Football Features

What happened next? England U21s’ top 10 goal scorers of all time

By Squawka News

Published: 7:45, 2 January 2024

When a player breaks straight into the England senior team at a young age, it’s taken as a sign of their undeniable quality.

However, a lot of England stars — including a significant portion of Gareth Southgate’s favourites — have progressed at a more traditional pace through the Three Lions’ set up, ‘doing their time’, so to speak, with the U21s.

Prior to last summer’s Euros — where Lee Carsley’s claimed the trophy for the third time — the U21 team really had disappointed in recent years, notably with group-stage exits at the 2019 and 2021 European U21 Championships. Despite this, the Young Lions still have a very strong track record when it comes to natural and formidable goalscorers.

Some of these players have gone on to achieve great things. Others, unfortunately, have not enjoyed the same success. How does it break down? Let’s take a look at England’s top ten U21 goal scorers of all time, what happened afterward.

T-6. Tammy Abraham

Under-21 record: 9 goals in 26 games

Senior England caps: 11

Senior England goals: 3

Clubs played for: Chelsea, Bristol City (loan), Swansea City (loan), Aston Villa (loan), Roma

Hit or Miss? Hit

As part of Chelsea’s impressive academy growing up, Tammy Abraham was a key feature of England’s youth teams. He enjoyed a good spell with the U21s, which he wrapped up in the 2019 European U21 Championships, with a ninth goal — which secured him a place on this list.

At club level, Abraham had fine goalscoring campaigns in the Championship for Bristol City and Aston Villa, before finally breaking into the Chelsea first team. As the Blues’ main striker in the 2019/20 season, he scored 18 goals in 47 matches in all competitions, and follow that up with another solid season in 2020/21, when he scored 12 times in 32 matches.

In the summer of 2021, Abraham was acquired by Serie A side Roma — now managed by ex-Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho — and has since gone on to bag 36 goals in 107 games, winning the Europa Conference League trophy in that time and reaching last season’s Europa League final.

Abraham was also becoming a regular in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, with 11 caps and three goals, but he has been out for the entire season so far with an ACL injury.

T-6. James Milner

Under-21 record: 9 goals in 46 games

Senior England caps: 61

Senior England goals: 1

Clubs played for: Leeds United, Swindon Town (loan), Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Manchester City, Liverpool, Brighton

Hit or Miss? Hit

James Milner was a U21 regular for a years following his professional breakthrough at Leeds at age 16. In fact, Milner is England’s most capped player (46) at the U21 level, by some distance — Nathaniel Chalobah (40) and Nathan Redmond (38) are second and third respectively.

Sadly, Milner’s last game for the U21s was a harrowing one, as England were thumped 4-0 by Germany in the 2009 European Championship final. Of course, Milner went on to graduate to the senior squad, with whom he earned 61 caps and a goal before announcing his international retirement in August 2016.

T-6. Frank Lampard

Under-21 record: 9 goals in 19 games

Senior England caps: 106

Senior England goals: 29

Clubs played for: West Ham, Swansea City (loan), Chelsea, Manchester City, New York City FC

Hit or Miss? Hit

Frank Lampard’s career with the U21s spanned three years (1997-2000), during which he was also capped at senior level, in 1999, in a 2-1 victory over Bulgaria.

It took a while for Lampard to get going for England, as he made only six appearances in the three years that followed his international debut. However, from 2003 onwards, he was a pillar of the side, going on to become England’s joint-seventh-most capped player of all time, with 106, joining Bobby Charlton.

Since retiring, Lampard has turned to management. He started out a Derby County and nearly guided them to the Premier League, before joining Chelsea — where he is the club’s all-time leading goalscorer. It was a mixed spell at Stamford Bridge the first time around and he was dismissed in 2021 for Thomas Tuchel.

He went on to become Everton’s manager and steered them away from relegation in 2021/22, before facing the sack last season and ultimately returning to Chelsea as interim boss. That stint wasn’t much better, either, as the Blues limped over the line. He is now looking for his next managerial venture.

T-6. Dominic Solanke

Under-21 record: 9 goals in 18 games

Senior England caps: 1

Senior England goals: 0

Clubs played for: Chelsea, Vitesse (loan), Liverpool, Bournemouth

Hit or Miss? Hit

Solanke was a fearsome striker at youth level both for club and country, and was predicted to enjoy a fine career. That form, however, which included nine goals in 18 games for England’s U21s, took quite a long time to make its way to senior level.

The Chelsea youth product made a single senior appearance for the club between 2014 and 2017 (he was loaned out to Vitesse in 2015/16), before joining Liverpool in 2017. Two seasons at Anfield yielded more time on the pitch (27 appearances), but only a single goal.

Solanke has spent the last five seasons with Bournemouth. During the first two of those seasons, in the Premier League, his struggled continued, as he scored just four goals in 46 matches in all competitions.

However, in the Championship he was an absolute menace, bagging 45 goals in all competitions across 2020/21 and 2021/22, with the latter resulting in Premier League promotion and a place in the division’s PFA Team of the Year. The Cherries had no issues, in the end, fending off relegation fears last term, and this season Solanke has been firing with 12 goals in 19 games as things stand.

T-6. Darren Bent

Under-21 record: 9 goals in 14 games

Senior England caps: 13

Senior England goals: 4

Clubs played for: Ipswich Town, Charlton Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Fulham (loan), Brighton & Hove Albion (loan), Derby County, Burton Albion (loan)

Hit or Miss? Hit

Although he’d played in the First Division as a teenager since 2001, Darren Bent was only a pivotal member of the U21 side between 2003-05. It was during this time that his excellent form in front of goal caught the eye of Charlton Athletic, who signed him in 2005.

