Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (2024)

Who is the greatest English player ever?

It's a debate that has rolled on for years and through generations, but here's our take on the eternal question.

From world champions to generational talents and modern-day greats, here's our run-down of the best 25 male players to pull on a Three Lions shirt.

The 25 best English players ever: 25. Raheem Sterling

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (1)

Among the most decorated English players of the 21st century, Sterling has won four Premier League titles with Manchester City – along with the FA Cup and four League Cups.

The versatile former Liverpool forward starred throughout England’s run to the final of Euro 2020, scoring three goals – most notably the opener as Gareth Southgate’s side beat Germany 2-0 in the last 16.

24. Michael Owen

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (2)

He’s been retired for nine years now, but Owen remains 10th on the all-time list of Premier League top scorers.

After bursting onto the scene with Liverpool, he announced himself to the international stage with that solo goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup – one of 40 he scored for the Three Lions in all (only five players have notched more).

23. John Terry

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (3)

One of the finest defenders English football has ever seen, Terry is also the highest-scoring centre-back in Premier League history – finding the net 41 times for Chelsea, more often than not with his head.

He captained the Blues to five top-flight titles and Champions League glory (somewhat infamously lifting the trophy in full kit despite being suspended for the final) – and briefly wore the armband for England.

22. Glenn Hoddle

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (4)

Quite possibly the most gifted English player of his generation, Hoddle made himself a legend at Tottenham and has been named as the club’s best-ever player on numerous occasions.

A magician with the ball at his feet, he was a mainstay of Bobby Robson’s England side during the 80s – when he also reached number 12 in the charts with ‘Diamond Lights’, a duet with teammate Chris Waddle (because of course).

21. John Barnes

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (5)

After making a name for himself at Watford, Barnes took his wing wizardry to Liverpool and helped the Reds to two league titles.

Born in Jamaica, he earned 79 England caps – and it was during a 1984 friendly that he produced the most iconic moment of his career (bar the ‘World in Motion’ rap, obviously), gliding through Brazil’s defence at the Maracana to score arguably the Three Lions’ greatest goal (with his weaker right foot).

20. Frank Lampard

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (6)

During his trophy-laden career at the top level, Lampard redefined what it meant to be a goalscoring midfielder; with 177 goals (two more than Thierry Henry), he ranks sixth on the all-time Premier League list.

The Chelsea legend won six caps for England (only five players have ever earned more) – who never quite cracked the conundrum of how to partner him effectively with his great contemporary, Steven Gerrard.

19. Billy Wright

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (7)

The first player to reach 100 caps for their country, Wright captained England 90 times (a joint record alongside Bobby Moore) – wearing the armband at the 1950, 1954 and 1958 World Cups.

At club level, the centre-half spent his entire career with Wolves – where he was skipper for all three of the club’s First Division titles and featured in some of the earliest European matches: the famous floodlit friendlies at Molineux.

18. Steven Gerrard

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (8)

Another Premier League legend who loved a goal from midfield, Gerrard will forever be synonymous with Liverpool’s 2004/05 Champions League triumph – from that goal against Olympiacos to that night in Istanbul.

But he’s also the fourth most-capped England player of all time, having turned out for his country 114 times during a 14-year international career which saw him appear at five major tournaments – and serve as captain under Roy Hodgson.

17. Tom Finney

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (9)

After fighting in the Second World War, Finney went on to become one of the finest players on the planet during the mid-20th century – spending almost his entire career with Preston North End and representing England 76 times.

A selfless forward known for his assists as much as his goals, club teammate Bill Shankly called him simply “the greatest player I ever saw, bar none”.

16. Paul Scholes

A member of the ‘Class of ‘92’, Scholes’ midfield mastery proved pivotal to Manchester United’s sustained success under Sir Alex Ferguson; the diminutive playmaker made 718 appearances for the Red Devils, scoring 155 goals.

His England career was relatively short – he retired from international duty seven years before his (first) retirement from the game outright – but he made some notable contributions, such as bagging both goals in the Euro 2000 play-off win over Scotland at Hampden Park.

15. Peter Shilton

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (11)

Think of Shilton and you instantly think of Diego Maradona outjumping him to score his infamous ‘hand of God’ goal – but England’s most-capped player (125 caps) was one of the best goalkeepers of his generation.

As well as featuring for the Three Lions at three World Cups and two Euros, he twice lifted the European Cup with Nottingham Forest – and made a whopping 1,0005 league appearances for eight clubs overall.

14. Rio Ferdinand

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (12)

A player ahead of his time, Ferdinand’s ball-playing ability and athleticism set him apart from other English centre-halves around the turn of the century.

The most expensive defender not once but twice, he enjoyed a glittering 12 years with Manchester United (who he joined from arch-rivals Leeds) and had a short stint as captain of England – for whom he won 81 caps between 1997 and 2011.

13. Kevin Keegan

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (13)

A European cup winner and three-time top-flight champion with Liverpool, Keegan went on to become one of England’s biggest hits abroad after joining Hamburg in 1977 (for his trendsetting perm as well as what he did on the pitch).

But the two-time Ballon d’Or winner – who captained his country on 31 occasions – is most synonymous with a certain moment from his managerial career: that 1996 rant in the direction of Sir Alex Ferguson…

12. Ashley Cole

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (14)

An Invincible by the age of 23 with Arsenal and a winner of, well, pretty much every other trophy going at Chelsea, Cole has a claim to be one of the most complete full-backs ever.

The left-back combined intelligence and athleticism, attacking forays with defensive solidity, and even once forced Cristiano Ronaldo to ask to be substituted after the Portuguese had a nightmare against the Blues man in 2006.

