How the EFL shaped England's World Cup Squad
As we get closer to the 2022 FIFA World Cup commencing, it is worth noting the impact that the English football pyramid has had on Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad. All 26 are household names now, and the majority of them light up the English Premier League week- in week-out, but let’s go back a step to where it all began.
England’s number one. A brick wall in previous tournaments and one of the first names on the plane for Southgate. The Everton shot-stopper learnt his trade further down the pyramid though, with Pickford starting off at League Two Burton Albion, where he was handed his professional debut the day after joining on loan. After a successful spell in the fourth division, the ‘keeper was sent into the third division, making 33 appearances across the season for Bradford City. 2015 brought another step-up for Pickford, who made his Championship debut at Preston North End, featuring 24 times for the lilywhites.
Table-topping Aaron Ramsdale is now at the best performing team domestically in England, but it hasn’t always been that way. The 24-year-old began his career at Sheffield United and kept a clean sheet on his Blades debut against Leyton Orient. During the January 2018 transfer window, Ramsdale was shipped out on loan to Chesterfield, where he was deemed the safest pair of hands and made 19 appearances for the club who were relegated from the EFL. A year later, he was loaned to League One outfit, AFC Wimbledon. He instantly impressed, and guided the Dons to safety, picking up the Wombles Young Player of the Year award.
A crucial player in the rebuild of Newcastle United, Nick Pope also started off in the EFL. The 30-year-old signed for Charlton Athletic in 2011 in a deal that meant the Addicks had to play Pope’s former club, Bury Town, in a pre-season friendly. He made his Championship debut in May 2013 in a 4-1 win against Bristol City. Whilst with the Londoners, the goalkeeper was loaned out to League Two York City and Bury, where he impressed. After a stellar eight years in the lower leagues, Pope finally made it to the Premier League via Burnley, who signed him after gaining promotion to the first division. Pope would go on to establish himself in the league and claim his spot on the plane to Qatar.
A product of the Liverpool academy, Coady now finds himself on the blue half of Merseyside. Whilst on the books of the Reds, he joined Sheffield United on loan in July 2013. After being in and out of the team at the start of the campaign, he cemented his place and became a starter around the festive season, leading United to extend his loan spell to the end of the season. Huddersfield came calling next season as the Terriers looked to bolster their defence. The 29-year-old made 45 appearances for the blue and white stripes and was snapped up by Wolverhampton Wanderers following another impressive season. After three years at the club, Coady captained Wolves to the Championship title, securing a return to the top flight for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.
Whilst things may not be going great for Harry Maguire at club level, his contributions on the international stage have been nothing but exemplary. Born in Sheffield, made in Sheffield. Maguire graduated from the youth system at Bramall Lane and signed his first professional contract with the club in 2011. An ever present in the Blades squad since putting pen to paper, the 29-year-old clinched United’s Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year award in 2012. Hull City swooped in and signed the defender in 2014, with him helping the Tigers return to the Premier League in May 2016 via the play-offs.
General John Stones by nickname, the centre-back progressed through the ranks and went from rookie to lieutenant. In March 2012 he made his Barnsley debut in the Championship aged just 17. Stones lead from the back at Oakwell and was capable of playing out from the back, a desirable skill for the evolving Premier League clubs that took an interest in the prospect. The 28-year-old joined Everton in 2013 after making 24 appearances for his boyhood club.
THAT free-kick against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-final will never be forgotten. Like Stones, Trippier made his professional debut for Barnsley. After catching the manager’s eye, Trippier’s one-month loan was extended to a further six-month spell, which saw him make 41 appearances in all competitions, claiming the Young Player of the Year award too. After his spell at Barnsley, Burnley bought the full-back from Manchester City. Whilst at the Clarets, he was named in the Championship PFA Team of the Year twice in a row and played a crucial role in bringing top flight football to Turf Moor.
One of the best full-backs in the world, Kyle Walker’s footballing journey also started lower down, with the right-back developing at his boyhood club, Sheffield United. Whilst at Bramall Lane, he was permitted a loan move to League One Northampton Town, in a bid to get first-team experience under his belt. A one-month loan turned into three, as Walker made nine appearances for Town. After returning, the 32-year-old featured only twice for the Blades, but was a surprise inclusion in their play-off squad, with him playing at Wembley. He was outstanding and made the switch to the North side of London to play for Spurs.
