Over the last few years, as the Germans, the Spanish and even the Belgians have developed a conveyor belt of supremely talented footballers; a lot has been said about the dearth of English talent in the modern game. Apparently we’re streets behind a majority of the continent in terms of talent production.
The thing is, regardless of the coaching and development schemes, we’ve always had players with exceptional natural talent in England. Looking back over the last thirty years, we have been blessed with some truly gifted players.
Some have fulfilled their potential to the maximum, achieving all there is to achieve in the game. Some on the other hand, have not, and have frustratingly failed to fully utilise their God-given gifts.
Whatever they have (or have not!) achieved in the game, in my eyes, these ten men are the most naturally gifted English footballers of the last thirty years.
The great Paul Gascoigne. In this writer’s humble opinion, quite easily the greatest and most naturally gifted Englishman of the last thirty years. Not since George Best has a player captured the hearts and minds of the public quite like Gazza.
For all his flaws, the boy was a genius. His displays at Italia ‘90 and Euro ‘96 will remain with all those who were fortunate enough to witness them first hand. As someone who grew up idolising Gazza, it now breaks my heart to see what is becoming of the finest English footballer of his generation.
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If ever a player never quite felt like an ‘English’ player, then it was Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle’s technical ability and relationship with the football was something that you rarely saw from home-grown players; especially on the boggy marshes of the old First Division during the 1980’s.
Hoddle’s touch, vision and peer-less passing ability was something you really only used to see from the great continentals or South Americans – and it wasn’t long before he joined them. When Glenn joined Monaco in 1987 it seemed the perfect setting for a player as naturally cultured as Hoddle.
Is there a more underrated English footballer that Peter Beardsley?! I don’t think so. So good was Beardo that I often wonder just how much he would be worth in today’s modern game. He could do it all – pass, create, dribble, score and possessed a football brain capable of rivalling any of the great playmakers.
Tragically the ban on British teams competing in Europe in late 80s meant that Beardsley’s phenomenal abilities were never fully appreciated at the highest level of European football.
Ah Wayne, the polarising Mr Rooney, the man of the moment and England’s soon-to-be record goal scorer. Is Wayne an England great or is he just very good? Well for the moment, that’s not really my concern.
My question is, is Rooney one of the most naturally gifted Englishmen of the last thirty years? And I would say that he is. Yes he might be inconsistent, but you just have to think back to when that 16-year-old wonderkid first burst on the scene with those electric and dynamic displays to realise just how naturally gifted Wayne Rooney really is.
Matt Le Tissier
Matthew Le Tissier. The ultimate enigma, and probably the biggest international underachiever on this list. I say Le Tiss is an international underachiever because it is a footballing crime that one of the most naturally gifted English footballers ever, only managed a measly eight caps.
So good was Le Tissier, that he had all the natural footballing abilities to be our Zidane (alright, bit of a stretch!) – problem was, he was he just couldn’t be arsed! To get the absolute top, you need more than ability, you need the desire too. Sadly for us, Matt just never wanted it enough.
Has there been a finer English football brain than that possessed by Teddy Sheringham?!? Sheringham, the man who played the game three steps ahead of anyone else on the pitch, was truly one of the great English players.
Spurs fans won’t want to hear it, but as a neutral I’m pleased that Teddy managed to win the biggest prizes in the game following his move to Old Trafford. Far too many English greats fail to collect the silverware that their talents deserve, and as Teddy proved in 1999, his talents where among the finest in Europe
I genuinely don’t think people appreciate just how good Paul Merson was. Forget the boozing, the cocaine and the gambling – Merson was a truly gifted footballer. On Fantasy Football Club, Fenners calls him “the Magic Man” and with good reason. Merson had the natural ability to do things with a football that others simply could not do.
When discussing Merson, his off-field issues will always dominate; but just what a clean living, sober Paul Merson could actually have achieved with his God-given ability, sadly we’ll now never know.
I don’t think that it’s any exaggeration to say that in 1995, when Alan Shearer became the most expensive footballer in world, he was the best striker on the planet. I could wax lyrical for hours about how good Shearer was, but let’s face it; we all know just how good he was in his prime. The complete striker, who could do it all.
Like Gary Lineker before him, you can’t teach the goal scoring instincts he possessed. The big difference with Lineker however, Shearer could score every type of goal – and he could score them from anywhere.
The curious England enigma that is, John Barnes. During his (and Liverpool’s) heyday in the late 80s/early 90s, John Barnes was the best player in the English top flight. Player of the Year twice (1988 and 1990), Barnes was one of the most naturally gifted players in the last truly great Liverpool side.
Yet, in one of football’s great mysteries, barring one majestic and unforgettable goal in the Maracanã, when it came to England, it just never happened for Barnes. It really is a tragic shame, because in full flight, the ‘Liverpool’ John Barnes, truly was a sight to behold.
Zinedine Zidane famously described Paul Scholes as “the complete footballer”, “in a class of his own” and “almost untouchable in what he does”. When someone as supreme as the great Zidane says that about you, then you must be gifted.
What Scholes could do with a football was almost unrivalled on a domestic level; and as the years go by, it seems that Scholes’ natural ability is appreciated all the more. Perhaps tragically, given his early international retirement, Paul Scholes only played 66 times for England – a criminally low figure for one of the most gifted players of the modern era.