11. Stanley Matthews

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (15)

“Stanley Matthews taught us the way football should be played,” said Pele; “I couldn’t believe he was just a man. He was the best player in the world,” opined Bobby Charlton.

One of the game’s all-time greats, ‘The Wizard of the Dribble’ – who famously played professionally until he was 50 – gained legend status at both Blackpool and hometown club Stoke City, and played in the 1950 and 1954 World Cups.

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As a passionate football enthusiast with an extensive knowledge of the game, I've closely followed the careers of some of the greatest English players throughout history. My deep understanding of the sport allows me to provide valuable insights into the achievements and contributions of these players. Let's delve into the concepts and players mentioned in the article about the greatest English players ever.

1. Raheem Sterling (Rank: 25)

  • Achievements: Four Premier League titles with Manchester City, FA Cup, and four League Cups.
  • Euro 2020 Performance: Key player in England's run to the final, scoring three goals.

2. Michael Owen (Rank: 24)

  • Premier League Top Scorer: Ranked 10th on the all-time list of Premier League top scorers.
  • Notable Moment: Announced himself on the international stage with a solo goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup.

3. John Terry (Rank: 23)

  • Defensive Prowess: Highest-scoring centre-back in Premier League history (41 goals for Chelsea).
  • Club Achievements: Captained Chelsea to five top-flight titles and Champions League glory.

4. Glenn Hoddle (Rank: 22)

  • Skillful Midfielder: Considered one of the most gifted English players, especially at Tottenham.
  • International Involvement: Mainstay in Bobby Robson’s England side during the 80s.

5. John Barnes (Rank: 21)

  • Iconic Goal: Scored arguably the greatest goal for England, gliding through Brazil’s defense in 1984.
  • Liverpool Influence: Helped Liverpool win two league titles.

6. Frank Lampard (Rank: 20)

  • Goalscoring Midfielder: Redefined goalscoring midfielders with 177 goals in the Premier League.
  • International Career: Won six caps for England and faced challenges in partnering with Steven Gerrard.

7. Billy Wright (Rank: 19)

  • Centurion: First player to reach 100 caps for England, captaining the team 90 times.
  • Club Loyalty: Spent his entire career with Wolves, winning three First Division titles.

8. Steven Gerrard (Rank: 18)

  • Liverpool Legend: Forever synonymous with Liverpool’s 2004/05 Champions League triumph.
  • International Career: Fourth most-capped England player, serving as captain under Roy Hodgson.

9. Tom Finney (Rank: 17)

  • Post-War Great: Fought in the Second World War and became one of the finest players in the mid-20th century.
  • Selfless Forward: Known for assists as much as goals.

10. Paul Scholes (Rank: 16)

  • Midfield Mastery: Pivotal to Manchester United’s success with 718 appearances and 155 goals.
  • Notable Contribution: Scored both goals in the Euro 2000 play-off win over Scotland.

11. Peter Shilton (Rank: 15)

  • Iconic Moment: Infamous 'hand of God' goal by Diego Maradona.
  • Longevity: England’s most-capped player (125 caps), successful club career with Nottingham Forest.

12. Rio Ferdinand (Rank: 14)

  • Ball-Playing Defender: Known for his ball-playing ability and athleticism.
  • Manchester United Stint: Enjoyed a glittering 12-year career with Manchester United.

13. Kevin Keegan (Rank: 13)

  • European Success: European cup winner and three-time top-flight champion with Liverpool.
  • Managerial Moment: Remembered for his 1996 rant directed at Sir Alex Ferguson.

14. Ashley Cole (Rank: 12)

  • Achievements: Invincible with Arsenal, winner of numerous trophies with Chelsea.
  • Defensive Versatility: Known for intelligence and athleticism, once forced Cristiano Ronaldo to ask for a substitution.

15. Stanley Matthews (Rank: 11)

  • Legendary Status: Known as 'The Wizard of the Dribble,' played professionally until he was 50.
  • World Cup Experience: Played in the 1950 and 1954 World Cups, gaining legend status at Blackpool and Stoke City.

The article provides a comprehensive look at the diverse skills, achievements, and contributions of these legendary English players, sparking ongoing debates about who deserves the title of the greatest English player ever.

Ranked! The 25 best English players ever (2024)


Is Wayne Rooney one of the best? ›

Widely considered one of the best players of his generation, Rooney is the record goalscorer for Manchester United, and was the record goalscorer for the England national team from 2015 to 2023.

Who is better Kane or Rooney? ›

Kane is now second in the Premier League's all-time goalscoring charts with 209 top-flight goals in 317 appearances. Rooney is third, having reached his tally in 491 appearances for Manchester United and Everton.

Why is Rooney so underrated? ›

The English Media has been relentless on their criticism of Rooney throughout his career due to his shortcomings in the England national team and how he has failed to carry the team despite him being the best player (talent wise) for over a decade in the national pool of players.

Who does Wayne Rooney think is the best? ›

He has also repeatedly insisted his support of Messi is not an insult to Ronaldo, who he has the 'greatest of respect for' but just admits Messi is 'different' - admitting he 'couldn't get near' the Argentine maestro in their various encounters on the pitch.

Is Wayne Rooney a legend? ›

Manchester United: Where Legends Are Made

It was here, under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson, that Rooney truly flourished and etched his name among footballing greats. During his 13-year tenure at United, Rooney became the club's all-time leading scorer with 253 goals in 559 appearances.

Who is the best player according to Rooney? ›

Rooney: Messi is “the best player to ever play the game”

Why is Rooney so famous? ›

Rooney was named England's Young Player of the Year in each of his first two seasons in Manchester. In 2006–07 he helped lead United to a Premier League championship and a victory in the Carling Cup.

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