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FIFA World Cup: From the EFL to England – how the players made it to the top

A look at the England squad's rise from the EFL through to starring in the 2018 FIFA World Cup

12 July 2018

All but three of England's World Cup squad featured in the EFL or the EFL Cup at an early age, making their professional debuts in the competition before going on to become stars on the international stage.

Eric Dier, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Marcus Rashford aside, we've taken a look at the 20 players who have risen through the ranks prior to starring in Russia this summer.


Name: Jack Butland
Club Academy: Birmingham City
Professional debut: 10/09/11 – League Two: CHELTENHAM TOWN 2-0 Macclesfield Town
EFL appearances: 105
England caps: 8

Rising up through the ranks at Birmingham, Butland made his debut with Cheltenham at the age of 17 and has gone from strength-to-strength since, adding experience with loan spells at Barnsley, Leeds United and Derby County. He joined Stoke City in 2013 and since established himself as the first-choice goalkeeper at the Bet365 Stadium, while going on to become one of the country’s finest shot-stoppers.

Name: Jordan Pickford
Club Academy: Sunderland
Professional debut: 03/08/13 – League Two: Cheltenham Town 2-2 BURTON ALBION
EFL appearances: 87
England caps: 8

After spells in non-league with Darlington and Alfreton Town, Pickford impressed as a 19-year-old on loan at Burton Albion and Carlisle United in 2013/14. He also featured for Bradford City and Preston North End before becoming number one with his hometown club Sunderland, and is now first choice at Goodison Park after last summer’s switch to Everton.

Name: Nick Pope
Club Academy
: Charlton Athletic
Professional debut: 04/05/13 – Championship: CHARLTON ATHLETIC 4-1 Bristol City
EFL appearances: 79
England caps: 1

Pope got his first taste of professional football on the final game of the 2012/13 season, and developed his game with loan stints at York City and Bury in the following seasons. The 26-year-old joined Burnley last term and was one of the standout performers in a historic 2017/18, which saw them qualify for Europe.

Name: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Club Academy: Liverpool
Professional debut: 25/10/16 – EFL Cup: LIVERPOOL 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
EFL Cup appearances: 3
England caps: 2

Alexander-Arnold has been a revelation this season, but he didn’t go unnoticed in 2016/17, being named in the EFL Cup Team of the Tournament after impressing during Liverpool’s run to the semi-finals.

Name: Gary Cahill
Club Academy: Aston Villa
Professional debut: 09/11/04 – EFL Cup: BURNLEY 0-3 Tottenham Hotspur
EFL appearances: 43
England caps: 61

One of the squad’s most senior figures, Cahill had temporary spells in the EFL with Burnley and Sheffield United, going on to star for Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers and Chelsea — where he has gone on to lift major trophies both domestically and in Europe.

Name: Phil Jones
Club Academy: Blackburn Rovers
Professional debut: 22/10/09 – EFL Cup: Nottingham Forest 0-1 BLACKBURN ROVERS
EFL Cup appearances: 13
England caps: 26

Jones made his breakthrough for Blackburn, a Premier League side at the time, and soon earned a big-money move to Manchester United. He proved he was ready for action when impressing on debut in the EFL Cup, and he has since gone on to be a Premier League winner with the Red Devils.

Name: Harry Maguire
Club Academy: Sheffield United
Professional debut: 12/04/11 – Championship: SHEFFIELD UNITED 0-2 Cardiff City
EFL appearances: 174
England caps: 10

No player in the England squad has more EFL experience than Maguire, who made his first-team bow with the Blades aged 18. A promotion-winning spell with Hull City followed, before sealing a move to Leicester City. His aerial prowess and ability to bring the ball out from the back has been key to England’s World Cup success.

Name: Danny Rose
Club Academy: Leeds United
Professional debut: 04/04/09 – Championship: Doncaster Rovers 1-2 WATFORD
EFL appearances: 30
England caps: 21

Rose came up through Leeds’ Academy and was snapped up by Tottenham Hotspur before making an appearance for the Whites, but loan switches to Watford, Peterborough United and Bristol City in the EFL helped the flying full-back fine-tune his game.

Name: John Stones
Club Academy: Barnsley
Professional debut: 17/03/12 – Championship: BARNSLEY 0-4 Reading
EFL appearances: 24
England caps: 31

Stones has a reputation for his ball-playing abilities, and it’s no surprise that Pep Guardiola and Premier League champions Manchester City value him at the heart of their defence. The Yorkshireman made his debut for Barnsley aged 17, moving to Everton before City came calling in 2016.

Name: Kieran Trippier
Club Academy: Manchester City
Professional debut: 09/02/10 – Championship: Middlesbrough 1-2 BARNSLEY
EFL appearances: 153
England caps: 11

Trippier is another to amass well over a century of appearances in the EFL, leaving Manchester City’s Academy for Burnley in 2012, where he had enjoyed a previous loan spell. He then impressed while temporarily at Barnsley, before returning to Turf Moor and becoming a regular fixture before Tottenham Hotspur swooped in 2015.

