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Tom Hancock

The best English midfielders ever

Paul Gascoigne.

As the birthplace of football, it's only natural that England has produced more than its fair share of top midfield talent.

Encompassing various midfield roles which have morphed throughout the history of the game, this is FourFourTwo's list of the best English midfielders EVER!

Let's get straight to it...

32. Steve McMahon

Steve McMahon (Image credit: Getty Images)

Regarded as one of Liverpool’s best players of all time, Steve McMahon won three First Division titles and two FA Cups with the Reds between 1986 and 1990.

Capped 17 times by England, appearing at the 1990 World Cup, McMahon was Kenny Dalglish’s first signing as Liverpool manager, arriving from Aston Villa in 1985.

31. James Milner

James Milner (Image credit: Getty Images)

James Milner made his debut for Leeds United as a 16-year-old in 2002 and was still playing in the Premier League into his late 30s after a move to Brighton and Hove Albion in 2023.

That rare commodity in the modern game – a utility man, capable of playing in various midfield roles or at full-back – Milner made his professional debut as a teenager Leeds, and later won Premier League titles with Manchester City and Liverpool – in addition to earning 61 England caps.

30. Ray Parlour

Ray Parlour (Image credit: Getty Images)

Arsenal’s record Premier League appearance maker with 333 games under his belt – some feat for a midfielder – Ray Parlour won three top-flight titles, four FA Cups and the Cup Winners’ Cup with the Gunners.

Ironically nicknamed the ‘Romford Pele’ – he wasn’t quite as graceful as the great man, but he was one of the most industrious players around – Parlour earned 10 England caps and scored Arsenal’s first goal in their 2002 FA Cup final victory over Chelsea.

29. Phil Foden

Phil Foden (Image credit: Manchester City FC via Getty Images)

Voted Premier League Young Player of the Season and PFA Young Player of the Year for the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons, Phil Foden was a five-time top-flight champion (and a treble winner) with Manchester City before his 23rd birthday.

Already firmly established in the England set-up by then, the ‘Stockport Iniesta’ helped his country to the final of Euro 2020, his first major tournament.

28. Dele Alli

Dele Alli (Image credit: Getty Images)

Dele Alli’s peak was all too short. A delight to watch in full flow, the former England man was one of the best young players in the world during his early years at Tottenham.

A back-to-back PFA Young Player of the Year award winner in 2016 and 2017, Alli was equally prodigious as a number 10 or a second striker, scoring 18 Premier League goals at an average of almost one every other game in 2016/17.

27. Jack Grealish

Jack Grealish (Image credit: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Another immensely entertaining attacking midfielder, Jack Grealish gained legendary status at boyhood club Aston Villa, regularly tying opponents in knots (and taking quite a kicking for his troubles).

An England regular by the time he joined Manchester City in 2021 for a British-record £100m, Grealish played some of the best football of his career as Pep Guardiola’s side did the 2022/23 treble.

26. Colin Bell

Colin Bell (Image credit: Getty Images)

Part of the legendary Bee-Summerbee-Lee trio with fellow club icons Mike Summerbee and Francis Lee, Colin Bell spent almost his entire career at Manchester City – where he won both the Second and First Division titles in the space of three years during the 60s.

A member of England’s 1970 World Cup squad, Bell also got his hands on the FA Cup, League Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup with City – for whom he scored more than 150 goals.

25. Owen Hargreaves

Owen Hagreaves (Image credit: Getty Images)

In 2001, Owen Hargreaves joined an exclusive club by becoming just the second player to represent England having never played in the English league system.

Born in Canada to English parents, Hargreaves – who later had injury-hit spells with both Manchester United and City – spent most of his career with Bayern Munich, winning multiple Bundesliga titles and the Champions League, and was a standout defensive midfielder of the late 00s.

He was named England Player of the Year for 2006.

24. Trevor Brooking

Trevor Brooking (Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the game’s ultimate gentleman, West Ham legend Trevor Brooking racked up almost 650 appearances for his local club, lifting the FA Cup in 1975 and 1980.

Capped 47 times by England – playing at Euro 1980 and the 1982 World Cup – the rarely booked Brooking was a truly two-footed attacking midfielder renowned for his composed passing.

23. Joe Cole

Joe Cole (Image credit: Getty Images)

Another West Ham fan favourite, Joe Cole came through the Hammers’ academy and went on to feature 150 times for the club – before moving on to Chelsea, where he won three Premier League titles and two FA Cups between 2005 and 2010.

Among the most technically gifted players of his generation, Cole scored one of the great England goals: a jaw-dropping 35-yard volley against Sweden at the 2006 World Cup.

22. Peter Beardsley

(Image credit: Shaun Botterill/Allsport)

He may have helped Liverpool to two First Division titles, but Peter Beardsley is most revered at Newcastle – where he enjoyed two spells either side of his stints with the Reds and Merseyside rivals Everton.

