Boosting young English talent

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Further England coverage on Hit Row Z

– Should more England players be playing overseas?

– Should the Premier League limit the number of foreign players in the domestic game?

Roy Hodgson’s England World Cup squad included three players drawn from Southampton – Rickie Lambert, Luke Shaw, and Adam Lallana. Add in the role the club had in developing Theo Walcott, and the fact that Jay Rodriguez, James Ward-Prowse and Nathanial Clyne are also all regulars within their current squad, and many are lauding the Saints as the best club in the Premier League for promoting English talent.


Adam Lallana playing for Southampton

That Southampton have been responsible for developing a wave of exciting talent in the English game in recent years is beyond doubt. But, looking back over the last 20 years, how does their recent contribution to the national side compare with others, and which clubs have ultimately done most for the development of English players?

To answer this question, it isn’t enough to simply count up the number of players who have received a cap having played for a particular club. Instead, we are interested in identifying where those players who have gone on to be established England internationals began their professional career (in this case, those who have achieved 25 or more caps), and which were the clubs that ultimately provided these players with their England breakthrough.

As ever in this kind of analysis, there are imperfections. For example, how far back in a players’ developmental career do you go? Do Wallsend Boys club get the credit for finding and developing Alan Shearer and Michael Carrick, or do Southampton and West Ham? For our purposes, the answer is the club where the player first made their professional debut. So for Messrs Shearer and Carrick, it’s Southampton and West Ham.

Which clubs have produced the most regular England internationals?

Since 1990, 44 players have reached the milestone of 25 caps for the England team. From Ian Wright through to James Milner, these players have each made a significant contribution to the national side. But what do the numbers tell us about which clubs discovered, nurtured and promoted their talent at the beginning of their careers?

First, a surprisingly small number of clubs have launched the careers of regular England internationals over the last 20 years. Of the 44, two thirds began their career at just 8 professional clubs. This likely reflects the strength of their academies, their youth scouting network, the size of their local catchment area, and their attractiveness to young, talented footballers.

It also means that there are a number of so-called ‘big clubs’ who are in essence contributing very little to the future development of the English national side. Newcastle United, Sunderland, and Norwich City have all been established in the top flight for large parts of this period, yet have not produced a single player who has made it into the 25 cap club for England.

Second, three clubs have been disproportionately successful in introducing future England stars to the professional game. West Ham, Manchester United and Liverpool together have launched the careers of 17 regular England internationals over the last two decades. David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Gary Neville and Steve McManaman went on to become stars of the national side over many years.

Perhaps surprisingly, the United’s Golden Generation, and the Liverpool Spice Boys are both beaten by the Hammers, who have been the most successful of all. They developed seven England internationals that have gone on to receive 25 or more caps.

And, third, some smaller clubs have performed well above expectations, given the infrastructure and funding available to them. Southampton, Crystal Palace and Watford in particular, have punched above their weight, with Alan Shearer, Theo Walcott, Wayne Bridge, Ian Wright, Gareth Southgate, David James and Ashley Young starting their career at these three clubs.

Which clubs have done the most to boost English talent?


Which clubs have provided the most England regulars with their international breakthrough?

Of course, there is more to developing an England regular than bringing them into the first side and giving them their debut. Much also depends upon players with potential finding the right stage upon which to perform on as they progress.

So, which clubs have provided these 44 players with their England breakthrough, and what does it tell us about how players can catch the eye of the England boss at any given time?

First, a similarly small number of clubs have provided the majority of this group of players with their England debut. Of the 44 regular internationals from the past two decades, over three quarters made their England debut when playing for just ten professional clubs.

This reflects the fact that to make it into the England side, players’ must be performing to an elite standard, more often than not, at a top flight club. It also suggests that the best sides in the league, or those with the biggest reputations at least, tend to attract the best English talent, and are most likely to have the financial capacity to sign them.

Second, there are striking similarities and differences between the list of clubs providing the professional debut to these players, and those that provide them with their England breakthrough. For example, seven of the ten sides continue to feature in this second table, with only the relatively smaller clubs like Watford, and Crystal Palace dropping out of the list completely.

