Sil­ver lin­ing

A new take on the golden gen­er­a­tion

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

AS THE fi­nal whis­tle blew on Eng­land's ap­palling exit to Ice­land at the Eu­ros last sum­mer, a num­ber of hard mes­sages came home to English foot­ball.

We can­not win knock­out tour­na­ment matches, or cope with the huge pres­sure piled on us by our­selves and the me­dia. The quiet but sig­nif­i­cant out­come of the Ice­land match is that the his­tory of the ‘golden gen­er­a­tion’ was rewrit­ten.

We have been told that the golden gen­er­a­tion (Steven Gerrard, Frank Lam­pard, John Terry, Ash­ley Cole, Wayne Rooney, Paul Sc­holes et al) did not ful­fil their po­ten­tial.

But in the con­text of re­cent re­sults, it has be­come clear that they ac­tu­ally took Eng­land be­yond their nat­u­ral lim­its at tour­na­ments.

Be­tween 2002 and 2006, Eng­land reached three con­sec­u­tive quar­ter-fi­nals. This feat has never been matched in our his­tory.

Dur­ing the Sven-Go­ran Eriks­son era, we only lost three com­pet­i­tive fix­tures in nor­mal time. These in­cluded a last-gasp de­feat to a Zidane-in­spired France, a loss to even­tual world cham­pi­ons Brazil and a de­feat in qual­i­fy­ing to North­ern Ire­land at Wind­sor Park.

Com­pared to pre­vi­ous phases in our his­tory, this is im­pres­sive. We also emerged suc­cess­fully from dif­fi­cult qual­i­fy­ing groups.

Ger­many and Turkey at the time were no slouches. The qual­i­fy­ing group for the 2006 tour­na­ment in­cluded Poland and po­ten­tial ba­nana skins in Wales and North­ern Ire­land. The tour­na­ment groups were no eas­ier, but we still man­aged to de­feat Ar­gentina in 2002.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, we also won two knock­out tour­na­ment matches - Denmark in 2002 and Ecuador in 2006.

To put that into con­text, in the 36-year pe­riod be­tween the 1966 World Cup and 2002, we had only won three knock­out matches (ex­clud­ing the Euro ’96 vic­tory over Spain on penal­ties and the 1968 third place play­off). Two of those three came in ex­tra-time at Italia ’90 against Cameroon and Bel­gium. In terms of sus­tained tour­na­ment stan­dards, 2001-2006 was a pos­i­tive pe­riod for the na­tional team. Our fail­ing dur­ing this pe­riod was an in­abil­ity to close off matches and stay com­posed un­der pres­sure. The Brazil match in 2002 was a clas­sic ex­am­ple of Eng­land los­ing con­cen­tra­tion at key moments at both ends of the pitch.

Beck­ham’s dodged tackle in mid­field be­fore Ri­valdo’s equaliser and David Sea­man’s be­wil­dered scram­ble back after Ronald­inho’s free-kick both typ­i­fied this prob­lem.

We would have beaten Por­tu­gal if Rooney had stayed com­posed in 2006, and in­deed if our penalty tak­ers had kept their cool.

Poor game man­age­ment, rather than in­trin­sic tac­ti­cal weak­nesses, seemed to be our main flaw.

In con­trast, the Eng­land team's per­for­mance at Euro 2016 was a litany of bad tac­ti­cal plan­ning and poor de­ci­sions (by the man­ager and the play­ers).

A bril­liant video on YouTube by 442oons sum­marises the com­edy of er­rors rather suc­cinctly: “Kane’s su­perb free-kicks/ A lucky dip start­ing eleven/Jo-Jo’s iron man wrists…”

Twelve years prior to that aw­ful de­feat to Ice­land, we had ac­tu­ally com­fort­ably beaten them 6-1 at the City of Manchester Sta­dium.

Eriks­son’s team cer­tainly fell short against the big­ger teams and in the in­ten­sity of quar­ter-fi­nals, but were of­ten com­fort­able vic­tors against the smaller na­tions.

We would like to go fur­ther than the quar­ters and the semis, but at present that looks like a pipe dream.

The Ice­land re­sult sadly showed that Eng­land's 1966 win was a one-off, a blip on an oth­er­wise aw­ful record in ma­jor tour­na­ments.

After 1970 our tour­na­ments read DNQ, DNQ, DNQ, DNQ, Group Stage exit.

From 2008 through to 2016, the se­quence is only marginally bet­ter, read­ing DNQ, Last 16, Quar­ter-fi­nals, Group Stage, Last 16.

The per­for­mances of English teams over the sum­mer of 2017 (at Toulon, the U20 World Cup and the U19 Eu­ros) give some hope for the fu­ture.

Maybe things will im­prove at Rus­sia 2018 and there­after…

Per­haps now it is still too early and too raw to look at the facts ob­jec­tively. Per­haps his­tory will look more kindly on our de­feat to Ice­land and Euro 2016 dis­plays.

At present, the achieve­ments of the Eng­land team from 2001 to 2006 look like some­thing of a golden age, or at least the sil­ver standard.

Steven Gerrard All over: Eng­land’s play­ers are flat out after los­ing to Ice­land Frank Lam­pard

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