At the national elite level of football, it’s easy to overlook the journey that international players have been on to make it to the top. This article dives into just how crucial the EFL is for developing and improving young talents on their way to becoming international stars.
Last night saw England end their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign with an 1-1 underwhelming draw in North Macedonia. Whilst the result was disappointing for many supporters, it was very interesting to look at the very impressive amount of EFL graduates that represented the Three Lions either starting the game or involved in the matchday squad.
Kyle Walker, 33, became England’s 126th captain in Skopje yesterday evening, the 12th player to lead the side in Gareth Southagte’s seven-year tenure as manager, nine of whom had previously played in the EFL. With loan spells at Northampton Town and two seasons spent at Sheffield United, the now-Manchester City man made over 50 appearances before making his Premier League debut for Tottenham Hotspur and going on to play a key role in Pep Guardiola’s treble-winning squad.
Plenty of other England internationals have also had Football League loan spells at the beginning of their careers, the most notable being captain Harry Kane, who himself had four loan spells before becoming the world-class forward that he is now, including stints at Leyton Orient and Millwall.
Before becoming the world’s most expensive defender, Harry Maguire excelled in League One with Sheffield United before being picked up by Hull City.
Other honorable mentions are Conor Gallagher who enjoyed stints at Charlton Athletic and Swansea City, and AC Milan central defender Fikayo Tomori, 25, who made 55 appearances for Frank Lampard’s Derby County in the 2018-19 season, as well as Hull City and then-Championship side Brighton & Hove Albion.
You can even look at the internationals who made a name for themselves in the Championship before securing Premier League moves. Jack Grealish is the one that springs to mind first, with the now Manchester City winger gathering a surplus amount of attention at Aston Villa, especially under Dean Smith when he was a crucial part of the West Midlands side’s promotion in 2019.
Kalvin Phillips enjoyed over 150 appearances in the second tier for Leeds United, impressing so much that his first national call-up came before he even played a Premier League match for the first time. Ollie Watkins led the line for England last night and taking into account the fact he made over 200 appearances in the Football League for Brentford and Exeter City, it underlines the importance of the footballing pyramid in the English game.
68% of England’s squad for this international break have had experience playing in the EFL and whilst it is extremely rare for players in the tiers beneath the top flight to break into the national squad in the modern day, that impressive stat sees how key the English Football League is to help develop top international players.
14 of England’s 21-man squad yesterday evening included players who have had experience playing in tiers beneath the Premier League before, a stat the football clubs across the country can be very proud of.
This can also stand as a milestone to try to overtake in the future as the national talent pool continues to grow, with the younger age groups within the national setup continuing to excel.