International weekend sees the Home Nations continue in their campaign to reach World Cup 2018. After a promising, but ultimately futile, performance against Germany in Wednesday’s friendly, England’s attention turns to Lithuania. The Three Lions meet their Baltic counterparts, managed by one time Heart of Midlothian striker, Edgaras Jankauskas, at Wembley on Sunday. The fixture should see a straightforward win for Gareth Southgate’s side, but, as we all know, England are prone to a slip up or two.
Southgate is not helped by having to pick from a severely depleted squad. Harry Kane, Wayne Rooney, Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson and Danny Rose are all missing for the hosts. This has led Southgate to include a number of surprising call ups in his squad, amongst them Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse and Nathan Redmond, West Bromwich Albion’s Jake Livermore, Burnley’s Michael Keane, and, in a sensational return to international football, Sunderland’s 34 year old hitman, Jermain Defoe.
Defoe et al are just the latest in a long line of surprising England call ups. Over the years, successive managers have handed out international caps ranging from the mildly unexpected to the downright bizarre. But which call ups were the most shocking? Well, here at Rileys, we give you the seven most surprising England call ups of all time.
Arsenal’s Theo Walcott was barely 17 years old when he was selected by Sven-Göran Eriksson for his 2006 World Cup squad. Despite having only made 13 senior club appearances, all prior to joining the Gunners, Eriksson shocked fans by taking the winger to the finals in Germany, over established international strikers Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe. Walcott made his debut 3 weeks later, coming on as a substitute in the warm up friendly win against Hungary. Despite impressing in his debut, and being one of only two forwards on the England bench, Walcott proceeded to make a sum total of zero appearances in Germany that Summer.
Back in the mists of time (2002), Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderer’s side were ripping up the Premier League. Buoyed by an array of incredible players, including Youri Djorkaeff, Jay Jay Okocha, and Iván Campo, Big Sam’s side were pushing for a top six finish. The focal point of that side was one Michael Ricketts. Ricketts certainly came from the old school of English strikers. Tall, tough, and direct, he was the ideal front man for Allardyce’s long ball style. By February of the 2001-02 season, the striker had notched up 15 goals, and was unexpectedly called up by Sven-Göran Eriksson for the friendly against Holland. Ricketts started the game, but was hooked at half time after barely touching the ball. He failed to score for Bolton for the rest of the season, and never represented England again.
3. Matt Le Tissier
Despite being one of the most talented English players of the 1990s, Matt Le Tissier barely got a look in at international level. Back in 1997, an in-form Le Tissier was called up to the England squad by Glen Hoddle for the crucial World Cup qualifier against Italy at Wembley. Hoddle was desperate to tactically outsmart his Italian counterpart, Cesare Maldini, and informed Le Tissier that he would be starting the game, with Steve McManaman sat in the free role behind him. Rather than keep it to himself, as he was instructed to do, Le Tiss let slip Hoddle’s plans to his brother, who subsequently leaked it to the press. Maldini altered his tactics to nullify the England attack, Italy won, Le Tissier had a stinker, and a furious Hoddle never picked him again.
4. Joe Lewis
21 year old Joe Lewis was playing for League 1 side Peterborough United when he was sensationally called up to the England squad for the friendlies against USA and Trinidad and Tobago in 2008. Despite questionable club form, England goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence, as well as under 21 boss Stuart Pearce, were big fans of Lewis, and recommended the former Norwich player to Fabio Capello, who called him up after Chris Kirkland withdrew with injury. Lewis failed to make an appearance in either game, but was widely tipped as an international of the future. However, Lewis’s career soon petered out. After falling out of favour at Peterborough, he had a spell as Cardiff City’s third choice ‘keeper, followed by loan periods at Blackpool and Fulham. However, today he is enjoying a bit of a renaissance as first choice goalkeeper for SPFL runners up in waiting, Aberdeen.
5. David Nugent
David Nugent was playing for Preston North End in the Championship when Steve McClaren called him up for the Euro 2008 qualifying match against Andorra. Although he had featured for the under 21s, few expected Nugent to become the first North End player to make an appearance for England since Tom Finney, 49 years earlier. He came on as a late substitute in the game, and scored the final goal in a 3-0 win, racing onto a goal-bound Jermain Defoe shot, and tapping in from half a yard. Nugent never played for England again, and subsequently becomes one of only a few players to have a 100% goal scoring record at international level.
Sven-Göran Eriksson’s first England squad was full of surprises – Gavin McCann anyone?! But, by far the most extraordinary pick was 31 year old Charlton left back, Chris Powell. Powell was a solid enough full back, but had spent his entire career at the likes of Southend and Derby, as well as the Addicks, and was at the tail end of his career, so few expected him to be called up for the national team. But, the left back made his debut in the friendly win against Spain, and earned himself a further 5 caps. However, the emergence of Ashley Cole, perhaps the only truly world class English player in recent years, ensured that Powell’s England career was short and sweet.
7. Alan Thompson
Another Eriksson pick, Alan Thompson was one of a handful of English players who formed part of Martin O’Neill’s all conquering Celtic side of the early 2000s. A skillful left footer, Thompson played a key role in the Bhoy’s extraordinary run to the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, scoring a free kick against Liverpool in the quarter final leg at Anfield in the process. The former Bolton player earned a call up to the England squad in March 2004 for the friendly against Sweden, after much pressure from Celtic fans. Thompson played 60 minutes, but failed to impress, and was never selected again. He remains the only player to be called up to the England squad whilst contracted to Celtic FC.
So there you have it, will Messrs Redmond, Keane, Ward-Prowse and Defoe be able to prosper where the men above have generally failed? They’ll have to make any action against Lithuania on Sunday count as the Three Lions look to strengthen their grip on top spot.