Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Blow whistle on ‘Golden Generation’

End of the world: England's players after conceding the fourth goal

Pain, anguish, despair, regret. Just a few of the emotions that should have been etched across the faces of our fallen ‘heroes’ as they left the Free State Stadium on Sunday evening.

Instead, following the humiliating 4-1 reverse to arch-rivals Germany, Ledley King and Ashley Cole’s ill-advised reaction was caught on camera as they shared a joke leaving the team plane at Pilanesburg – only hours after the defeat.

Gazza’s tears of Italia ’90 both during and after the semi-final exit at the hands of Germany made him an icon to many, and demonstrated his commitment to the England cause.

Conversely, just what King and Cole found so hilarious is anyone’s guess, especially to those who forked out upwards of £7,000 to see them perform so dismally at this year’s tournament in South Africa.

Yes it was probably an opportunist snap in an otherwise sombre post-match retreat to the team hotel, but these over-paid shysters have some of the best advisers around them. With their experience (Cole has already played in three World Cups at the age of 29), they should have known better.

This episode is a mere drop in the ocean involving a group of players who by now have tested fans’ tolerance levels to the limit, and it is now time for a radical overhaul on the pitch. Immediately.

Based on their endeavours at club level, England’s current crop of under-performers have been dubbed the Golden Generation. Years down the line they may well keep this title, but mainly thanks to their bank balances.

There are calls for Fabio Capello, England’s under-pressure Italian manager, to be relieved of his duties following England’s worst-ever performance in a World Cup match and for the FA to appoint an Englishman. But Capello is not the problem, nor his nationality.
Since Italia ’90, twenty years of underperforming at major tournaments has yielded just one semi-final and three quarter-final appearances.
In recent times we have seen a vast array of characters and styles take to the England hot seat, most of them English.

Glenn Hoddle’s creative playing style was reflected in his teams, while Kevin Keegan ultimately got found out at international level for his perceived tactical naivety.

Then there was Sven who, despite relative success on the pitch, struggled off it. Scandals in his private life and the WAGS who reigned supreme in Baden Baden, England’s base for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, finally led to his downfall.

Steve McClaren’s attempt to be ‘one of the lads’ resulted in his failed campaign to qualify for Euro 2008 and the infamous ‘Wally with the brolly’ snide from the Daily Mail.

Capello has recently been criticised for his overly-strict stance in South Africa, but this approach was universally praised when he first took to the helm.

Additionally, he would have learned a great deal from this tournament ahead of qualification for Euro 2012. There was evidence towards the end of England’s doomed campaign he was adjusting his management style and showing greater leniency; affording the players the odd beer.

What this current group of players needs is a disciplined leader, and Capello must stay to oversee the short-term dismantling and renaissance of England’s national team.

Failing to progress from the group stages at Euros ’92 and 2000 - not to mention the no-show at USA '94 - are the results of an epidemic that lies at the hands of the FA and not over whether an Englishman should take over the reigns of what has been in recent times a poisoned chalice.
One of the more striking statistics from Sunday’s exit was our opponents had four players in their starting line up who guided Germany to victory in last summer’s European Under-21 Football Championship final over England. From our starting XI only James Milner, Aston Villa’s midfield powerhouse, has graduated.
Certainly food for thought for Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s Director of Football Development. But while questions remain over the infrastructure at grass-roots level, it is not all doom and gloom for England as we look to replace our failed generation of ‘stars’.
As mentioned, Stuart Pearce’s Under-21s finished runners-up to Germany last year, while England’s Under-17s went one better; becoming European champions for the first time when they defeated Spain 2-1 in Liechtenstein last month.
It is always difficult to predict who will make the grade from such an age group. A crumb of comfort, however, lies in the class of 1993; before this year the last England team to win an international trophy. There were some familiar faces – proving the cream can rise to the top.
Gary Neville, Sol Campbell, Paul Scholes, Robbie Fowler and Nicky Butt all went onto become household names and can look back on distinguished careers. Ipswich Town's latest prodigy, Connor Wickham, should take note.
The Victory Shield, an Under-16s tournament played out by the home nations, has also borne fruit for England. Despite it consisting of only four teams, England have won the last four and seven of the past nine tournaments; the other two shared with Scotland and Wales respectively.
This suggests domestic dominance and, coupled with the showing in the European Under-17 tournament, reveals talent is creeping through.
Patience from the top managers in the Premier League is essential for the sake of the national team as it looks to rebuild ahead of Brazil 2014.

Poland and Ukraine 2012 may well come too soon for a good number of our hot prospects, but with a qualifying group consisting of Wales, Switzerland, Montenegro and Bulgaria, there should be plenty of opportunity for Capello to experiment.

Club managers must look to blood these youngsters through, and not continue to splash out on foreign recruits.

But with such high stakes involving title chases, European qualification and relegation scraps, time will tell whether they can risk such a philosophy.
In a fortnight’s time, Capello may well be given the golden handshake, reported to be in the region of £12million. But this is not necessarily the change England needs.
It is a vast overhaul in the current crop of players, and a cull in a generation that have missed the cut, and failed to live up to their billing.
England team in Brazil 2014:
Joe Hart (Manchester City, 27), Glen Johnson (Liverpool, 29), Jack Rodwell (Everton, 23), Chris Smalling (Manchester Utd, 24), Kieran Gibbs (Arsenal, 24), Jack Wilshire (Arsenal, 22), James Milner (Manchester City, 28), Tom Huddlestone (Manchester Utd, 27), Adam Johnson (Manchester City, 26), Wayne Rooney (Manchester Utd, 28), Andy Carroll (Newcastle Utd, 25)

14 comments:

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