Forever England

By Henry Church Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/24 16:48:39

The EPL’s last all-English XI

England manager Gareth Southgate Photo: VCG

The English Premier League is the most popular on the planet with some of the world's best players and managers making for a spectacle that has given us the best title races in memory in recent seasons.

It represents a triumph of the globalization of football. The two best managers in the league, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, are German and Spanish, with the backing cast made up of serial European champions Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho.

It is surprising that there as many as nine English managers in the top flight: Burnley's Sean Dyche, Graham Potter at Brighton & Hove Albion, Chelsea's Frank Lampard, Fulham's Scott Parker, Roy Hodgson at Crystal Palace, Dean Smith at Aston Villa, Newcastle United's Steve Bruce, Chris Wilder at Sheffield Untied and the newly appointed Sam Allardyce at West Brom.

No Englishman has guided a team to Premier League titles, with the last top-flight champions managed by an English manager Leeds United under Howard Wilkinson in the final season of the old First Division in 1991-92.

As for the players, they come from even further afield. On the opening day of the 2019-20 season, only 83 of the 220 players who started the campaign for their clubs qualified to play for England.

Premier League clubs are limited to 17 non-homegrown players in their squad. These can be foreign-born footballers who have spent three years at the club before the age of 21. The FA wants to tighten the limits in any case, bringing the number down to 13 in a squad of 25.

Right now, many of the best players are from overseas. Liverpool's front three of Roberto Firmino (Brazil), Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Sadio Mane (Senegal), Spurs' South Korean superstar Son Heung-min, who just won the Puskas Award, Manchester City's Belgian assist king Kevin de Bruyne. The list goes on.

You have to go back almost 22 years for the last time an all-­English team was picked in a Premier League game and a February 1999 meeting between Villa and Coventry City at Highfield Road.

Aston Villa manager John Gregory might not have known he was making history at the time but in the thousands of games since no one else has picked a full team of Englishmen. Odder still, this Villa team was very much in the title race.

It is a scene we may see again in the future as the effect of the pandemic and party politics on the Premier League as Brexit becomes clear but until then these are the history makers.

Michael Oakes

The Villa goalkeeper had come up through the youth ranks at Villa Park and was in and around the first team by 1999. He would leave when England keeper David James arrived to take the No.1 spot. Later played for local rivals Wolves and Cardiff City.

Alan Wright

The fullback was a mere 5'4" tall but played more than 250 games for Villa after a career that had already taken in Blackpool and Blackburn Rovers. Wright dropped down the divisions and was last seen as Southport manager in 2013.

Gareth Southgate

It is fitting that one of the players in the all-English 11 has gone on to make picking such lineups his life's work. Southgate, who played for his country 57 times, became England manager in 2016 and guided the team to the World Cup semis in Russia in 2018.

Steve Watson

The Newcastle United legend would leave Villa Park in 2000 but go on to play until 2009,  before he called it a day after moving on to Sheffield Wednesday. By then he had established himself as a cult figure at Everton and had a spell at West Brom. Watson moved into coaching and was manager at Gatheshead and York City.

Riccardo Scimeca

Scimeca was another Villa youth product but moved that summer to Nottingham Forest before stops at Leicester City and West Brom. Capped once by England B, Scimeca also got a runners-up medal in the 2008 FA Cup final. Coached at non-league Solihull Moors.

Ian Taylor

Another local lad, Taylor was a boyhood Villa fan but joined from Sheffield Wednesday. Later played for Derby County and Northampton Town and has covered Villa and Derby as a pundit since retiring.

Paul Merson

A Premier League winner with Arsenal, Merson described his time at Villa Park as the best part of his career. Helped the club to the 2000 FA Cup final before leaving for Portsmouth. Later played for Walsall before heading down the leagues and turning his hand to punditry. Played 21 times for England.

Simon Grayson

The midfielder would leave for Blackburn Rovers in the summer, before a tour of the provincial clubs on loan, and one last move to Blackpool. Grayson became a manager, notably at former clubs Leeds United, Bradford City and Blackpool.

Lee Hendrie  

Another from the youth team, Hendrie would stay at Villa till 2007 before a whirlwind 16 clubs in seven years, as far afield as Bandung in Indonesia. Capped once for England.

Dion Dublin

Equally comfortable in central defense as he was at center forward, Dublin has gone on to present daytime television and invent a musical instrument, The Dube. Ended his career where he started, back at Norwich City. Played four times for England.

Julian Joachim

The forward was still playing up until last year, turning out for Bourne Town in the lower leagues. Having only played for England at under-­21 level he is now eligible, at 46, to play for St Vincent.

Even the subs that day were all English, and arguably bigger names than some of Gregory's starters. 

Gareth Barry would go on to set the record for Premier League appearances and win the league with Manchester City before retiring this year, while Stan Collymore was one of the biggest stars of the 1990s. Even Mark Draper eked out a few more seasons in the Prem with Southampton.

As it happened, none of it helped - Coventry City ran out 4-1 winners on the day.

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