This (Could Be) England 2021: the alternate Euro squad

Football, like life, is full of those ‘sliding doors’ moments. What if Ali Bin Nasser had spotted Diego Maradona’s handball against England in 1986 and sent him off with the score kept at 0–0? What if Paul Gascoigne had not checked his run when Alan Shearer played the ball across to him against Germany in 1996? The butterfly effect in chaos theory would have us believe that just small changes can lead to differences far bigger than we could predict. With that in mind, here is a twenty-six-man squad which, had the last decade gone differently, could be representing England at this summer’s European Championships.

GK

Jack Butland

England Debut: 2012

Age:28

Caps:9

Jack Butland really could be England’s Number One. A non-playing member of the Euro 2012 squad, Butland was also the Number One for Great Britain at the London Olympics. Injury cost him a place at Euro 2016 but in the build-up to Russia 2018 Southgate had a choice between Butland and Jordan Pickford for goalkeeper. It was the latter’s distribution which tipped the balance but Butland could very easily have been the first choice. After signing for Crystal Palace in 2020 he’s spent most of the past year on the sidelines. This year along came Dean Henderson and Butland couldn’t make the squad ahead of West Brom’s Number One.

Joe Hart

England Debut: 2008

Age: 34

Caps: 75

In an alternate universe Joe Hart is still England’s Number One. After the David James/Rob Green debacle of 2010 it felt like Joe Hart could be England’s first choice goalkeeper for the next decade and beyond ala David Seaman. Then, so the story goes, Pirlo scored a panenka against him. Suddenly there wasn’t the skill to match the cockiness as Hart never seemed to fulfill his promise. Pep Guardiola dropped him as soon as he joined City. To Hart’s credit he did seek a challenge at Torino. A move to Burnley followed where he was actually blamed for making them worse. Gareth Southgate’s first Number One, he was dropped before the last World Cup. He was last seen as pundit for the League Cup final between City and Spurs where he trolled Spurs despite currently being employed by them. He did match Seaman for caps, though.

Alex McCarthy

England Debut: 2018

Age: 31

Caps: 1

A promising arrival to the Premier League for Reading, including a stunning performance at Anfield, McCarthy received his first call-up in 2013. He didn’t make his England debut until 2018, keeping a clean sheet against the USA. It’s a hard life as a third choice goalkeeper but McCarthy could have expected more. Fraser Forster managed 6 caps, in comparison.

RB

Nathaniel Clyne

England Debut:2014

Age:30

Caps: 14

Younger than Kieran Trippier and made his England debut 3 years earlier. Clyne was first choice right back in 5 of England’s last 6 qualifiers for Euro 2016 yet lost his place to Kyle Walker. Even in a squad of 10 right backs it is hard to imagine him getting a place.

Martin Kelly

England Debut: 2012

Age: 31

Caps: 1

A late call-up to the Euro 2012 squad Martin Kelly is the answer to the question ‘England player with the shortest playing time’ thanks to two minutes played coming on as a substitute against Norway in a friendly. A fine career has followed at Crystal Palace but not reached the heights he may have hoped for in 2012.

CB

Chris Smalling

England Debut:2011

Age: 31

Caps: 31

A first-choice centre back in 2016 when John Stones had 10 caps and Harry Maguire was yet to make his England debut. Having been paired with Gary Cahill in France Smalling must have thought he was going to be England’s senior defender for the foreseeable future. It was not to. Southgate sought other options, blaming Smalling’s lack of quality on the ball. A move to Roma and no further caps followed.

Phil Jones

England Debut: 2011

Age: 29

Caps:27

It’s not his fault for the injuries. It’s not his fault he has a meme-able face. It’s not his fault a clearly intoxicated Sir Alex Ferguson said he could be Manchester United’s greatest ever player. Sir Bobby Charlton compared him to Duncan Edwards. Fabio Capello compared him Franco Baresi. In an alternate universe ‘Smalling and Jones’ is a partnership to rival Bruce-Pallister or Ferdinand-Vidic. But it just hasn’t happened. He made the last World Cup, playing the two defeats to Belgium.

