After years of underachievement and disappointment, the English national team looks to finally be showing signs of progression and promise.
The fans looks to have fallen back in love with the national side after a World Cup campaign which saw Gareth Southgate’s side reach the semi finals, and in the newly published FIFA world rankings the Three Lions are now the fourth best team in the world – behind only Belgium, world champions France and Brazil.
Few can say they could’ve predicted the sudden rise of the squad, although The Guardian certainly had a crack in 2008 when they posted their list of England’s 20 future stars – who were all under the age of 18 at the time.
Here, we will be ranking those stars in terms of which have gone on to have the better careers having previously been labelled as England’s next best thing:
20. Aidan White
In a career which never really took off, White struggled to cope with injuries and the different roles he was being asked to play in at Leeds United. He started as a full back but was then moved to a winger before being tried as a number 10, which ultimately unsettled the youngster.
He is now on loan at Barnsley in League One and only has one appearance at Under-19 level in his England career to boast about.
Fair to say that The Guardian were a little optimistic about what White could become.
19. Michael Woods
Having signed for Chelsea from Leeds United as a 16-year-old, a lot was expected of Michael Woods, but he never lived up to the hype.
Making just two appearances in one senior season with the Blues, Woods was released in 2011 and has since slid down the divisions, now finding himself playing in the National League with Hartlepool United.
18. Jose Baxter
Having been labelled by The Guardian as “better than Wayne Rooney at 14”, Baxter’s career certainly took a turn for the worst.
He started his career with Everton in the Premier League, but then dropped down to League One in 2012 and has been banned twice for failing drugs tests. He is now playing for Oldham Athletic in League Two – without an international cap to his name.
17. Mark Beevers
In 2008 Mark Beevers was on fire for Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship and won the club’s prestigious Player of the Year award, with many Premier League clubs keeping a close eye on him.
Unfortunately for him having been described as “6ft 4in tall, deceptively quick across the turf and strong in the air” by The Guardian, the Championship was the highest height he was able to reach.
He still plays his football in the second tier of English football with Bolton, with his dreams of playing Premier League football a distant memory.
16. Gavin Hoyte
Coming up through the academy at Arsenal there was a lot of promise surrounding Gavin Hoyte, described as “quick, athletic and astute both at right-back and centre-half.”
Unfortunately his career has only gone downhill since, currently playing his football in the National League with Dagenham & Redbridge – his second spell with the club.
Despite his career never taking off he has in fact received international recognition, although this was for Trinidad & Tobago who he last represented back in 2015.
15. Jacob Mellis
A lot was though of Jacob Mellis when Chelsea splashed £1m to land him from Sheffield United as a 16-year-old, although he only featured for a grand total of one minute in the first team having come on as a substitute in injury time in a Champions League match.
With The Guardian describing Mellis as a versatile player playing “from attacking midfield to full-back and centre-half within the Chelsea academy set-up” he has featured in all four of England’s top leagues, but has now settled in League Two with Mansfield Town.
14. Nile Ranger
The Toon faithful were full of hope when it came to their young striker Nile Ranger back in 2008, with the Guardian describing him as being “tipped for Shearer-esque scoring feats.”
It has now, however, turned into a career impacted by controversy off the pitch. With the forward seemingly unable to stay out of trouble, he lost the trust of the Newcastle fans and was let go by the club in 2013.
Now having been axed by his most recent club Southend United – the sixth club in his career – in 2018, he’s now a free agent but there appears to be very little interest in him from other clubs.
13. Freddie Sears
He shot up to fame when he scored just five minutes into his senior debut with West Ham, but for Freddie Sears that was really as good as things got. His final three seasons with the Hammers were spent out on loan before he secured a permanent move away from the club in 2012.
He was sold to Colchester United before being picked up by Championship outfit Ipswich in 2014 – where he has been ever since. He failed to make the step up to the England senior team having represented the Under-21s, although has established himself as a tidy Championship player.
12. Nathan Delfouneso
At 17, Nathan Delfouneso was described as “a regular in reserve and academy sides, for whom he has been a prolific scorer”. Unfortunately being prolific is something the striker has struggled with in his career.
Currently in his fourth spell with Blackpool playing in League One, Delfouneso has failed to reach double figures for goals in a single season in his career – although he has represented England at Under-21 level on 17 occasions.
11. Josh McEachran
Even at a young age many clubs were desperate to get their hands on Chelsea’s Josh McEachran, although the Blues were able to keep hold of their “skilful left-footed midfielder”.
Unfortunately despite spending five years with the Chelsea senior team he managed just 11 Premier League appearances in that time, being loaned out five times before he finally secured a permanent move away to Brentford in 2015.
He’s in his fourth season with the Championship outfit and is yet to make a senior England appearance with the potential which surrounded him at the start of his senior career now turning into disappointment.
10. Henri Lansbury
Another player who came up through the Arsenal academy, Henri Lansbury hasn’t exactly reached the heights predicted of him as a youngster, although hasn’t had a bad career by any means.
The Guardian’s description of “strongly built and powerful yet creative on the ball and a goal threat” certainly wasn’t too far off with the midfielder establishing himself as one of the best players in the Championship at Nottingham Forest in the five seasons he spent at the City Ground.
