Grassroots England showing the pathway is the right one

England’s World Cup 2018 team are the first of an almost embattled breed. A side raised in the lower echelons of the English game; a team hardened by moving up through the ranks. GoPlay investigates…

Quarter-finals at best said the experts ahead of the World Cup in Russia, but already England have surpassed that after breezing past Sweden in the last eight on Saturday.

Gareth Southgate’s new England have been vibrant, expansive and brave and while former England defender Southgate can take most of the plaudits for the style of play and mentality, a closer look at the backgrounds of the starting XI tells a story.

Go show your team the world…

Forget the ‘Golden Generation’ of David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, the class of 2018 are en route to World Cup glory via a very different pathway. Those players of yesteryear may well have been perceived to have been more talented individually, but Southgate’s young guns are a team, focused on success and have been given the platform to play in a way which no England team has done, certainly in GoPlay’s existence.

And one telling characteristics is that the majority of them, in fact all but two, have been schooled at grassroots level down the English football pyramid. They have played their football way down the English league ladder and in some cases in the non-league game.

Even someone like Manchester United’s midfield dynamo Jesse Lingard, who you might be forgiven in thinking has been a one-club man and played all his football at Carrington and in the United youth ranks, has played almost 50 times out on loan at the likes Birmingham, Brighton (before they were in the Premier League) and Derby.

Harry Maguire, who scored the opener in the 2-0 win over Sweden, played over 134 games for Sheffield United in the third tier, before moving to Hull City.

Meanwhile, Jordan Pickford, 24, now at Everton has had a grounding on loan with Darlington, Carlisle and Bradford City among his loan clubs, accounting for almost 100 appearances.

Only Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson have not experienced life outside the bright lights of the Premier League – just two players from the starting XI, who started against Tunisia, Colombia and Sweden that have played all their football at the top level in England.

In short this England side that face Croatia in a World Cup semi-final – for the first time since 1990 – have generally experienced the ‘not so glamorous’ times. Their football development, under the meticulous eye of Southgate, has been very different from England teams on recent times.

They have learnt their trade coming up through the ranks and experienced the hard times and most probably received a grounding that they can now appreciate.

Read More: England’s youth teams and why winning is not the only measure of success

The Three Lions are two games away from legendary status. Despite being the youngest and least experienced squad at the World Cup, averaging just under 26-years-old the majority of them have international tournament experience at youth level under their belts.

Many have played at England level from Under-16s through to Under-21s and been involved in knockout football and now they are just 90 minutes away from reaching the World Cup final – a feat which the Three Lions have done only once before when they were victorious on home soil in 1966.

Whether they can manage it or not, their performances in Russia have been a vindication that the grassroots pathway exists and England are finally doing things the right way to produce a successful side at senior level.

Southgate’s preferred England XI and their past clubs:


Jordan Pickford, 24, (Everton) – Loans at Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton, Carlisle, Bradford and Preston.

Kyle Walker, 28, (Man City) – Loans at Sheffield United and Aston Villa.

Harry Maguire, 25, (Leicester City) – Played for Sheffield United, Hull City and Wigan on loan.

John Stones, 24, (Man City) – Played 24 times for Barnsley before getting a move to Everton, then a ยฃ47m move to Man City.

Ashley Young, 33, (Man Utd) – Started out at Watford, before moving to Aston Villa and finally a move to Man Utd in 2011.

Kieran Trippier, 27, (Tottenham) – Made over 200 appearances combined for both Burnley and Barnsley, of which just 38 were in the Premier League.

Jesse Lingard, 25, (Man Utd) – Played on loan at Leicester, Birmingham, Brighton and Derby.

Jordan Henderson, 28, (Liverpool) – Started at his hometown club Sunderland, making 79 appearances before moving to Liverpool. One of just two players to have never experienced life outside the top flight.

Dele Alli, 22, (Tottenham) – Played over 60 games for MK Dons in the English third tier before signing for Spurs.

Harry Kane, 24, (Tottenham)ย – Loan spells at Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester in the Championship and League One.

Raheem Sterling, 23, (Man City) – Played 95 times for Liverpool before heading to Man City. The only player who has not experienced life down the league ladder.


Matt Briggs

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