-game stint with AC Milan).

5. Wayne Rooney

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 16: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United in action during the FA Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Burnley at Old Trafford on January 16 2010 in Manchester, England. (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

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With 53 goals in 120 caps, for a while, Wayne Rooney was England’s record goalscorer – and, as of 2023, he held the same honour at Manchester United, where he won everything there was to win (on a team and an individual level).

After bursting onto the scene as a 16-year-old and scoring this iconic winner for Everton against Arsenal, Rooney went on to establish himself as one of the best players of his generation and starred for the Three Lions at three World Cups and three European Championships, impressing at Euro 2004 still aged just 18.

4. Kevin Keegan

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Kevin Keegan, the new Liverpool FC signing runs out of the player's tunnel at Anfield prior to the Football League Division One match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest held on August 14, 1971 at Anfield, in Liverpool, England. Liverpool won the match 3-1. This game marked Kevin Keegan's debut for the club, he scored on his debut after 12 minutes and became top scorer that season netting 11 goals and became an idol at the club. (Photo by Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

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England’s first multiple Ballon d’Or recipient, Kevin Keegan scooped the game’s ultimate individual accolade for the first time in 1978 – and he only went and retained it the following year.

A European Cup winner and three-time English champion with Liverpool, the magnificent forward – who scored 21 goals in 63 international caps – also won the title in Germany with Hamburg, before returning to England to star for Southampton and Newcastle.

3. Harry Kane

England's Harry Kane reacts during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Semi Final match between England and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 11, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo by Raddad Jebarah/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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Prolific for Tottenham, Bayern Munich and England, Harry Kane broke Wayne Rooney’s England goalscoring record in March 2023 – having surpassed the late Jimmy Greaves’ Spurs goalscoring record the previous month.

A Premier League and World Cup Golden Boot winner, all-round attacking threat Kane – who took over as England captain ahead of the 2018 World Cup – is right up there with the finest strikers of all time.

2. Bobby Moore

(Original Caption) 7/30/1966-England-: England captain Bobby Moore "chaired" by his team with the Jules Rimet Cup...after receiving it from the Queen after England won the Cup final 4 goals to 2, against West Germany.

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“He was my friend as well as the greatest defender I ever played against”: that’s what Pele had to say about Bobby Moore upon the West Ham and England giant’s passing in 1993. High praise indeed.

Pele was right, though. The Hammers’ greatest ever player and England’s 1966 World Cup-winning captain, the impeccably composed Moore – who came third in the 1970 Ballon d’Or – really was one of the best ever in the art of defending, as he showed throughout 108 caps for the Three Lions.

1. Bobby Charlton

Bobby Charlton holds a full house in a game of cards with team mates (left to right) Peter Bonetti, Martin Peters, Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore. 10th July 1966. (Photo by Fresco/Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

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When Bobby Charlton died in October 2023, the outpouring of grief from throughout the football community said it all about just how highly the Manchester United and England great was regarded.

One of an elite group of players to win the World Cup, European Cup and Ballon d’Or, Charlton survived the horror of the Munich air disaster in 1958 to forge a legendary and trophy-laden career. His individual honours included the Golden Ball for player of the tournament in England’s 1966 World Cup victory.

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