England has had some amazing players through the years and though it’s hard to be absolute, here are five of the best in my opinion.
5. Tom Finney (30 goals, 76 caps, 1946 to 1958)
According to Bill Shankly, the former manager for Liverpool, even if the legendary Tom Finney were wearing an overcoat, he would have been great in any age, in any match, and on any team.
Along with Nat Lofthouse, Finney was the leading goal scorer for England until 1963, when Charlton surpassed their records.
Some of football’s biggest names gave tributes to this player who recently died at the age of 91. There is a statue of the winger as well as a stand named in his honour at the Preston’s Deepdale ground because of his 473 appearances for the Lancashire club.
4. Stanley Matthews (11 goals, 54 caps, 1934 to 1957)
Many people recall the 1953 FA Cup Final as the Matthews Final, even though Stan Mortensen scored a hat trick in the 4-3 victory for Blackpool. With 35 minutes remaining in the game, the Tangerines were down 3-1. However, tricky wing play by Matthews spurred his team to gain the trophy.
He was so dedicated to the game that he continued to play with Stoke City until he was 50 years old. Eight years earlier in a game against Denmark, he made his last appearance for England. While the selectors refrained, many journalists wanted him to play in the World Cup of 1958 at the ripe old age of 48.
However, when he pipped the likes of Ferenc Puskas, Raymond Kopa, and Alfredo di Stefano to the prize of being named the first Ballon d’Or award in 1956, that was his greatest achievement.
3. Duncan Edwards (5 goals, 18 caps, 1955 to 1958)
Edwards would probably have topped this list if it hadn’t been for the tragic events on a runway in Munich on February 6, 1958. The left-half was just 21 years old when he died along with eight of his teammates on the Manchester United team. The plane crashed during take off following a tie for the European Cup in Belgrade.
Many who had seen him play felt that he could have been the best in the world, although we will never know for certain.
Finney said that he had a delicate touch, although his strength clearly showed its power during play. It is sad when you think what might have been if he had not perished in that crash. There is no doubt that he would have been ranked with the highest. Charlton, a fellow player on both United and England said that when you saw him play, you believed that anything was possible. He was a great player, it is true. But he was so much more than that. Sometimes, he shone so brightly. The loss of this giant remains a difficult thing to bear.
2. Bobby Moore (2 goals, 108 caps, 1962 to 1973)
When England won the World Cup, it may have been West Ham’s Martin Peters and Hurst who scored the goals. However, the cornerstone of the well organised defence was their club teammate Bobby Moore. The centre-half and team captain remains the only player from England to lift the World Cup.
Four years later, after playing a warm up match in Columbia and prior to a tournament in Mexico, he was arrested during controversial circumstances. He was accused of stealing a bracelet. However, he was released since there was no evidence to support the accusation and went on to feature during the quarter-finals. He stopped Jairzinho of Brazil with a memorable challenge, early in the competition. His logevity meant he wore a number of football kits the Three Lions had at the time.
Pele spoke of him after his 1993 death and called him the greatest defender he ever encountered and named him as a friend. He stated that the world had lost an honourable gentleman and one of the greatest football players ever seen in the world.
1. Bobby Charlton (49 goals, 106 caps, 1958 to 1970)
The single best reason to put this now 76 year old player at the top of the list is because no other player has scored more goals for either Man United or England.
He survived the 1958 Munich air disaster and in an emotional night at Wembley a decade later, he scored twice over Benfica during the 4-1 vitory as he captained United to success when it captured the European Cup. In addition, he won the FA Cup and the First Division title three times.
In 1966 during England’s run, at the semi-final win over Portugal, he scored both goals. Because of his tournament performances, he beat out Eusebio to win the Ballon d’Or.