It has been 20 years since Gareth Southgate broke the hearts of millions of expectant England supporters in the Semi-finals of Euro 1996 by missing the crucial fifth penalty. From that moment, the fate of the England team has be underwhelming to say the least.
Penalty heartbreak in 1998, Phil Neville in 2000, Ronaldinho in 2002, penalty heartbreak part two in 2004, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2006, Steve McClaren in 2008, Germany (and the linesman) in 2010, penalty heartbreak part three in 2012 and… well, let’s just forget about 2014.
All of the aforementioned daggers that ploughed vehemently into the hearts of Three Lions fans over the past two decades have left many cynical about seeing any international success for a long while… and for very good reason.
However, every proud Englishman brutishly clings to any threadbare sense of optimism they can find before major tournaments, which usually comes in the form of a young, untested talent.
How many times have us English found ourselves screaming at the television, hoping that the lads can hear us in Brazil or Japan? Never more so than with Roy Hodgson’s brand of conservative football which leads to many pubs around the nation being filled with quips such as “Just run at them”, “get forward”, “SHOOT!… Please!”.
This is perhaps the reason why we all heap expectation onto the fresh-faced, young English stars in international tournaments. The ability to play directly, with no fear, often with frightening pace and a desire to take people, on sits well with England fans, who have had to put up with ‘almost’ for far too long.
In 1998, an 18-year-old Michael Owen lit up the World Cup in France with his stellar displays. He was the toast of English football.
In 2004, Wayne Rooney, at just 17, was our top scorer in the European Championship in Portugal.
And now, in 2016, Marcus Rashford look set to be the man (or boy) to become the new saviour.
However, while both Owen and Rooney made instant impacts at these tournaments, they never reached those heights in World Cups or European Championships again. Did the pressure of becoming the new footballing sensation on these shores take its toll?
Ultimately, it is not the youngsters who have to impress us in these tournaments, it is the likes of James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Gary Cahill. These are the men who have felt the pressure of World Cups and European Championships and should carry the nation’s weight of expectation on their shoulders.
So, before we are inevitably knocked out of this summer’s EUROs (on penalties… probably by Germany), let’s judge the senior members of the squad, rather than piling more pressure on the younger lads who are the future of our international game.