James Tarkowski

England Debut: 2018

Age: 28

Caps: 2

Part of the standby list for Russia 2018. He might look at Ben White’s inclusion and wonder.

Steven Caulker

England Debut: 2012

Age: 29

Caps: 1

Remember him? Another member of the Great Britain team in 2012, making 5 appearances, Caulker made his senior England debut in 2012 against Sweden. He scored, making it 2–1 before coming off. Ibrahimovic scored THAT goal as Sweden won 4–2 in the end. And Caulker never played for England again. He’s currently plying his trade in Turkey for Alanyaspor.

Michael Keane

England Debut: 2017

Age: 28

Caps: 12

Twelve caps and a goal to boot. Once linked with Manchester United before a £25 million move to Everton. Keane was part of the squad for the 2019 Nations League finals. There’s still a chance for him to feature again but he must also wonder about Ben White’s inclusion.

LB

Ryan Bertrand

England Debut: 2012

Age:31

Caps:19

Making your European club debut in the Champions League final is no bad way to mark your arrival. Bertrand also played at London 2012. He might have hoped to replace Ashley Cole at club and country level. He was part of the Euro 2016 squad but, just as with Clyne, it has not happened since.

Danny Rose

England Debut: 2016

Age: 30

Caps: 29

Another Olympic player in 2012, Rose was England’s left back at Euro 2016. He made the 2018 squad and won praise from Southgate for speaking out about his mental health. However, converted right sided player Ashley Young was preferred to him in Russia. Rose is two years younger than Young was in 2018. In Russia Rose must have had hopes of becoming England’s first choice left back again; at that point Luke Shaw’s last cap was in 2015 and Ben Chilwell was yet to play for his country. Rose announced himself at Spurs with a stunning goal against Arsenal. Yet he will also be remembered for a few awkward scenes on Amazon Prime’s ‘All or Nothing’.

MF

Jack Wilshere

England Debut: 2010

Age: 29

Caps: 32

The next Gazza. A future England captain. It felt like we heard about Jack Wilshere’s precocious talent before he even made his Arsenal debut aged just 16 in 2008. In 2011 he dazzled as Arsenal beat Barcelona 2–1. Then it all seems to have gone wrong. Injuries haven’t helped; Wilshere made the Euro 2016 squad despite playing only 3 Premier League matches more than I did in 2015–16. He now serves as the classic example of ‘what if?’ Remember: Wilshere is younger than Jordan Henderson.

Tom Cleverly

England Debut: 2012

Age: 31

Caps: 13

Included here not so much for his England form as for some of the hyperbole amongst my fellow United fans who would have had you believe that we were looking at the next Paul Scholes and future Old Trafford legend. It of course did not happen. Less the next Scholes, more the English Darron Gibson his last cap was in 2013.

Adam Lallana

England Debut:2013

Age: 33

Caps: 34

Lallana went to Brazil in 2014 and played in three of England’s four matches at the last Euros. He then scored the only goal of the Sam Allardyce era, finishing as England’s player of the year for 2016. Injuries have hit his career hard since. A quality, skilful player, England’s midfield could be his at an age where Xavi was at his peak. It’s not proven to be so.

Lewis Cook

England Debut: 2018

Age: 24

Caps: 1

Who? Lewis Cook was the captain of the England Under-20 team which won the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup, the same squad which featured Dean Henderson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin. That year a certain Phil Foden scored twice in the final of the Under-17 equivalent. It has not been a similar jump for Lewis Cook. He was on standby for Russia and that summer he captained the victorious England team at the Toulon tournament. However, it now looks like he’ll be stuck on his one senior cap.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

England Debut: 2012

Age: 27

Caps: 35

More talented than Henderson. More gifted than Rice. A member of the England squads in 2012 and 2014, Oxlade-Chamberlain has been similarly hit by injury as Lallana. There may still be time for him with England; he’s only a year older than James Ward-Prowse.

