The current England squad have risen from the shadows of their illustrious predecessors like a Phoenix.
When Eric Dier slid the ball past the flailing arms of Colombia’s David Ospina to put the Three Lions into the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup, a collective chill ran up the spine of English fans all over the world. England had not choked.
Ever since 2006, when Steve McLaren took charge of the national team, the fans have been met time and time again with laborious and barely effective football. The English sides that donned the national colours from 2001-2006 were ridiculously talented in every area of the pitch and have come to be known as the “Golden Generation.”
It’s only natural that a team with John Terry and Rio Ferdinand in defence should be solid at the back, that a team with an embarrassment of riches in the form of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes in midfield would play opposition off the park, that a team with Michael Owen at his peak was guaranteed goals. Well, that is not quite how it panned out.
Watch: Colombia 1 (3) – 1 (4) England highlights
Despite having what is on paper, one of the best and most balanced squads of all-time, England consistently failed to perform on the big stages. They showed flashes of their brilliance, but failed to ever make it past the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
England’s manager at the time, Sven-Goran Eriksson was a stickler for tradition. He failed to see that his rigid 4-4-2 formation shackled the creative spark in his players, restricting them from playing in-between the lines, into the feet of on-rushing wide players.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Owen said, “We were made for 3-5-2, with David Beckham and Ashley Cole as wing-backs.” He makes an interesting point. The players that were at Eriksson’s disposal are now legends of their clubs and of the game. However, they never clicked for the Three Lions.
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While the midfield was brilliant on paper, in practice it lacked something that all three of the stars had at their respective clubs, a holding midfielder to play just in front of the back four. England had the option of calling up Michael Carrick to assume that role, an option that they continually decided against even after 2006.
Rio Ferdinand, came out to the public saying that the club rivalries amongst the country’s biggest stars contributed to the fall of the “Golden Generation.” Ferdinand, Scholes, Wayne Rooney, Beckham and the Neville brothers were all of Manchester United at different points during the “Golden Generation’s” reign and showed considerable loyalty to the club. The same team was filled with the biggest stars from Chelsea, from Liverpool and Arsenal.
These were all players who could scarcely dream of being outshone by their bitter rivals. Thus, England became a collective of individuals rather than a team. Scholes was pushed out towards the left of a midfield three and Owen faced injuries at crucial times in tournaments, leaving the goalscoring responsibilities on the shoulders of a very young Rooney.
While reaching the quarterfinals of the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and the 2004 Euros cannot be considered as a complete failure, more was expected from a side with the star quality that England possessed at the time.
Fans of the team have grown accustomed to the ridicule hurled at them ever since McLaren took control of the team and have scarcely allowed themselves to believe that they have the ability to perform well in a major tournament. However, this crop of young English stars possesses something the “Golden Generation” did not, comradery.
The likes of Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Danny Welbeck amongst many others have risen through the ranks of English football together and were teammates far before club rivalries could play on their minds. While none of the current squad are as naturally gifted as the “Golden Generation,” they could go much further than their predecessors ever did.
We may well be witnessing the birth of the new “Golden Generation” and the fans are hoping for the first time in a long time. Football might be coming home.