Ben White has established himself as one of the Premier League’s top defenders this season during Mikel Arteta’s title charge, but it was under Marcelo Bielsa where the 25-year-old really burst onto the scene. After successful loans to Newport County and Peterborough United, El Loco snapped up the services of White until the end of the season. He quickly became a fan favourite at Elland Road and starred in the white’s title winning campaign. He played all 46 league games and gained deserved recognition by being put in the PFA Championship Team of the Year.
The man who defies age. The boy from Birmingham made his mark in the second city and was a gem at the heart of the Birmingham City midfield. Joining the club at under-8 level, Bellingham became a club legend and is the club’s youngest ever first-team player. Despite only playing professionally at St Andrews for one season, his impact on the club is immense, with his departure saving Blues from a midst of financial issues. His shirt was deservedly retired, and he got his move to Borussia Dortmund, where he has developed significantly since leaving the West Midlands.
After joining Chelsea aged eight, Gallagher’s Blues career has been written in the stars. A boyhood fan whose whole family support Chelsea, growing up ten minutes away from the training ground; it was meant to be. However, Gallagher’s journey to the starting eleven was not linear, with him being sent out on loan first. In 2019 the 22-year-old was sent across the capital to Charlton, where Lee Bowyer took him under his wing and provided the midfielder with invaluable minutes. After a great six months at the Valley, Chelsea recalled Gallagher, and sent him on loan to Swansea City a day later. In Wales, Gallagher worked alongside former England Under-17 manager, Steve Cooper, who lead an England side featuring Gallagher to World Cup glory. The midfielder flourished and helped get the Swans into the play-offs, where they were stung by the bees of Brentford.
One of Frank Lampard’s recruits in the 2018-19 season, Mason Mount fired Derby County into the play-off final at Wembley. The midfielder featured 35 times for the Rams, scoring eight goals in an impressive season that put his name on the radar of many. Lampard was the perfect mentor for Mount, as the former Chelsea midfielder paired Mount up with Harry Wilson to form a formidable attack that would be the thorn in many sides. His stellar performances almost sent Derby into the promise land, but it was not to be as the Rams fell to defeat against Aston Villa in the capital.
An injury hampered season has meant we haven’t seen much of Kalvin Phillips this year, but his performances at Euro 2020 made the world visualise what he is capable of. A product of the Leeds United academy, Phillips quickly became a fans favourite at the club. He was simply ‘one of their own’. After the heartbreak of missing out on promotion in 2018-19 season courtesy of THAT second-leg against Derby County, Phillips and Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds marched on together to the title the following year. He was named in the PFA Championship Team of the Year alongside teammate Ben White and joined the Premier League Champions, Manchester City, at the start of this season.
The £100 million man. Before he signed for Manchester City, Grealish was Aston Villa’s finest homegrown talent. After a successful stint at Notts County, Grealish made his debut for the Villains in the Premier League and gained plaudits for his ability to draw fouls from opposing defenders. Villa’s relegation to the Championship provided the winger an opportunity to prove his worth, which he exceeded. Grealish was integral to Villa’s revival and play-off success that returned the Birmingham outfit to the Premier League. A natural ball carrier, he added the finishing touch to his game and flourished under Dean Smith, captaining his side to the first division after three years of trying.
The skipper. Before his Tottenham career set off, Kane struggled for goals and gametime, and was sent out on loan in search of finding form. His first loan was to Leyton Orient, where Kane scored five in 18, impressing manager, Russell Slade. His next destination was Millwall, alongside Ryan Mason. He helped keep the London outfit up, and claimed their Young Player of the Season award after bagging nine goals in 27 games. After a loan to Norwich, Kane was sent to Leicester City, to boost the Foxes promotion hopes. He didn’t hit the ground running in the East Midlands, and only managed two goals in 13 games, with the Foxes’ hearts breaking in THAT play-off semi-final courtesy of Troy Deeney.
It was uncertain whether James Maddison would be selected for the World Cup, but Southgate could not deny the midfielder the opportunity after his unstoppable start to the campaign. He learnt his trade at Coventry City, scoring a free-kick in his first league game for the Sky Blues. He moved to Norwich and earned his place in the team following the Canaries relegation from the Premier League. He was named Norwich’s Player of the Season and signed for Leicester City in June 2018 for a fee of £20 million. The 25-year-old possesses bags of creativity and has the ability to elegantly squeeze free-kicks in from the tightest of angles.
Another player crucial to the Geordies magnificent start to the season is Callum Wilson. Like Maddison, the forward started off at Coventry City. Wilson has always known how to find the back of the net, and was named in the PFA League One Team of the Year in 2014, despite missing two months due to injury. The striker was picked up by Bournemouth, where he would help the Southerners to reach the Premier League for the first time in their history.
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