In South London, Bent’s career truly took off, as he managed a nearly a goal every two games. As a result, after two years with Charlton, Tottenham came calling and, in 2007, shelled out £16.5m to secure Bent’s services.

Bent failed to truly live up to expectations at Spurs, but he enjoyed a successful career in the Premier League with Sunderland, scoring 36 times in 63 games over two seasons. He went on to play for Aston Villa, Fulham, Brighton, Derby and Burton Albion, before retiring in July 2019. Bent hung up his boots with 13 senior caps and four goals for England.

5. Nathan Redmond

Under-21 record: 10 goals in 38 games

Senior England caps: 1

Senior England goals: 0

Clubs played for: Birmingham City, Norwich City, Southampton, Besiktas, Burnley

Hit or Miss? Miss

Although Nathan Redmond began racking up appearances (and goals) for England U21s in 2013, he’s only-ever earned a single call-up to the senior England side.

The Birmingham City academy graduate has spent the majority of his career in the Premier League — battling relegation with both Norwich City and Southampton at different stages. None the less, on his day, he is a fantastic player to have on your side. He turned out for Besiktas last season but is back in England with relegation-battling Burnley

On the international stage, Redmond’s lone senior appearance came in a friendly against Germany in 2017. After exhibited some good form for Southampton, Redmond did earn a call up to Gareth Southgate’s provisional squad for the 2019 UEFA Nations League finals, but did not make the final cut.

4. Saido Berahino

Under-21 record: 11 goals in 12 games

Senior England caps: 0

Senior England goals: 0

Clubs played for: West Brom, Northampton Town (loan), Brentford (loan), Peterborough (loan), Stoke, Zulte Waregem, RSC Charleroi (loan), Sheffield Wednesday, AEL Limassol

Hit or Miss? Miss

Saido Berahino’s outstanding goalscoring record for England at youth level suggested it would only be a matter of time before he was promoted to the senior team. And, indeed, he did earn a maiden call-up from Roy Hodgson in 2014, at the age of 21.

The Burundi-born striker failed to feature against either Slovenia or Scotland on that occasion and, ever since an excellent 2014/15 season with West Brom, in which he scored 20 goals in all competitions, has been on a downward trajectory. In fact, over an ill-fated three-year stretch with Stoke City, three years in Belgium and recently spells with Sheffield Wednesday and AEL Limassol, Berahino has really struggled to get goals.

He now plays international football for Burundi, with whom he has 18 caps, and has scored two goals.

T-2. Francis Jeffers

Under-21 record: 13 goals in 16 games

Senior England caps: 1

Senior England goals: 1

Clubs played for: Everton, Arsenal, Everton (loan), Charlton Athletic, Rangers (loan), Blackburn Rovers, Ipswich Town (loan), Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle Jets, Motherwell, Newcastle Jets, Floriana, Accrington Stanley

Hit or Miss? Miss

Following his first stint with Everton (in which he scored 20 goals in 60 games) and his exceptional time with England’s Under-21s (13 in 16 games), Francis Jeffers looked destined for a career at the very top of the game. For good measure, he marked his international debut, now as an Arsenal player, against Australia (also Wayne Rooney’s debut) in 2003 with a goal!

Unfortunately, from that point on, Jeffers was unable to deliver on his early promise. His 2001 move to Arsenal proved, at best, premature (in reality, just ‘wrong’), as neither Thierry Henry nor Dennis Bergkamp were about to make way and allow the youngster to claim a spot in the starting XI.

Jeffers retired in 2013 following spells in Australia, Malta and back in England, in League Two with Accrington Stanley.

T-2. Alan Shearer

Under-21 record: 13 goals in 11 games

Senior England caps: 63

Senior England goals: 30

Clubs played for: Southampton, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United

Hit or Miss? Hit

The Premier League’s all-time leading goalscorer with 260 goals broke into the Southampton senior squad in 1987 and, on a per-game basis, began firing in the goals, scoring three times in five First Division outings. Of course, it’s worth noting that Alan Shearer didn’t then immediately begin his assault on the record book, scoring just seven goals in 72 league games over his next three seasons. Regardless, this is all rather impressive, since, at the start of the 1987/88 season, Shearer has only just turned 17 years-old.

In the 1990/91 season he began to hit his stride, appearing in 41 league games, and netting 13 goals. It was at this time that he also began displaying his incredible goalscoring prowess in the international play, with England’s Under-21 side. In just 11 games with the U21s, Shearer scored a ridiculous record of 13 goals, and secured a place in England’s Euro 1992 squad. He went on to feature in three more major tournaments for England, the most memorable being Euro 1996, when he finished top scorer with five goals.

Shearer  retired from England duty after a disappointing Euro 2000 tournament, but continued scoring goals by the hatful for his beloved Newcastle United for another five years.

1. Eddie Nketiah

Under-21 record: 16 goals in 17 games

Senior England caps: 1

Senior England goals: 0

Clubs played for: Arsenal, Leeds (loan)

Hit or Miss? Hit

Step aside Shearer and Jeffers, there’s a new man atop this list!

Eddie Nketiah was utterly devastating for England’s U21s between 2018 and 2021. The Arsenal man was twice on the scoresheet as the nation famously won the 2018 Toulon Tournament, and even provided the assist for the winning goal in the final — he’s more than just a scoring force.

He even went on to captain the nation at the 2021 U21 Euros, and was presented with a commemorative golden boot by FA representative Michael Johnson for becoming England’s all-time top goalscorer at U21 level.

Nketiah enjoyed a good scoring run for Arsenal last season and started the new campaign well too, which finally got him his first senior call up, making his debut in England’s 1-0 win over Australia in October.