England's 20 youngest post-war debutants
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.
Borussia Dortmund's 17-year-old star Jude Bellingham earned his first cap against Ireland last year – but still only breaks into the top three. So who beats him?
With only post-war debutants taken into consideration, here are the 20 youngest players to ever play for England.
20. Gareth Barry
Debut: May 31, 2000 aged 19 years 97 days
Barry made his debut in a pre-Euro 2000 friendly against Ukraine under Kevin Keegan. Following an injury to Blackburn Rovers 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
Debut: May 17, 1959, aged 19 years 86 days
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 fourth 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 knock-out stages of the competition. Geoff Hurst replaced him and although Greaves was fit for the final, Sir Alf Ramsey was reluctant to change a winning team and the rest is history.
18. Glen Johnson
Debut: November 18, 2003, aged 19 years 84 days
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 hasn’t won a cap since England's awful 2014 World Cup campaign in Brazil.
17. Aaron Lennon
Debut: June 3, 2006, aged 19 years 48 days
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 has 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
Debut: October 8, 2020, aged 19 years 33 days.
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.
15. Rio Ferdinand
Debut: November 15, 1997, aged 19 years 8 days
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 Championships: 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
Debut: September 5, 2020, aged 18 years 339 days.
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 UEFA 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.
A clearly peeved Gareth Southgate described the pair as "naive", sent them home and left them out of his next squad.
13. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Debut: May 26, 2012, age 18 years 284 days
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.
He was called up for the World Cup in 2014 but didn’t feature, and missed the 2018 World Cup with injury, though has made several appearances since.
12. Luke Shaw
Debut: February 27, 2014, aged 18 years 236 days
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. Despite becoming the youngest player to appear at the 2014 World Cup, he hasn’t kicked on since his subsequent move to Manchester United – then a world record for a teenager.
In the six years since, he has made just five appearances for England due to injuries and a loss of form at club level combined with the rise of Danny Rose, then Ryan Bertrand, then Ben Chilwell.
11. Jack Wilshere
Debut: August 11, 2010, aged 18 years 222 days
Jack Wilshere's England story typifies his career. He made his debut at 18 amid great expectations, and has been in the frame ever since, but was been 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 has waned in the intervening seasons.
However, his last call-up came in 2016, and he seems unlikely to add more to his tally.
10. Marcus Rashford
Debut: May 27, 2016, aged 18 years 208 days
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 scored his first competitive goal for the Three Lions in a World Cup qualifier against Slovakia in September. Now a regular starter for club and country, Rashford hit double figures for international goals when he stuck home as part of a 4-0 victory over Kosovo in November 2019.
9. Jadon Sancho
Debut: October 12, 2018, aged 18 years 200 days.
Jadon Sancho's decision to move from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund in 2017 has been, in the short-term at least, an astute choice.
Looking for more chances for first-team appearances, Sancho made his first Bundesliga start in January 2018, scored his first goal in April and began the 2018/19 season in great form.
October was the big month for him, though: he became the first player born in the 2000s to score in the Champions League, won Bundesliga Player of the Month, and made his England debut in the UEFA Nations League against World Cup runners-up Croatia.
8. Duncan Edwards
Debut: April 2nd, 1955, aged 18 years 182 days
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
Debut: November 15, 2006, aged 18 years 143 days
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
Debut: March 22, 2019, aged 18 years and 134 days.
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.
While he had been a part of the U17 squad that won the 2017 World Cup, he didn't actually make his U21 debut until October 2019 – seven months after his first senior cap.
5. Michael Owen
Debut: February 11, 1998, aged 18 years 59 days
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 fifth in the list of all-time top goalscorers for the Three Lions, behind only Wayne Rooney, 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
Debut: November 14, 2012, aged 17 years 341 days
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. His first international hat-trick followed in March the following year as part of a 5-0 rout of the Czech Republic.
3. Jude Bellingham
Debut: November 12, 2020, aged 17 years and 137 days
Having made the well-trodden path from Birmingham City to Borussia Dortmund this summer (subs please check), Jude 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.
After the match, manager Gareth Southgate said that the youngster had been "nervous", but wanted to "give him a feel of it" and praised his performance as "mature".
"You saw as it developed he settled and got into the game. That's the experience we wanted to give him."
2. Wayne Rooney
Debut: February 12, 2003, aged 17 years 110 days
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 119 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 the 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
Debut: May 30, 2006, aged 17 years 74 days
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.
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