Name: Kyle Walker
Club Academy: Sheffield United
Professional debut: 15/11/08 – League One: NORTHAMPTON TOWN 0-1 Oldham Athletic
EFL appearances: 60
England caps: 39

Walker’s first taste of professional football came at Northampton, enjoying a productive loan spell at Sixfields as a 17-year-old before returning home to Bramall Lane and featuring in their Play-Off campaign. Tottenham signed the full-back, but he was loaned back out to the Blades and featured for QPR in the Championship, and has since moved to Manchester City.

Name: Ashley Young
Club Academy: Watford
Professional debut: 13/09/03 – Championship: WATFORD 3-1 Millwall
EFL appearances: 81
England caps: 38

Young made his bow for Watford as an 18-year-old, making himself known to the Vicarage Road faithful with a debut goal. The winger continued to impress and helped the club earn promotion to the Premier League before joining Aston Villa. In 2011, he joined Manchester United, and had a fine season to earn his place in Gareth Southgate’s squad.

Name: Dele Alli
Club Academy: Milton Keynes Dons
Professional debut: 02/11/12 – FA Cup: Cambridge City 0-0 MILTON KEYNES DONS
EFL appearances: 74
England caps: 28

Just 16 when he made his first-team debut with Milton Keynes Dons, it didn’t take long for Dele to show maturity beyond his years. Eighteen goals in 62 appearances followed, and he was named EFL Young Player of the Year in 2014/15 — a season which saw him join Tottenham and help clinch promotion for the Dons after being loaned back to Stadium MK.

Name: Fabian Delph
Club Academy: Leeds United
Professional debut: 06/05/07 – Championship: Derby County 2-0 LEEDS UNITED
EFL appearances: 49
England caps: 14

Another EFL Young Player of the Year, Delph was given the honour after impressing for Leeds in League One. The versatile midfielder moved to Aston Villa that summer and had another loan spell at Elland Road becoming a first-team regular at Villa Park. In 2015, he moved to Manchester City and impressed during the club’s historic title-winning 2017/18 season.

Name: Jordan Henderson
Club Academy: Sunderland
Professional debut: 01/11/08 – Premier League: Chelsea 5-0 SUNDERLAND
EFL appearances: 10
England caps: 43

Henderson was handed a rude awakening on his Premier League debut, when hometown club Sunderland were heavily beaten by Chelsea. The central midfielder departed on loan the following season, joining Coventry City in 2009. He made 10 Championship appearances for the Sky Blues, and has since joined Liverpool and captained his country.

Name: Jesse Lingard
Club Academy: Manchester United
Professional debut: 06/11/12 – Championship: Bolton Wanderers 0-0 LEICESTER CITY
EFL appearances: 47
England caps: 16

Lingard has had several spells in the Championship before cementing his name as a regular in Manchester United’s first team. After a short stint with Leicester, the attacking midfielder excelled with six goals in 13 games for Birmingham City, before continuing his development with Derby County and Brighton & Hove Albion before his Old Trafford return.

Name: Raheem Sterling
Club Academy: Queens Park Rangers
Professional debut: 24/03/12 – Premier League: LIVERPOOL 1-2 Wigan Athletic
EFL Cup appearances: 15
England caps: 42

Moving from Jamaica to London at an early age, Sterling linked up with QPR’s Academy where he caught the eye of Liverpool scouts, signing for the Reds aged 15. He was soon handed his chance, becoming one of the youngest players in the club’s history. In 2015, he made the switch to Manchester City and hit 23 goals in the 2017/18 campaign.

Name: Harry Kane
Club Academy: Tottenham Hotspur
Professional debut: 15/01/11 – League One: Rochdale 1-1 LEYTON ORIENT
EFL appearances: 56
England caps: 28

England’s captain is ‘one of Tottenham’s own,’ but his first professional outing came in League One for fellow Londoners, Leyton Orient. He scored five goals for the O’s and stayed in the capital when hitting seven more for Millwall. He also featured for Norwich City and Leicester City, and is now one of the world’s most-feared strikers.

Name: Jamie Vardy
Club Academy: Sheffield Wednesday
Professional debut: 14/08/12 – EFL Cup: Torquay United 0-4 LEICESTER CITY
EFL appearances: 63
England caps: 25

Vardy came up through the ranks at Sheffield Wednesday, but left at 16 and made his way back up through non-league with Stocksbridge Park Steels and Fleetwood Town, firing the latter into the EFL for the first time in their history. The striker has since gone on to Leicester, breaking records and leading the line during the Foxes’ incredible Premier League-winning campaign in 2015/16.

Name: Danny Welbeck
Club Academy: Manchester United
Professional debut: 23/09/08 – EFL Cup: MANCHESTER UNITED 3-1 Middlesbrough
EFL appearances: 8
England caps: 40

Welbeck made his way through Manchester United’ youth teams and made his debut in 2008 in the EFL Cup, and he was a part of the side that won the trophy that season. He was loaned out to Preston North End in 2010, before returning to Old Trafford and later joining Arsenal. The forward boasts an impressive 16 goals in 40 England appearances.

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