Rarely has a game revolved around the potential debut of a 17-year old as much as it did when England played Australia in 2003.
When Wayne Rooney was selected by Sven Goran-Eriksson as a member of his squad to face the Socceroos at Upton Park, the youngster was in with a chance of changing English football history forever.
After impressing in a few games for Everton in 2002, Rooney began to turn heads when he scored an incredible goal against Arsenal, which ended the Gunners’ 30-match unbeaten run. Rooney hit the stratosphere from there and went from strength to strength.
An England call-up beckoned and although a friendly match against Australia on a Tuesday night wasn’t the most glamorous of starts it did allow Rooney to get his first taste of full international football.
Sven started with a strong first XI during the opening 45 minutes which included David James, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Kieron Dyer, Michael Owen and errr….James Beattie. A poor first half saw England go into the break 2-0 down thanks to goals from Tony Popovic and Harry Kewell.
Although not an unusual tactic from Sven at the time, the England manager decided to ring in the changes and introduced a brand new XI after the break. We all know what happened to Rooney, but it’s safe to say that the other 10 have had interesting careers since that fateful night in 2003.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 12, 2015
Goalkeeper: Paul Robinson
Replacing David James at half-time was Paul Robinson, who, unlike his counterpart, went on to have a respectful England career void of any clearing calamities (apart from that time he miskicked Gary Neville’s back pass). In 2003 Robinson was at Leeds United, who were still in the Premier League at that point, and was voted their player of the year.
During Eriksson’s reign, James predominantly remained the Swede’s preferred goalkeeper but Robinson broke into the first team during the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign and kept four clean sheets at the tournament.
He remained the first choice when Steve McClaren took over in 2006 but made several mistakes during the 2008 European Qualifying campaign. Those errors caused McClaren to drop Robinson for the vital final game against Croatia.
He was replaced by Scott Carson, who dropped his now-infamous clanger which saw England lose the match and fail to qualify. Robinson retired from International football in 2010 and hung up his boots for good in 2017 following a spell at Burnley.
Right Back: Danny Mills
Never the most glamorous of players, Mills had earned a reputation at Leeds United for being a tough tackling defender who was first called up for the England squad in 2001 and made his debut in a friendly against Mexico.
His most infamous time in an England shirt came during the 2002 World Cup. First-choice right back, Gary Neville, had been injured just before the finals, leaving Mills as his immediate back-up. He went on the play in all five of England’s games in Korea and Japan. All in all, he won 19 caps for England but never once played at Wembley for the Three Lions. He subsequently went on to play for Manchester City, Hull, Charlton and Derby before retiring in 2009.
Left Back: Paul Konchesky
The then-Charlton left-back earned his first of only two England caps in the game against Australia. In his early days, Konchesky was seen as having great potential and made his debut for Charlton at the age of 16.
Until Jonjo Shelvey made his debut in 2008, Konchesky was the all-time youngest player to appear for the south London club.
After playing 149 games for Charlton, Konchesky seeked a move away from the Valley but failed to find a permanent home after spells at Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Fulham, Liverpool, Nottingham Forest, Leicester City and Gillingham. He retired last year and had a short spell as assistant manager of Billericay Town, although he’s without a club now.
Centre Back: Wes Brown
Brown first made his debut for England in 1999 against Hungary and although never a first-choice defender, he remained a consistent squad player right through till 2010, earning 23 caps. Brown was only ever selected for one World Cup squad in this period (2002) but did manage a goal in a friendly match against the Czech Republic in 2008.
The 40-year-old spent most of his career at Manchester United, where he played 362 games under Sir Alex Ferguson. He was then sold to Sunderland in 2011 where he remained until 2017 when he joined Kerala Blasters – reuniting with his ex-United coach Rene Meulensteen. Brown left the Indian club in 2018 and is now without a club.
Centre Back: Ledley King
Perhaps one of the more unfortunate players to appear against Australia, King’s career was blighted by a persistent knee injury which never truly allowed him to achieve his potential. King’s debut came in 2002, during a 2-1 loss to Italy.
He would be selected by Fabio Capello for the 2010 World Cup and started the first game against USA but only managed 45 minutes before picking up a groin injury that ruled him out for the rest of the tournament.
