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The Unending List of English U21s Who Never Quite Lived Up To The Hype

By Ste McGovern
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As England get set to play Germany in the semi-finals of the U21 European Championship later today, manager Aidy Boothroyd has said it is the beginning of a "new era for English football."

Where have we heard that one before?

We've been down this road so many times with England. Every generation seems to be a "golden generation". Young prospects are expected to carry the footballing future of a nation on their backs. And under the creaking pressure of the English media and professional football, they fall short each and every time. 

Things could very well be different this time (another trope we've heard time and again); the U20 squad came home from South Korea as world champions, the first time an England side has won a World Cup since 1966. It's a massive achievement for them. And yet, would anyone be surprised if most, if not all of that team go off the rails once they play for the senior team at a major tournament?

It's happened so many times before and the evidence is there for all to see.

We've compiled a list of English players who appeared at the U21 Euros under the cloud of expectation in the last 15 years, but never quite lived up to the hype.


John Stones

Probably the harshest inclusion of the lot, as the Man City defender still has loads of time to reach his potential, but he has been hyped and de-hyped to high heavens in his short career to date. He has a lot to do to prove his supporters right this season.


[Watch Video]

Dishonourable mention: Carl Jenkinson.


Tom Ince

The son of Paul Ince was once linked with Inter, such was the expectation that he would ape his father's career, but has instead failed to break out of the Championship.


Wilfred Zaha

The Crystal Palace winger is a solid Premier League performer, so this is perhaps a bit harsh. It has to be remembered though that Zaha not only flopped at Man United but had to change allegiances from England to the Ivory Coast, such was his lack of progress in the English setup. Still plenty of time to redeem himself though.

Connor Wickham

Signed with Sunderland in a big money move and ended up scoring just 15 goals in 79 appearances. Currently operating from the Crystal Palace bench behind his old Under 21 teammate Zaha.

Josh McEachran


The former Chelsea youth product helped Chelsea win the FA Youth Cup and bagged the club's Young Player of the Year award in 2010. Tipped for big things, he was funneled into the Chelsea Loan Industrial Complex, from which he only emerged in 2015 after signing a permanent deal with Brentford.


Phil Jones

Alex Ferguson once predicted that he would become the greatest player in Manchester United's history. Enough said.



Scott Sinclair

A genuine breakout star from Brendan Rodgers' Swansea City team before disappearing into the abyss at Man City. He found his way out by reuniting with Rodgers at Celtic via Aston Villa, which says all you need to know about his fall from grace.

Jack Rodwell

One of Everton's many prospects from down the years, Rodwell also dove into the Manchester City abyss between 2012-14. He emerged from it only to land right in another one at Sunderland, where he didn't win a game until February of this year. That's almost three whole years without a league victory.

Dishonourable Mention: Chris Smalling, Kieran Gibbs.



The '09 squad did better than every other on this list, making it all the way to the final where they lost to Germany. But that just means more flops for us to pick on.

Joe Hart

A player who has won two Premier Leagues and four Golden Glove awards shouldn't really be on this list. But for a man who was dubbed the "best goalkeeper in the world" by certain members of the English media, his clangers are embarrassing and seem to increase in number year-on-year. Even the Torino president was disappointed with Giuseppe Hart's performances.

Theo Walcott

He may have scored 100 goals for Arsenal, but Theo hasn't reached anywhere near the heights everyone thought he would. Brought to the 2006 World Cup as a teenager and thought of as the next Thierry Henry, Walcott didn't even make the squad for Euro 2016.


Micah Richards

After a masterful performance on his international debut against The Netherlands, Richards was expected to be England's defensive stalwart for a decade. Just 19 years of age when he was handed the captain's armband in Richard Dunne's absence, he's the youngest skipper in Man City's history. He now finds himself at Aston Villa in the Championship.

Adam Johnson

The less said the better.



David Bentley

Once called the 'new David Beckham' and compared to Dennis Bergkamp, Bentley never became more than a YouTube highlight player. He lost his love for the game in 2013, but did come out of retirement to play a bit of Gaelic football in 2015.



Jermaine Pennant

Liverpool thought Pennant was so good that they turned down the opportunity to sign Dani Alves. Another one on the pile of 'next big things', his potential slid away from him pretty quickly before becoming a "Where Are They Now" favourite.. Since leaving Anfield he has played for eight teams in four different countries, including Singapore and India, and currently plays for Bury in League One, where he apparently had thousands of pounds stolen from his locker.

See Also: Watch: The MOTD Team Reacting To England's Loss Vs Iceland Is Extremely Enjoyable

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