As a 21-year old Cristiano Ronaldo strolls up confidently to take his penalty on a warm evening in Gelsenkirchen, everyone knows it’s over. England fans, around the stadium and the world, know their World Cup dream is over. Back then, it didn’t exactly hit people yet that the “Golden Generation” of English football had played their final game together, as a full squad.
The generation of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Gary Neville, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, etc., had flown by right in front of our eyes, with zero success to show for it. Quarter final exits, missed penalties, injuries and tears summed up England’s “Golden Generation,” but where did it all stem from?
A team of individuals
During a broadcast on BT Sport in 2017, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard discussed their time with the England squad and touched upon the reasons why they failed to achieve success with the national team. The former stars spoke about the success of English clubs during the early 2000s, which prompted a competitiveness among the squad that carried over onto international duty.
While it wasn’t exactly confrontational or tension-raising, the competitiveness did cause a lack of cohesion among the squad. All three former-stars noted that their club rivalries played a role in England’s “Golden Generation” playing more-so like individuals, rather than a team and it showed as the talent never truly gelled. In addition to that, a lack of identity and philosophy stood in the way of one of recent history’s most talented international sides from ever reaching it’s true potential. The obsession with winning with their clubs divided one of the most talented sides in recent history, and without a stable manager to mend that divide, hope was rightfully lost.
The interview not only provided an in-depth look into the issues England faced from 2002 to 2012, but it also opened the door for a discussion about the squad heading to Russia this summer.
It's okay to be excited about England
Looking at this current England squad on paper, there’s a lot left to be desired. It doesn’t come close to that 2006 generation of players in terms of talent, but there are aspects of the squad that are particularly interesting. Taking into account the issues that Ferdinand, Lampard and Gerrard mentioned, cohesion is obviously a key issue with England’s lack of international success. The cohesion and togetherness shown by this current England squad is admirable, with morale higher than previous teams going into major tournaments. Gareth Southgate’s men have experienced success with one another at club level, as well as coming through the England ranks together.
Of the current 23-man squad, ten players featured under Gareth Southgate for the England U21s. Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, Jack Butland, Marcus Rashford, John Stones, Jesse Lingard, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jordan Pickford, and Dele Alli have all developed relationships through the England youth set-ups, which seem to be stronger than that of previous teams, and have worked under Southgate in some capacity.
The name is Bond, not James...
There’s a bond between the players, and the manager, in this young England team that we haven’t seen in quite some time. Even the younger groups, that will undoubtedly feature in years to come, have developed strong relationships on and off the pitch through playing together and time spent away from the pitch. Southgate has managed to create a positive environment for his players, while implementing a philosophy and style that past England sides failed to have. On paper, England may not look like world beaters but having an identity and being able to compete as a team, rather than 11 individuals, is crucial to performing at the highest level.
It’s unfair to compare this England side to the golden generation, but it’s also unfair to rule them out for the mistakes of the past. It’s an inexperienced side to say the least, but a side full of talent. Gareth Southgate may not be the best international manager around, but he’s been able to develop a bond with the squad and has coached some of the younger players for years. England are no longer a team that, on paper, scare the likes of France, Germany and Spain, but they’ve managed to build a squad with talent, cohesiveness and finally, an identity. The English game has sorely lacked a style of play until now, but unfortunately it cost us arguably England’s most talented group of players ever.
So while some media outlets make runs at England’s best players, in odd attempts to tear them down prior to the World Cup, give this squad a chance. England have a young, hungry squad that finally has something, that other England sides didn’t.