Prominent in Kevin Keegan’s brilliant ‘Entertainers’ team of the mid-90s, Beardsley was a devastating dribbler who notched the best part of 300 goals for club and country throughout his career (somewhat ironically, he was one of the five players dribbled past by Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup).

21. Matt Le Tissier

Matt Le Tissier (Image credit: Getty Images)

Up there with the best players never to represent England at a major tournament, Matt Le Tissier dazzled during the early years of the Premier League, scoring some of the competition’s greatest goals – including his astonishing brace for Southampton against Newcastle in 1993.

Born on the Channel Island of Guernsey, Le Tissier was worshipped by Saints fans, who nicknamed him ‘Le God’.

20. Wilf Mannion

Wilf Mannion (Image credit: Getty Images)

A true legend at local club Middlesbrough, Wilf Mannion was one of the England national team’s foremost players of the late 40s and early 50s.

Nicknamed ‘The Golden Boy’ for his blond locks, Mannion scored as the Three Lions’ beat Chile 2-0 in their opening game of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

19. Johnny Haynes

Johnny Haynes (Image credit: Getty Images)

The first footballer to be paid £100 a week, Johnny Haynes represented England 56 times from 1954 to 1962, taking the captain’s armband in 1960.

A veteran of nearly 600 appearances for Fulham, Haynes – who placed third in the 1961 Ballon d’Or voting – was expected to lead his country at the 1966 World Cup – only to break both feet in a car crash in 1962 and never be selected by the Three Lions again.

18. Alan Ball

Alan Ball (Image credit: Getty Images)

An integral member of England’s immortal 1966 World Cup-winning team – producing a tireless performance in the final to help the Three Lions secure victory over West Germany – Alan Ball won 72 caps over the course of a decade-long international career.

At club level, Ball starred most prominently for Everton and Arsenal, winning the 1969/70 First Division title with the former.

17. Martin Peters

Martin Peters (Image credit: Getty Images)

Ball’s partner in the middle of the park at the ’66 World Cup, Martin Peters scored England’s second goal in the final (the one which looked to have won it before Wolfgang Weber’s 89th-minute strike forced extra time).

Considered a complete midfielder, Peters lifted continental trophies with West Ham and Tottenham, and later helped his nation to third place at the 1968 European Championship.

16. Jude Bellingham

Jude Bellingham (Image credit: Getty Images)

The youngest player included, we’re writing this list as Jude Bellingham nears the end of his first season at Real Madrid – and we’re rather factoring in how much his stock is almost certain to keep rising in the coming years.

Outrageously prodigious, Bellingham was starting to run the show for England at the 2022 World Cup – still aged just 19 – and we’re confident enough to place him in the top half of our ranking. He’s already shown he’s that good.

15. David Platt

David Platt (Image credit: Alamy)

A goalscoring midfielder who found the net well over 150 times for club and country, David Platt was up there with England’s very best players of the late 80s and early 90s.

Instrumental to the Three Lions’ memorable run to the 1990 World Cup semi-finals under Bobby Robson, Platt was voted 1989/90 PFA Players’ Player of the Year while at Aston Villa.

He moved to Italy in 1991, winning major trophies with Juventus and Sampdoria – and later helped Arsenal to the 1997/98 Premier League title.

14. Paul Ince

Paul Ince (Image credit: Getty Images)

Indefatigably hard-working in the middle of the park for Manchester United, England and more, Paul Ince created the space for Paul Gascoigne to shine as Terry Venables’ Three Lions famously reached the last four of Euro 96 on home soil.

One of the foremost midfielders of the early Premier League era, Ince won two titles with United – where he received the honour of fans’ player of the year in 1992/93.

13. Nobby Stiles

Nobby Stiles (Image credit: Getty Images)

“And Nobby dancing…”

Nobby Stiles’ celebratory jig after the 1966 World Cup final is the stuff of legend – and the tough-tackling Manchester United destroyer was nothing short of a legend himself.

Capped 28 times by England, Stiles won two top-flight titles, the FA Cup and European Cup with United between 1963 and 1968.

12. Michael Carrick

Michael Carrick (Image credit: Getty Images)

Michael Carrick must go down as one of the most underrated English players of all time – in part because he got on with his job as a metronomic deep-lying midfield playmaker with nothing but absolute composure.

A 34-time England international who appeared at the 2006 World Cup, Carrick was called “one of the best holding midfielders I’ve ever seen” by none other than Pep Guardiola.

11. Ray Wilkins

Ray Wilkins (Image credit: Getty Images)

Ray Wilkins starred for Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan and Rangers, among others, during a career which yielded FA Cup and Scottish top-flight glory.