He now plays his football at Aston Villa, although is struggling to break into Dean Smith’s side.
9. John Bostock
Perhaps one of England’s most promising talents at the time having been labelled as “tall, elegant and visionary” John Bostock shot up to fame having secured a move to Tottenham at just 16, although his career didn’t take off as he’d hoped.
He’s now at his 12th he’s had in his career, but is finding great success in France. His impressive performances helped him win the Ligue 2 player on the season in 2017 with Lens and he’s now playing in France’s top tier with Toulouse having seemingly found a level he’s comfortable playing in.
8. Jack Rodwell
“Compared to Rio Ferdinand, he is strong, quick and assured,” were the words of The Guardian regarding a 17-year-old Jack Rodwell – who had become the youngest player to represent Everton in Europe.
His career then seemed to hit the jackpot in 2012 when he signed for Manchester City but having made just 16 Premier League appearances in his two seasons at the Etihad Stadium, he soon fell out for favour and after a three-year spell with Sunderland in the Premier League is now with Blackburn Rovers in the Championship on a short-term deal.
He managed just three senior England appearances between 2011 and 2013, which has come as a huge shame given the promise he had showed as a youngster.
7. Jonjo Shelvey
Shortly after the Guardian’s piece was published – which described Jonjo Shelvey as “a goalscoring midfielder” – he earned a dream move from Charlton to Liverpool, where he spent three seasons.
Unfortunately he soon fell out of favour at Anfield and it looked as though he was heading towards becoming another promising player who never reached his potential, but a move to Swansea revived his Premier League career. He is now at Newcastle United and has established himself as a top-flight talent.
His last international appearance came in 2015, although he was tipped by many in 2017 to receive a recall to the squad after an impressive start to the season with the Magpies, which unfortunately never came.
6. Jack Wilshere
There was no questioning the potential Jack Wilshere showed at a young age at Arsenal. He became the club’s youngest ever league debutant at just 16 years and 256 days old and quickly became a regular member of Arsenal’s starting lineup after his breakout game against Barcelona in the Champions League at the Emirates.
Unfortunately he has since had an injury-plagued career which has forced him into long spells on the sidelines rather than on the pitch, and it’s taken its toll on him.
Regardless, the “eye-catching performances in the Carabao Cup” early on in his career as described by The Guardian have turned into a solid career at the very top of English football for Wilshere – which has also included 34 England caps over nine years.
5. Danny Drinkwater
Danny Drinkwater had been tipped for success at Manchester United as a youngster with his “two-footed ability and boasting a fine passing range”, although very few would’ve predicted that he would in fact find success with Leicester City.
He played a key role in the Foxes’ remarkable Premier League triumph in 2016 and in that time also received international recognition, making three England caps. He then secured a £35m move to Chelsea, but has managed just 12 Premier League appearances in two seasons with the club.
Despite his lack of playing time at Stamford Bridge he has certainly gone on to have a good career and at 29-, there’s still plenty of playing time left for the midfielder.
4. Fabian Delph
Fabian Delph was a bright young prospect playing for Leeds in 2008 with The Guardian claiming “Arsenal and Manchester United are seriously interested”.
Fast forward 11 years and Delph has had a brilliant career, having won a Premier League title with Manchester City in 2018 and was also been part of Gareth Southgate’s England side which reached the semi finals of the World Cup in 2018.
He’s made 18 international appearances as has become a useful player at club level which Pep Guardiola can call upon when needed.
3. Victor Moses
It’s fair to say Victor Moses has come a long way since his graduation from the Crystal Palace academy in 2007. He spent four years as a Premier League player with Wigan before being signed by Chelsea 2012, being described as “strong, skilful and quick”.
He has had mixed fortunes at Stamford Bridge having struggled for game time in his early days before becoming a key component to the team under the management of Antonio Conte.
He’s now on loan at Turkish side Fenerbahce, although there’s no denying he’s had a very good spell with Chelsea having won a Premier League, a Europa League and an FA Cup in his five years with the club. He has also made 37 international appearances for his country of birth, Nigeria.
2. Danny Welbeck
Whilst Danny Welbeck has still gone on to have a very solid career, the question must be asked of what could’ve been had it not been for a number of injuries.
He’s played for two of England’s biggest clubs in Manchester United and Arsenal and has found plenty of success having won a Premier League and an FA Cup, although he has struggled for regular football throughout his career due to prolonged injury layoffs.
Saying that, he has managed to remain a regular member of the England senior set up and has scored 16 goals in 42 appearances for his country. Not bad for a player who was likened to Nwankwo Kanu…
1. Jordan Henderson
“An elusive right-sided midfielder or deep-lying forward, and equally happy in the hole or drifting wide right”. Are we taking about the same player?
Jordan Henderson has gone on to have a fine career with Liverpool, although that has come more as a central midfielder rather than a wide player. He took over Steven Gerrard’s role as captain of Liverpool and has made 234 appearances for the Reds, leading them to both a Champions League and a Europa League final.
He has also shone on the international stage having managed 50 caps for his country, playing a vital role England’s run to the World Cup semi final in 2018.