Kobbie Mainoo gets England call-up: Manchester United midfielder follows traitor in rare feat

Kobbie Mainoo gets England call-up: Manchester United midfielder follows traitor in rare feat

Kobbie Mainoo has skipped the usual step of playing for England U21s before the senior side, much like one turncoat and another recently discarded player.

Gareth Southgate has seen the light: Manchester United midfielder Mainoo is in the England squad with his five U17 caps, two U18 games and six U19 appearances. The last eight players to bypass the U21 stage like this are below.

Ivan Toney

A pleasing and linear rise through the English football pyramid – save for an ill-fated and quickly rectified stop at Steve McClaren’s Newcastle – was never likely to be replicated at international level. Toney had impressed in Leagues One and Two before joining Brentford and subsequently flew well under the England radar.

Jamaica tried to exploit that lack of a clear pathway with the hope of acquiring his allegiance. But while Toney found it “flattering that there are eyes looking at me from both sides,” he ultimately backed himself to make the England grade.

It is hard to imagine Toney playing the field, keeping his options open and publicly agonising over his future before eventually making such a pivotal career decision, but it was a strange time.

Jarrod Bowen

There was talk of an U21s future at the start of his breakthrough season with Hull in 2017/18, when scouts might have turned up to keep tabs on Chelsea loanee Fikayo Tomori before having their head turned by the Wales-eligible Bowen. But never did that call come for a player presumably still distraught at never being able to work under Aidy Boothroyd.

Bowen himself has acknowledged that he “didn’t come up through a formal academy like most players”, instead becoming a scholar at Hereford and experiencing the rough and tumble of the Conference at the precocious age of 16. By the time he made his mark under Leonid Slutsky the U21s ship had almost sailed and it took two-and-a-half excellent years at West Ham for the senior nod to arrive.

Tyrick Mitchell

Another who bypassed the England age-level system entirely, Mitchell instead moved quietly through the academies of both Brentford and Crystal Palace in the build-up to his professional debut a couple of months shy of his 21st birthday.

By that point and for some time after, it was deemed far more likely that any international honours for Mitchell would come in the colours of Jamaica, whose aggressive pursuit of anyone who qualified for the requisite passport was thought to have included the Crystal Palace left-back.

But the withdrawals of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Reece James from an England squad in March 2022 opened up a spot Mitchell quickly filled – even if Gareth Southgate’s semi-permanent aversion to actual left-backs has reintroduced the Reggae Boyz into an allegiance-switching equation.

Sam Johnstone

A part of the England youth fabric for so long that he appeared alongside Josh McEachran, John Bostock and Theo Walcott’s younger cousin Jacob in various U17 tournaments and was the starting keeper in U19 Euros and U20 World Cup squads featuring Harry Kane, former Manchester United keeper Johnstone skipped the final stepping stone before moving up to the seniors and settling into his place somewhere behind Jordan Pickford.

Johnstone did receive a couple of U21 call-ups but had to watch Jack Butland and the combination of Ben Amos and Jason Steele deliver clean sheets against Northern Ireland and Scotland from the bench more than a decade ago.

Benjamin White

Boo. Hiss. No point wasting even an U16s place on a turncoat who clearly despises his country, never mind extending the enviable opportunity of representing James Milner’s tricky U21s, only to be rejected.

White making England’s provisional 33-man squad list for the latest Euros was notable as it was his first national team call-up at any level. His debut came in the warm-up games and a place in the team was soon his. The defender did not make a single appearance at the tournament – nor at the 2022 World Cup 18 months later – but it isn’t like that sort of thing will lead to issues down the line.

READ MOREBellingham is collateral damage in furious rant at ‘loser’ White for refusing to take up England arms

Ollie Watkins

“To go from grassroots football to becoming an England international, it has been a bit of a journey but it has been a great journey,” Watkins said earlier this year in his role as very possibly the only Weston-super-Mare AFC alumnus to wear the Three Lions in an official capacity.

A winger who played exclusively in League Two with Exeter before joining Brentford and only featuring in the Championship while transitioning into an excellent centre-forward, Watkins has made a seamless step into the Premier League as one of this season’s best players. But as something of a late and sudden bloomer, he never really registered in the England reckoning until making his debut at 25.

Kalvin Phillips

By the time Marcelo Bielsa somehow saw what Neil Redfearn, Uwe Rosler, Steve Evans, Garry Monk, Thomas Christiansen and Paul Heckingbottom could not, Phillips was already 22 and far from the England picture. In his previous box-to-box guise that never would have changed, but he was not the only proof of a transformation at Elland Road.

Phillips made his England debut before his Premier League one and excelled at his first international tournament when Euro 2021 came around, having rejected Jamaica and the Republic of Ireland when all other avenues seemed unfeasible. The Euro 2024 boat has surely sailed for the first player in history to lose his England squad place specifically through playing football.

Conor Coady

Making his England debut in the same game as not only Phillips but also youth-team mainstays Jack Grealish and Ainsley Maitland-Niles was Coady, who can count 39 caps at various stages between the U16s and U20s, but none with the U21s.

There was never so much as a call-up from Southgate or Stuart Pearce for the Liverpool midfielder, a sentence which in itself underlines the unrelenting passage of time.

Coady embraced the Les Ferdinand role of non-playing tournament pick who nevertheless keeps spirits high at both the most recent Euros and World Cup, something he appears to have accidentally reproduced at Leicester. He will harbour no hope of an England recall while he sits on the bench at club level.

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