Wilkins – who was regarded as one of the most courteous figures in the game – was a key player for England for much of the 80s, featuring at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups and earning 84 caps in all.

10. Chris Waddle

Chris Waddle (Image credit: Getty Images)

Rated among the finest attacking midfielders in Europe during his prime, mullet-sporting magician Chris Waddle lit up games for Newcastle, Tottenham, Marseille and more.

Having won three French titles, Waddle – a star of England’s uplifting Italia ’90 campaign – returned home in 1992, joining Sheffield Wednesday and scooping the prestigious FWA (Football Writers’ Association) Footballer of the Year Award in the inaugural Premier League season.

9. Duncan Edwards

Duncan Edwards (Image credit: Getty Images)

Tragically killed in the Munich air disaster aged just 21, Duncan Edwards was a truly prodigious talent, described by Manchester United teammate Bobby Charlton as the best player he had ever seen – and the only one who made him “feel inferior”.

A highly versatile defensive midfielder, Edwards was a two-time First Division champion with United and scored five goals in 18 England caps before his untimely death in 1958.

8. Bryan Robson

Bryan Robson (Image credit: Getty Images)

Famously nicknamed 'Captain Marvel' for his heroic performances, Bryan Robson wore the armband for both Manchester United and England, captaining his country on 65 occasions – among the most of any Three Lions player.

A regular scorer from midfield, Robson – who captained United to their first two Premier League titles – held the record for the quickest ever World Cup goal for 20 years – thanks to his opener against France after 27 seconds in 1982.

7. Glenn Hoddle

Glenn Hoddle (Image credit: Getty Images)

A tremendously gifted midfielder, Glenn Hoddle’s genius inspired Tottenham to successive FA Cup victories at the beginning of the 80s – before he took his considerable talent abroad to help Monaco to the French title.

England manager from 1996 to 1999, Hoddle was capped 53 times by the Three Lions, featuring in their squads for the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.

6. Paul Scholes

Paul Scholes (Image credit: Getty Images)

A one-club man at Manchester United, making the best part of 700 appearances before retiring in 2011 – and going over that mark after briefly returning to football the following year – Paul Scholes was up there with the best midfielders in the world for much of his career.

An integral member of United’s 1998/99 treble-winning team, Scholes earned 66 caps for England – and almost certainly would have won many more if not for the difficulty of accommodating him and contemporaries Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same side.

5. David Beckham

David Beckham (Image credit: Getty Images)

As instantly recognisable icons of English football go, there have been few bigger than David Beckham, inspirational captain of his country for six years during the 00s.

A 1998/99 treble winner with Manchester United, Beckham’s career was full of classic moments – including his lob from the halfway line against Wimbledon in 1996, which made him a household name, and that stoppage-time free-kick against Greece to send England to the 2002 World Cup.

4. Steven Gerrard

Steven Gerrard (Image credit: Getty Images)

Hero and skipper of Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League final and 2006 FA Cup final comebacks – and many more games besides – Steven Gerrard is nothing less than a legend at Anfield.

But the 2005/06 PFA Players’ Player of the Year and 2008/09 FWA Footballer of the Year brought his A-game to the international stage, too, racking up 114 England caps, captaining the Three Lions 38 times and playing at six of the seven major tournaments for which they qualified between 2000 and 2014.

3. Frank Lampard

Frank Lampard (Image credit: Getty Images)

Without wishing to get too involved with the never-ending debate over who was better out of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, we think Lampard just about edges it thanks to his exploits for Chelsea and England.

Also capped over 100 times by his country, Lampard played an integral role in three Premier League title triumphs at Chelsea – with whom he also won the Champions League – and is one of a handful of midfielders to score 20+ goals in a Premier League campaign, netting 22 times in 2009/10.

2. Paul Gascoigne

Paul Gascoigne (Image credit: Getty Images)

England have never had another player quite like Paul Gascoigne. Adored for his genius on the pitch and his infectiously buoyant personality, Gazza was a superstar in the early 90s.

One of the most gifted players the country has ever produced, Gascoigne – a 1990/91 FA Cup winner with Tottenham – scored some truly iconic goals, perhaps none more notable than his stunning volley against Scotland at Euro 96 (complete with the1. famous dentist’s chair celebration).

1. Bobby Charlton

Bobby Charlton (Image credit: Getty Images)

When Bobby Charlton died in October 2023, the outpouring of grief from throughout the football community said it all about just how highly the Manchester United and England great was regarded.

One of an elite group of players to win the World Cup, European Cup and Ballon d’Or, Charlton survived the horror of the Munich air disaster in 1958 to forge a legendary and trophy-laden career. His individual honours included the Golden Ball for player of the tournament in England’s 1966 World Cup victory.

World-class as an attacking midfielder or a forward, Sir Bobby tops our rankings for both the best English midfielders and attackers.

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