But while Liverpool, Manchester United and West Ham all continue to feature strongly, Liverpool has risen to the top of the league, while the Hammers have slipped to joint third.

This shows that not only have Liverpool and Manchester United held on to their homegrown English talents and helped them to progress to the national setup, but they have also invested in bringing additional young English talent to their side.

West Ham by contrast, have like many of the relatively smaller teams, clearly struggled to hold on to their young English stars as they have developed, as less than half went on to make their England debut while playing at the Boleyn Ground.


This analysis has shown that England has largely depended upon a small handful of clubs to generate and develop young English players capable of shining over time for the national side. This reflects the relative strength of their academies, their youth scouting network, the size of their local catchment area, and their attractiveness to young, talented footballers.

West Ham United, Manchester United and Liverpool have ultimately done most to support the national side over the past two decades –handing professional and international debuts to 17 of the 44 players to achieve 25 caps during this period.

And it is clear to see that the smaller clubs can find it a struggle to hold on to their promising young English talent as they develop – Watford and Crystal Palace each handed professional debuts to two England regulars, but all had left by the time they made their debut for England.

But what of Southampton’s recent achievements – how significant are they? The analysis shows that although not on the same scale as the three clubs identified above, the Saints have a track record of bringing through exciting young English stars that is comparable with many large clubs across the country.

However, although the Saints did hand England debuts to a number of England regulars, it seems those players ultimately felt the need to leave the South Coast to fulfil their England ambitions. This may no longer be the case. Whether because of the increased sophistication of the Saints’ play, changing perceptions of the club due to investment in their stadium and facilities, or the fact that a golden generation of players has arrived at just the time that the England side is undergoing a period of renewal, Southampton are providing more English players with their senior debut than ever before.

It remains to be seen whether Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez or Rickie Lambert will go on to earn 25 caps and establish themselves as England regulars.

And it also remains to be seen whether England can continue to rely on this small number of clubs to produce the stars of the future, particularly when increasingly, the academies of top clubs are increasingly populated by young stars from across the globe – just think of John Guidetti at Manchester City, Adnan Januzaj at Manchester United, or Lucas Piazon at Chelsea.

This is an issue Hit Row Z will be returning to in the coming weeks, so check back for updates soon.

Further England coverage on Hit Row Z – Should more England players be playing overseas? and Should the Premier League limit the number of foreign players in the domestic game?


  1. Joelyon says:

    Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came out of Southampton as well, who has 13 caps and will in all likelihood reach 25 in the foreseeable future

  2. Would question some of the data here, Alan Shearer, Peter Crouch and Wayne Bridge all made England debuts while at saints and went on to have more than 25 caps….

    • Row missing on the table. Now updated to include Southampton.

      • Bart.v.Koning says:

        Ben Harrison, Why are you crediting Southampton with developing Nat Clyne, when he was clearly developed by Crystal Palace as was Victor Moses of Chelsea(on loan to Everton), and one of the greatest fullbacks to come out of English football came from Palace Kenny Samson, along wit many others.

      • Not giving Southampton full credit for Nat Clyne, but pointing out he plays for them now, and has progressed while playing for them. Moses and Samson not referenced as on the one hand, Moses hasn’t made 25 caps yet, and on the other, Samson didn’t breakthrough in the last 20 years.

        However, agree entirely that Palace have a great history of developing English talent, and make a point in the article of pointing out that they have punched above their weight in this regard over the last 20 years.

      • Moses won’t be making 25 caps for England, he already has 15 for Nigeria.

      • Ha! Well, quite…

      • Bart.v.Koning says:

        Victor Moses already has 27 caps for England at U16 17 & 19 levels.

      • Yep, but on 1 November 2011, he was cleared to play for Nigeria.

      • Davey says:

        Yes, he even has one at U21 level, but he won’t be making any for the senior team. Anyway I enjoyed the article Ben, it was an interesting read.

      • Thanks Davey – appreciate the feedback!


  1. […] – Young Lions: Which clubs have done the most to boost English talent? […]

  2. […] – Young Lions: Which clubs have done the most to boost English talent? […]

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