Youth academies get the majority of praise for the development of players, as do managers/coaches who give the players a chance in various first teams. It is these players who go on to represent our country. What often is not noted is how the Football League clubs are helping develop the talent that makes it to the highest level.
Obviously I am not suggesting there should be any more David Nugent’s who got called up while scoring for fun for Championship side Preston and has a lethal strike rate of a goal every appearance for his country – one cap, one goal. What I do believe however is the experience the players gain in the lower leagues is crucial to making them the stars they are today.
Whether it is through Premier League prospects going out on loan to gain experience or a player working his way to the top, the majority of players gain experience in the football league prior to any International recognition.
Since the qualifiers for the upcoming European Championships in France started, Roy Hodgson has called up no fewer than forty three players into his squad. Of these, only seven have not played in the football league. Calum Chambers, Eric Dier, Phil Jones, Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling, Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere all came through top level academies and into the first team.
Tottenham’s Andros Townsend has played for the most clubs in the football league having eight separate loan spells at Yeovil, Leyton Orient, MK Dons, Ipswich, Watford, Milwall, Leeds and Birmingham. He narrowly beats ‘keeper Tom Heaton who has played for seven sides. I know there will be those of you reading rubbishing this and saying Rickie Lambert but he only played for six sides.
Stewart Downing is the only current International to do it the other way around. He played in the Premier League, got his call up and is now playing in the Championship.
While in the Football League Norwich, Southampton and Swindon have had the most current England Internationals play for them with five each. That is 6% of the current squad each. Southampton and Norwich are potentially not a surprise but Swindon’s inclusion on this list may be, yet Charlie Austin, Michael Carrick, Tom Heaton, James Milner and Ryan Mason have all spent time at the County Ground.
Of sides that were football league but are now in non-league, Stockport have had two current Internationals play for them, Fraser Forster and Rickie Lambert.
A full list of how many players clubs have had while in the football league is shown below.
Of course the academies have to take a lot of the credit for getting these players ready in the first instance. Southampton have a real conveyor belt of talent at the moment with no fewer than five products of their academy in the England squad. Chambers, Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Shaw and Walcott all spent time in the Saints academy. Arsenal are second with four.
If you look at the Under 21 squad and seven players are currently playing in the Football League plus a further four playing there on loan from Premier League clubs. Compare this to the eight players from the Premier League. A further three are on loan to European sides.
There is real talent to be found in the lower divisions, whether it is home grown talent from their academies, released Premier League players starting lower down the pyramid or loan players gaining experience. For the reasons shown above the Football League should not be undervalued or under appreciated. Before the season started, The Football League posted a survey through their social media outlets and highlighted the below players as quality youngsters outside of the Premiership. Daniel Bentley (Southend), Alfie Mawson (Barnsley), Regan Poole, Joe Bryan (Bristol City), Lewis Cook (Leeds), Demarai Gray (Birmingham) , Ben Kennedy (Stevenage), Jordan Cousins (Charlton), Brad Walker (Hartlepool), Zac Clough (Bolton) and Che Adams (Sheff Utd). On top of those you have the likes of Sam Byram and Alex Mowatt coming through at Leeds and Spurs Aidan Pritchard who is playing for Brentford after a loan spell at Swindon.
|Team||How many current England Internationals played for them in the Football League|
|Norwich, Southampton, Swindon||5|
|Birmingham, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Leicester, Milwall, QPR, Sheffield United, Watford||3|
|Barnsley, Bristol Rovers, Doncaster, Leyton Orient, MK Dons, Northampton, Rochdale, Stockport, Yeovil||2|
|Brentford, Bristol City, Cardiff, Charlton, Cheltenham, Coventry, Crystal Palace, Derby, Ipswich, Macclesfield, Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest, Oldham, Peterborough, Preston, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Tranmere, West Ham, Wigan. Wrexham, Wycombe||1|