‘Golden Generation’ Phased Out For The Good of England
Change is good. Change comes slowly and creeps up on us unexpectedly like a bump in the night. Though we don’t always realise when defining transitions are taking place, gradual change is essential for positive evolution. For England, Euro 2012 marks the moment in which a measured shift in personnel at last signifies the beginnings of something better, something fresh and renewed.
The sight of a suited David Beckham looking on in clear distress as David James and Matthew Upson contrived to make a right dog’s dinner of incessant pressure from Germany’s sprightly charges at the 2010 World Cup is one which is unshakeable from the memory.
Upon a 20-year-old Thomas Muller scoring his second to put Germany 4-1 up that day, England called upon a 32-year-old Emile Heskey to salvage a nation’s pride. Though not apparent at the time, the final crescendo of a man who nine years previous had applied a glossy finish to that famous night in Munich would signify the expiration of a generation; the termination of outdated way of thinking.
During those fateful couple of weeks in South Africa, England would also call upon Ledley King, Jamie Carragher, Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips, neither of whom have since pulled on an England shirt again. Peter Crouch has appeared only twice in the following two years, whilst Stephen Warnock’s England career has run only a further 20 minutes since his inclusion in the World Cup squad. Of the 23 who went to South Africa, only nine are present at Euro 2012. A beneficial transition?
Whether through misfortune, circumstance or merit, the national team’s composition takes on vastly different appearance, a fledgling character which radiates youthful optimism.
Though contextual developments have dictated Rio Ferdinand’s omission and injuries have rendered Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry unavailable, Fabio Capello’s insistence upon youth during qualifying and Hodgson’s subsequent inheritance means the structure of the English national side takes on a more nimble and energetic feel. Gone are the ghosts of the ‘golden generation’. Gone are the dodgy metatarsals, immobile frontmen and calamitous goalkeepers. Gone are centre-backs more suited to marking bingo cards than strikers.
The less than desirable off-field frolicking which tainted England’s preparation may well have proved a blessing in disguise. Putting John Terry’s discouraging personality traits to one side, a genuinely robust partnership has been moulded with Jolean Lescott which may well form the basis of future success either this summer or in Brazil in 2014, whilst the inclusion the Premier League winner has undoubtedly brought the previously vacant aspect of defensive pace to the side.
Likewise, England’s renewed defensive stability is arguably down to the emergence of a reliable first-choice goalkeeper in Joe Hart where once a succession of flapping, grasping-for-air pretenders stood. Not since David Seaman have England had a stopper playing consistently amongst the highest echelons of English football, winning trophies on a regular basis amongst world-class colleagues.
The emerging prominence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain so far has also highlighted the prevailing direction Roy Hodgson intends to head in during his tenure. Despite impressive club form, the Arsenal winger was a dicey selection on Hodgson’s behalf, but a gamble paying dividends. Possessing a steelier figure than Theo Walcott at the 2006 World Cup, Oxlade-Chamberlain brings a genuine menace to the England front-line; an invigorating change from a decade of turgid, one-dimensional widemen. Similarly, Ashley Young’s arrival onto the England scene has brought originality and a much needed creative presence to the midfield.
Elsewhere in the squad, Danny Welbeck provides further enticing reasons to be wholly sanguine about the future. His two goalscoring contributions to the England set-up have been utterly sublime, a masterclass in deft, delicate finishing. Again, after years of alarming average exploits in front of goal, the omission of England’s old guard has provided the opportunity for regeneration, a chance to renew. A shot at redemption. If Emile Heskey had even the slightest fraction of Welbeck’s ingenuity around the box, the past ten years of international tournaments would be significantly devoid of the utter desolation felt as England approach the final third only to fumble hopelessly in front of goal.
Through a combination of forced omissions, brave inclusions and the natural phasing out of an older generation, England have fallen upon an increasingly promising set of players at Euro 2012. For the first time in many years, focus is upon future potential rather than a perennially underachieving ‘golden generation’ failing to reach their peak.
Do you feel that this generation of England players can make the grade? I’d love to hear from you @acherrie1