Whilst we are used to (endlessly irritated by?) the hype surrounding every build-up to an England World Cup campaign, it’s fair to say that in 2006 much of the hype held water. Here was the ‘Golden Generation’; players who were worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the best that rocked-up in Germany.
Yes, we have come to expect the over the top approach of the English media (the set them up, then tear them down mentality), and the fans (understandably) are always optimistic and expect the best. But the real barometer in 2006 was the view of the international media and fans. England were a real chance! With quality all over the pitch and looking at the potential opposition………they could go all the way couldn’t they?
Hindsight is 20:20 vision as they say. England never really performed and, as usual, a modicum of bad luck played its part. Rooney started the tournament injured, came on as a sub in the 2nd game and then went for an early bath in the QF….does anyone need reminding of the Portuguese winker?
Michael Owen ‘did himself’ in the most bizarre circumstances at the start of game 3 and so the dynamic duo at England’s spearhead, they who were expected to wreak so much havoc, never really got out of the blocks. And let’s not forget that Lampard and Gerrard still looked like a couple of ballroom dancers wearing bovver boots, bruised toes all round.
Then there was the conductor of that particular orchestra …… the one and only Sven (he who selected a player in his squad who had never kicked a ball in anger in the Premier league). Yes, once again hindsight is 20:20 but in both the summer of 2006 and in just about everything that he has touched since, it’s probably an understatement to say that Sven was/has been about as effective as a wet lettuce.
The potential was definitely there but in the final analysis, yet again, circumstances conspired to deliver another major disappointment to the country who likes to think it ‘owns’ the game. 40 years of hurt…and counting!
So as England approach South Africa 2010 how do the current squad compare and is there genuine hope to go with the inevitable hype? Can they do it and what are the key factors? Unquestionably the biggest factor of all is the team itself. I’ve previously argued that it’s all about the best 11 at a World Cup . Some squad players may make a difference but choosing your best 11 and sticking with it is clearly the best policy. And on that note let’s revisit the England squad of 2006:
All of you reading this are already dedicated followers of fashion football, meaning that your sharp minds will have quickly distilled the fact that England’s key players in 2006….are STILL England’s key players in 2010. Indeed, depending on your own choice for England’s best 23, it may only vary by 4 or 5 players from last time round! To a large extent the ‘Golden Generation’ is still in tact. The question is have they lost some of their shine or are they still worth their weight in gold?
So let’s break it down position by position.
GK: Robinson may have fallen from grace since 2006 but at the time he was the best England had and was well established, unlike now when the position has become a total lottery. Capello will make his choice in the coming months but does that inspire anyone with confidence? You’ve got to score this position as a negative versus 2006.
RB: Gary Neville owned this position last time round with years of experience behind him and great leadership qualities (just ask Tevez!). Now it has passed to Glen Johnson who’s having an injury prone season, is good going forward but (sometimes) suspect defending, and has no real competition for his place. Another negative v 2006 I’m afraid. (Yes, Neville missed 3 games through injury in Germany but the very competent Carragher and Hargreaves filled–in.)
LB: Ashley Cole again and certainly playing as well as ever! Bridge continues to deputise (Gibbs is now out of the picture) so let’s hope he’s not needed. I’d say a plus here. More experience and possibly at his peak is Ashley.
CB: This is a worry! Capello badly needs Rio fit and back to his best. He’s due to return soon and with Terry, who continues to be a top defender, the formidable duo can resume where they left off 4 years ago. It’s a tough one comparing the pair now to then. Have both lost a little edge at this stage or will experience make up for that. Let’s call that one a draw. (But if either is missing then the alternatives are a worry. None measure up to Sol last time round.)
DM: Barry is little better than average in my view but he generally gets the job done. I’d go with Hargreaves every time if fit but he looks less and less likely to make it now. A minor negative here if Hargo fails to recover. (Note: In 2006 England preferred to go without a DM for the most part.)
CM: Gerrard and Lampard four years on? The former continues to be hampered by injury and his absence would be a disaster. And even when fit is his form suffering? Lampard is getting on with business as usual but it is certainly a plus factor that under Capello the two have finally found the formula to playing together…..or finally found their dancing shoes….as it were. Let’s call this one equal too.
RM/LM: Joe Cole and Beckham started all 5 games in Germany. There is now a debate as to whether Becks will even make the squad, never mind the team. A purple patch with Milan over the next 4 months could sort that out but, even if included, there’s no doubt that the Beckham of 2010 is a lesser being.
And the news on Joe Cole is not much better. Ongoing struggles with injury, Cole needs a big ‘end of season’ to get back on board. Neither may start in SA as part of England’s first 11….and that’s bad news from the point of view of who may take their place.
Lennon, Walcott, Wright-Phillips, Milner, Young, Downing…..it’s a lottery, and the endless debates just underline the lack of convincing candidates. Possibly Lennon if he can continue his form of the last year but a fit and on form Joe Cole would be a much better option in my opinion in a team that should dispense with orthodox wingers. Negative v 2006…..no question!
Strikers: 2006= Rooney/Owen, 2 world class strikers. 2010= Rooney + 1 other, 1 world class striker. Personally, I’d dispense with the need for a 2nd striker and play Gerrard off Rooney but we know that Capello won’t do that. One of Heskey, Defoe, Bent, Cole, Agbonlahor, Crouch…..an inferior Owen even?….no chance! The truth is that whoever it will be will not be worthy of the stage and that’s a negative versus 2006. However, on the plus side, Rooney is on fire this season. He has stepped-up in quality and has added goals to his endless work rate and outstanding talent so maybe, at a stretch, we can call this one evens.
Looking at the back-up in the squad, much of which is still under intense debate, there’s no need for me to bore you with an analysis. Certainly no better than 2006!
The overriding feeling you get when you analyse the subject is that the forbearers of doom who claim that the English game (in terms of developing talent) is being ruined by too many foreign players, poor coaching, poor acadamies etc. etc. could find no more fertile ground than this to conduct their exercise. Not a single major talent has emerged in the England camp in the past four years and several ‘great hopes’ (Richards, Wright=Phillips, Walcott and Lennon) have failed to stake their claim. So If England are to go close in SA 2010 or (whisper) even win the World Cup, then the key protagonists will be exactly the same as those that created so much expectation last time around. In evolutionary terms this ape hasn’t changed at all….in fact it has regressed.
It was reasonable to expect in 2006 that Walcott and Lennon (both in that squad) would have evolved into essential players for England by 2010. Both have been dogged by injury. Both have impressed in cameos but neither has staked an irrepressible claim. And the lack of challenge in other positions is frightening.
All that said, if Capello has all of his best players fit then there is still hope of a 1966 repeat. I can’t find any way in the analysis to conclude that England are better off, playing wise, than they were in Germany four years ago or that the ‘Golden Generation’ hasn’t loss some of its gloss but they’re still a decent unit with everyone available and, of course, though a major factor, that’s not all that will determine the issue.
How about the quality of the opposition v 2006? How about the influence of the manager? Just what is England’s best 11? And what about luck…..surely England have to get a break in a penalty shoot-out sometime soon?
Good questions, even if I say so myself…..and all will be dealt with as I continue the build-up to SA 2010!
How do you compare the current England team/squad to the ‘Golden Generation’ of 2006?