Dele Alli

England Debut: 2015

Age: 25

Caps: 37

A regular starter in 2018 Dele Alli also went to the Nations League finals in 2019. It says a lot about his deterioration in form over the past two years that his exclusion from England’s provisional squad didn’t even cause us to bat an eyelid. Jesse Lingard has shown how it is possible to turn around a career slump. A big season awaits for Dele Alli at club and international level.

Eric Dier

England Debut: 2015

Age: 27

Caps: 45

The scorer of England’s first goal at Euro 2016. The scorer of the winning penalty against Colombia. A member of the 2019 Nations League squad. Yet again, as with Dele Alli, his exclusion has not caused any consternation even though he can play in defence and so would offer options to a squad hit with injuries. A versatile player who developed in Portugal, Dier is intriguing and could still play an international role. A crucial season awaits for him, just as with his Tottenham teammate above.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

England Debut: 2017

Age: 25

Caps: 10

A frustrating player who featured in 2018 yet has spent the last season in an unsuccessful relegation battle at Fulham. No longer a youngster it feels like his chance may have come and gone already. His last cap was in 2018.

Ross Barkley

England Debut: 2013

Age: 27

Caps: 33

As with Loftus-Cheek no longer a youngster. His big move to Chelsea came by burning all of his bridges at Everton yet he was able to have a solid if unspectacular season at Aston Villa. He played in Portugal in 2019 but the emergence of Mason Mount and Phil Foden has meant he is unlikely to feature in Gareth Southgate’s plans again.

FW

Andy Carroll

England Debut: 2010

Age: 32

Caps: 9

Comparisons with Alan Shearer were always going to be lazy and set him up to fail. His goal against Sweden in Euro 2012 is one of the finest headers you are likely to see. Yet injuries and accusations of a lack of focus cost him, dear. The deal which took him to Liverpool and Fernando Torres to Chelsea was as devastating to him as it was the Spaniard. Less was made of a Uruguayan called Luis Suárez joining Liverpool on the same day which says a lot. Speaking of other Liverpool strikers: Rickie Lambert has more England caps. And goals.

Daniel Sturridge

England Debut: 2011

Age: 31

Caps: 26

Yet another London 2012 player. Sturridge will probably be remembered more for his irritating celebration (and Subway advert) than for anything else which is a shame. In 2013/14 he formed a partnership with Suárez which almost delivered the title to Anfield. That summer he scored in Brazil. It has been downhill ever since despite scoring the winner against Wales at Euro 2016. Questions were raised over his attitude especially over playing with injuries and he has been without a club since March 2020 when Turkish club Trabzonspoor terminated his contract with mutual agreement. Southgate turned the page on Sturridge’s England career in 2017.

Theo Walcott

England Debut: 2006

Age: 32

Caps: 47

It’s hard to say which came out worse from Sven-Göran Eriksson’s choice to pick a 17-year-old with no top flight appearances for Germany 2006: England’s World Cup chances or Theo Walcott. There have been bright moments since: a hat-trick against Croatia and a goal against Sweden at Euro 2012. But 2006 remains his only World Cup. However, 47 caps is a fine achievement and even more remarkable considering his last cap was in 2016.

Danny Welbeck

England Debut: 2011

Age: 30

Caps: 42

Danny Welbeck was in England’s 2018 squad. No, really he was. Check. See? A versatile forward player Welbeck scored a backheel flick at Euro 2012 and was top scorer in qualifying for Euro 2016. With England blessed with regard to pacey winger/forwards Welbeck’s chances at international level have gone. He can look back on a career at domestic level with five major honours including the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup.

Callum Wilson

England Debut: 2018

Age: 29

Caps: 4

Scored on his debut against the USA and went to Portugal in 2019. Once linked with moves to Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, Wilson last played for England in that infamous 6–0 in Bulgaria. His England chances look to have gone but he is far from finished in the top flight: last season he managed 12 goals in 28 matches for a Newcastle United not known for attacking play. In comparison, Jamie Vardy managed 17 goals in 48 matches for high-flying Leicester City.

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