Top 100 Players: Ageing England quietly drop off, but rejuvenation is due

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The new issue of FourFourTwo includes the Top 100 Players in the World – and there aren't many Englishmen in it. But as Joshua Smith reports, it's all part of the process...

England’s status in football is declining. A reasonable, if by no means electrifying, Euro 2012 campaign helped restore a bit of pride and show that the national team can still go toe-to-toe with some of the world’s best international teams and emerge with some sort of credit. It is, however, the nation’s inability to produce the world’s best footballers that continues to worry those who keep an eye on the long term.

Since FourFourTwo started compiling a list of the Top 100 Best Players In The World half a decade ago, the average age of Englishmen involved on the list has risen. Obviously this has largely been in line with the ageing of the players on the initial list, but their number has not remained static: the likes of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville are no longer on the list and there is a lack of young English players emerging who are capable of taking their places.

Of the Englishmen on the latest list, only Joe Hart did not also appear in 2007 – and in the intervening years, English representatives Jamie Carragher, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Owen and John Terry have also slipped off. In five years, Hart and Jack Wilshere are the only Englishmen to become fresh additions to the Top 100, and England has slipped from 13 entrants on the first list to just five now.

The downfall was swift. That class of '07, who had been heralded as part of England’s ‘Golden Generation’, failed to even qualify for Euro 2008. And although the English Premier League continues to attracts some of the sport's biggest names, the nation has struggled to replace the big names of the last decade with the faces of the future.

"You and I are gonna live forever…"

Such dips are natural as national teams rejuvenate. Italian representatives on the list halved from 12 in 2007 to six in 2011, but have been climbing again since as a new breed comes to the fore. The new German generation has seen that country's total rise from just three in 2009 to 11 this year.

Roy Hodgson will be pinning his long-term hopes on the likes of Tom Cleverley, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck stepping up their games – not to mention Jack Wilshere reclaiming his place in the pantheon, having fallen off the list after spending much of the year out with ankle trouble.

Sterling and Zaha step up

Hodgson clearly has his eyes on the future, with Raheem Stirling, Wilfried Zaha and Carl Jenkinson all making their England debuts in Sweden. Meanwhile, of the 13 English players on the 2007 list, only two (Gary Neville and Owen Hargreaves) have retired but only four have featured for the national side since the Euros. The older players are falling away; it's time for the youth of England to prove they are adequate replacements. 

Youth development is a long-term process. It will take at least a decade to see if the FA’s renewed commitment to developing young talent at its St George’s Park national football centre can help the country regain its place among the game’s elite. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if any of the young players currently starting to shine can ascend become among the game’s top 100 stars.

IN THE NEW ISSUE: The Top 100 Players In The World, Inside Arsenal & Veron On-on-One