An incredible XI of footballers from south London: Sancho, Rice, Zaha…
There’s something in the water in south London – or at least there’s something in all that cage football played there. The southern half of the UK capital just can’t stop producing incredible footballers.
To illustrate just how fertile south London is when it comes to sprouting incredible football talent, we’ve picked out an XI of players from south of the river that would give any team in the world a run for their money.
We’re not talking about south London originals like David Rocastle, Ian Wright and Rio Ferdinand here, but the stars strutting their stuff right now. Here’s our XI in all its glory.
GK: Rob Elliot
Alright, we admit we’re not off to the best of starts here. But the rest of this list is really good, honest.
And Elliot was a very useful ‘keeper at his peak – which probably came while making 21 Premier League appearances for Newcastle in 2015-16.
The Greenwich-born shot-stopper was at Watford until the end of the 2021-22 season, before moving abck up north to take on a dual goalkeeper-technical director role at Gateshead.
As we said, this list does get better, so bear with us. And if you know of a better south London ‘keeper, let us know on Twitter.
RB: Aaron Wan-Bissaka
He’s not had the best time at Manchester United, but we still love Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
He tucks into challenges with the gusto of a speed-eating contestant ripping into a pile of hotdogs, taking ball, man and anything else that’s unfortunate enough to be in his way.
He’s been linked with a move back to Crystal Palace, where it all started for him, and we’d love to see him shutting down that corner of Selhurst Park again.
CB: Joe Gomez
Another one who’s had it tough of late – mostly to do with a string of injuries. But the Liverpool player is one of England’s finest defenders.
After coming through at Charlton, near his family home in Catford, Gomez moved to Merseyside in 2015 as a teenager.
It took him a while to break the first team, but by 2017, he was turning out for England and bossing Neymar at Wembley.
Over the following three years, he helped Liverpool to two Champions League finals, winning one, and the 2020 Premier League crown. And he’s still got a long way to go.
In 2022, he signed a new contract and Red boss Jurgen Klopp said: “He is also an outstanding defender and an outstanding human being…
“One of the many wonderful things about Joe is he has experience and youth – that’s not a bad combination. He has not long turned 25 but he was at the club before I was and I think after Hendo and Millie he is our longest-serving player. Incredible.
“His best years are still to come and I could not be happier that this will happen with us.”
CB: Trevoh Chalobah
Born in Sierra Leone and brought up in Lambeth, Chalobah finally broke into the Chelsea first-team last season after loans at Ipswich, Huddersfield and Lorient and made a hell of an impact.
Thiago Silva was certainly impressed. The Brazilian told the Chelsea official site: “Not just anybody can do this, can step up to a team like Chelsea and perform and he’s not doing it because of my help, he’s doing it because of his own abilities…
“Some people said that he didn’t have the ability to do so but he’s made it because of his own capacities.
“That’s something that makes me really happy because a player like Trevoh Chalobah is the future of this club.”
LB: Ryan Sessegnon
Sessegnon came through the ranks at Fulham and impressed enough for Tottenham to make him one of the most expensive teenagers in Premier League history in 2019.
He’s now an important part of Antonio Conte’s squad and in 2021, speaking for a Rio Ferdinand-produced documentary called South of the River, he told BT sport about the importance of cage football.
“They used to try and bully us on the pitch,” he said. “You don’t want to stay on the floor – it’s concrete: you had to get up and play. Where I’m from, you have to fight for everything. You stood up for the fight.”
CM: Declan Rice
A Euro 2020 finalist with England. A hero and captain for West Ham with nearly 200 appearances for the club. All aged just 23.
What else can we say about the boy from Kingston?
CM: Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Loftus-Cheek has had an up-and-down career, but we really, really love watching him play football. The close control, the ability to spin his marker and pick as a pass, the spatial awareness. He has it all.
He didn’t quite kick on from his selection for the England World Cup squad – and strong World Cup showing – in 2018, but he’s very much part of Thomas Tuchel’s plans at Chelsea.
After the Blues beat Tottenham at the start of the 2022-23 campaign, Tuchel said: “I was so, so happy he finally, in pre-season and now in the last two matches, and especially in the 90 minutes against Tottenham, he proved [how good he is] to everybody.
“So now the next step is not to get lost in too much applause and positive feedback, in overthinking, but just to do it again. This is the next step. Just do it again please Ruben, do it again!”
RW: Jadon Sancho
We’ll just leave this here.
Jadon Sancho didn't just score Man Utd's first goal of the season… he sat James Milner on his arse while doing so.
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) August 22, 2022
AM: Emile Smith Rowe
He’s known as the ‘Croydon De Bruyne’ – and for bloody good reason.
Smith Rowe has been brilliant since cracking the Arsenal first-team in 2020, following in the footsteps of Wright and Rocastle as south London boys to play in Gunners’ red.
The fact he’s been handed Dennis Bergkamp’s old No.10 shirt tells you what manager Mikel Arteta thinks of the 22-year-old.
LW: Wilfried Zaha
Zaha was born in Abidjan and plays for the Ivory Coast at international level. But he’s south London through and through – that’s where he came up and that’s where he learned the skills that tie Premier League defenders in knots every weekend.
Speaking to Copa90 in 2019, the Crystal Palace legend said: “I’m proud to be from here and I’m glad that I’m still here because it’s like, I’ve reached my dream.
“Obviously, there’s so much I want to do in football, but I’ve managed to become a professional footballer and I’m still in the area where I made it.
“I’m still around my people, still around my friends, so I feel like you can do it too. That’s why I’m proud to be from here.”
CF: Tammy Abraham
Finally, the focal point of our attack – and what a focal point to have.
He took the Premier League by storm with Chelsea under Frank Lampard but fell out of favour under Thomas Tuchel for reasons that we still don’t really understand.
No bother for Abraham. He moved to Roma and ripped Serie A and the Europa Conference League to shreds, winning the latter and scoring 17 goals in the league – a record for an English player in Serie A – and 27 in all competitions.
“Jose [Mourinho] has told me just to be a monster,” he said in November 2021.
“It’s not always about being nice on the pitch. You need that character, you need that presence to frighten defenders and I think that’s something I’m learning and getting better at.”