A one-club man for his entire career, King played for Tottenham 268 times and rightfully became a club legend. The great Thierry Henry said that King was the greatest defender he ever played against and amazingly was only booked 8 times in his career. In 2012 he retired from the game altogether but continues to be an ambassador for Tottenham.
Centre Midfield: Owen Hargreaves
Born in Canada, to a Welsh mother and spending most of his time in Germany, Owen Hargreaves is one of the most maligned England players of all-time and first pulled on the Three Lions shirt in 2001. At the time, Hargreaves was playing for Bayern Munich and his appearance for England marked the first time a footballer had ever represented the Three Lions without living in the country.
England fans never warmed to him due to his ties to other countries but during the 2006 World Cup he was by far and away the best player and was named man of the match in the losing quarter-final against Portugal.
After a poor spell at Manchester United, which was dogged by injuries, Hargreaves moved on to Manchester City but only lasted one season.
Right Midfield: Jermaine Jenas
The first of three debutants on the night, Jermaine Jenas grew up in Nottingham and made his professional debut for Nottingham Forest aged just 17. After a couple of seasons in the East Midlands, he joined Newcastle and was named the 2002/03 PFA Young Player of the Year.
The match against Australia saw him assist England’s only goal and despite scoring in Fabio Capello’s first game, Jenas was never able to maintain a regular place in the side, earning just 21 caps.
Left Midfield: Danny Murphy
An often-underrated playmaker, Murphy represented England just nine times as he faced stiff competition from the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt during the early 00’s. He first played for England in a friendly against Sweden in 2001 and scored his only international goal in a 4-0 win over Paraguay in 2002.
Murphy featured in an impressive 599 games during his club career, which saw him play for Crewe, Liverpool, Charlton, Tottenham, Fulham and Blackburn respectively. He announced his retirement from football in 2013.
Striker: Darius Vassell
The Aston Villa striker first made his debut for England in February 2002 where he scored a cracking overhead kick against the Netherlands in a 1-1 draw. His England career wouldn’t get any more exciting than that but he did manage a place in the 2002 World Cup squad where he started the first game against Sweden.
His last appearance for the national team saw him miss a penalty against Portugal in the 2004 European Championship quarter-final.
After Villa, he joined Manchester City in 2005 but was then bizarrely sold to Turkish club Ankaragucu where his arrival was greeted like the second coming. After failing to settle in Turkey, Vassell returned to England with Leicester City in 2010 but retired in January 2016.
Striker: Francis Jeffers
Much like Rooney, Jeffers was a hot young talent who had emerged from the Everton youth system. By 2001 he had already scored 18 goals in 49 Premier League games for the Toffees and was snapped up by Arsenal. His solitary England cap came during his time with the Gunners and despite scoring against Australia he was never recalled.
Jeffers flopped at Arsenal and was then loaned back to Everton in 2004 before going on the play for Charlton, Blackburn, Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday, Rangers, Newcastle Jets, Motherwell, Floriana (in Malta of all places!) and Accrington Stanley.
He retired in 2013 and is now working as a coach in the Everton academy.
Striker: Wayne Rooney
When compared to his teammates on that night, Wayne Rooney has had a far more successful career than any of them combined. Much of the hype before the Australia game was focused on Rooney and the fact that he might just become the youngest England player to feature since James Prinsep in 1879.
Sure enough, Rooney came on in the second half and made a few impressive touches, which was enough to get recalled for future games. In September of 2003, Rooney became England’s all-time youngest scorer when he netted against Macedonia but he would lose the youngest player title to Theo Walcott, who bested him by just 36 days in 2006.
Having played for England 120 times and scoring 53 goals – the highest scorer in Three Lions history – Rooney retired from international duty a year earlier than planned so that he could focus on his club career with Everton. He joined Derby County in January 2020 after a brief but fruitful stint in MLS with DC United. Rooney scored seven goals in 35 games as a player-coach for the Rams and has now taken his first dive into management, tasked with saving Derby from relegation. Can he find similar success in the dugout to that enjoyed by Steven Gerrard at Rangers?
Rooney also made a brief international comeback, coming on as a 58th-minute substitute in a friendly against the USA in November to help promote his charitable foundation and pick up his 120th cap.