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Top 10: Most under-capped England players

As part of our Top 10 series, we're looking at the Top 10 most under-capped England players.

Such is the depth of England's talent pool, there are always some players whose face doesn't quite fit with a manager, or who's unable to take the place of a generational player who they're unlucky enough to share an era with.

It's left plenty of players hang their boots up with a surprisingly low number of caps, and here's our top 10.


10 – Clive Allen – 5 caps

One of the most prolific goalscorers in the English top flight through the mid-80s, Clive Allen was a victim of Gary Lineker’s presence, limiting him to just five England caps.

Allen scored 49 goals in all competitions for Tottenham in 1986/87, earning him the PFA Player of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year. The following season he’d score 11 league goals, with Bordeaux signing the striker allowing him to showcase his goalscoring abilities in the UEFA Cup.

Unfortunately for Allen, he’d miss out on a place at the 1986 World Cup to Kerry Dixon and despite being an outstanding goal poacher, he’d never be able to displace Lineker.

9 – Kerry Dixon – 8 caps

Like Clive Allen, Kerry Dixon was another striker who was limited in his international recognition due to Gary Lineker in the 1980s.

As a 21-year-old, Dixon would score 26 goals for Reading, who’d still be relegated from the Third Division. Nevertheless, Dixon earned a move to then-Second Division Chelsea, where he’d score 28 goals and win promotion.

Dixon again made the seamless transition to a higher division, scoring 24 goals in his maiden top-flight campaign.

Dixon would reach double figures for league goals in eight consecutive seasons for Chelsea, but was limited to one substitute appearance at the 1986 World Cup, kept out of the side by Lineker and Peter Beardsley, scoring four times in his eight Three Lions appearances.

8 – David Hirst – 3 caps

With a handful of appearances at under-21 level, David Hirst established himself at Sheffield Wednesday in the late 80s.

His 14 goals in 1990 weren’t enough to keep the Owls in the top flight, but his goals the following season were enough to secure an instant return. He’d score 18 goals in 1992, and while Manchester United’s lack of goals that season saw them throw the title away to Leeds, Alex Ferguson was in the hunt for a new striker.

Struggling for goals again the following season, Ferguson made repeated moves for Hirst, rebuffed by Wednesday. In the end, United were forced to settle for Eric Cantona, and despite scoring 43 goals across three top-flight seasons, Hirst was limited to just three full England caps.

7 – Nigel Winterburn – 2 caps

Nigel Winterburn was an integral part of Arsenal’s formidable defence of Dixon-Adams-Bould (later Keown)-Winterburn, that took them to two First Division titles in 1989 and 1991, then the Premier League in 1998.

So formidable was the defence, that in the 90/91 season, they kept 24 clean sheets in 42 games, conceding one goal in another 14, en route to the title. Chants of ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’, in recognition of their defensive solidity are still heard at the Emirates even now.

However, while his three colleagues all received international recognition (even compiling three quarters of the back line once), Winterburn would be hamstrung by having Stuart Pearce and Tony Dorigo ahead of him in the pecking order, limiting him to just two caps, both of which came off the bench.

6 – Norman Hunter – 28 caps

One of English football’s finest centre-backs, Norman ‘bites yer legs’ Hunter is also one of the country’s most decorated.

A part of the uncompromising Leeds United team of the 60s and 70s that won league titles in 1969 and 1974, the FA Cup in 1972 and made the European Cup final of 1975, Hunter would frequently be overlooked by a couple of England greats, despite 726 appearances for Leeds, 78 of which came in Europe and 462 in the First Division.

Despite being part of the 1966 World Cup-winning squad, Hunter remained sidelined by Leeds team-mate Jack Charlton who earned 16 caps that year alone, and Bobby Moore, who’d reach 108 over an 11-year international career. Hunter was also part of the 1970 squad, but was kept out of the side by Everton legend Brian Labone and Moore once again.

5 – Steve Bruce – 0 caps

Arguably ineligible for this list on account of him not being capped at all by England, but he did skipper the England B team, so in he goes.

Undoubtedly one of the best English players of all time not to receive a call-up, Bruce was part of a formidable defensive pairing with Gary Pallister that saw Manchester United win their first three Premier League titles.

Bruce also won three FA Cups and a League Cup, but with Graham Taylor – who reportedly wasn’t a fan – taking over around Bruce’s better years, the centre-back would remain uncapped.

4 – Andy Cole – 15 caps

The Premier League’s second highest non-penalty goalscorer, who was harshly accused by manager Glenn Hoddle of needing several chances to score a goal, only managed 15 caps for England. The tag stuck with Cole, who found call-ups hard to come by. Goals were even harder to come by, and despite his 15 appearances, he only found the net once, perhaps explaining his limited game time.

Cole was named in the Premier League Team of the Year in 2000, and was the Golden Boot winner in 1994, but had the misfortune of competing with the likes of Teddy Sheringham, Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand and others for a place up front.

3 – Steve McManaman – 37

Despite earning more caps than anyone else on this list, Steve McManaman was criminally under-appreciated at international level, and a victim of circumstance as much as anything else.

Often at his best in a free role for Liverpool, his dribbling and trickery could terrify defenders, but come the 1998 World Cup, manager Glenn Hoddle preferred to use three centre-backs with two wing-backs, with McManaman struggling to carve out a role for himself.

Despite being named on the shortlist for PFA Player of the Year for three consecutive seasons from 95/96 to 97/98, Macca picked up just 21 caps across four years.

Certainly England’s most successful foreign export, McManaman became something of a cult hero in Madrid, winning the Champions League and La Liga on two occasions.

2 – Matt Le Tissier – 8

Matt Le Tissier’s talent was never in question; a scorer of sumptuous goals, and a hero on the south coast, where he spent 16 years with Southampton. Le God reached 20 goals in all competitions in four seasons, as well as reaching double figures in a further seven seasons.

His work rate and was certainly a factor in him not being recognised more at international level, as well perhaps his choice not to cut his teeth at bigger clubs.

He also didn’t fit in with Graham Taylor’s style of play in the early 90s, while, as something of a luxury player, Terry Venables decided he could only fit one of Le Tissier or Paul Gascoigne in his side come Euro 96.

As a result, Le Tissier’s England career lasted just three years, and saw him play a mere 71 competitive minutes.

1 – Michael Carrick – 34

England certainly weren’t short of midfielders in the mid-2000s to early-2010s, but perhaps the stabilising influence of a Michael Carrick is what was needed most. After impressing for Tottenham, Carrick was tasked with replacing Roy Keane in Manchester United’s midfield.

United immediately ended their three-year title drought, with three consecutive Premier League wins, and a total of five in his first seven seasons.

Carrick made a total of 464 appearances for Manchester United, and was perhaps more appreciated on the continent than at home, with both Xavi and Pep Guardiola lauding the midfielder.

The midfield pairing of Carrick and Scholes could run Premier League teams ragged, playing the game at their own pace and dictating play through the middle. While Carrick didn’t have the dynamism or goalscoring abilities of a Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard, it’s the ability to control a game that England perhaps most missed during their best years.

Arguably one of the most under-rated players in Premier League history, Carrick did amass 34 caps, but made just one start at a major tournament, often missing out on the holding role in midfield to Gareth Barry. 

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