What has become of England’s so called ‘Golden Generation’? Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Ferdinand and others have failed to produce the heroics that were expected of them. They have not gone further than the quarterfinals of any major tournament. After each tournament that ends in failure, the calls for an overhaul of the squad and an influx of youth get stronger. It was no different after Euro 2012 and considering the performances of Cleverly and Oxlade-Chamberlain against Moldova, I thought it would be interesting to assess the future of English football.
This ‘Golden Generation’ was packed full of fantastic players. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand, to name a few, were rated amongst the best footballers in the world. Unfortunately they were not able to play like that for England. One of the most obvious examples of this, was the midfield partnership of Lampard and Gerrard. During the noughties, Gerrard and Lampard were two of the best midfielders in the world. Touted as a world-beating partnership for England, they never managed to gel and looked disjointed when playing together.
Words like ‘dynamic’, ‘strong’ and ‘powerful’ have been used to describe the top English players in the past. These qualities are vital to the English team, but without some guile and creativity to compliment them they can be wasted. This generation of players lacked a technically accomplished passer of the ball, a Xavi for instance. This may sound like an obvious comment to make considering that Xavi is widely regarded as the best midfielder in the world, but so were Gerrard and Lampard at their best. In his prime Gerrard was the driving force behind any Liverpool success, but it is no surprise that he hasn’t been as potent since Xabi Alonso left. Against Moldova, Frank Lampard reminded us how devastating he could be. His skill was in his ability to time his runs perfectly, and had the enviable knack of always being in the right place at the right time.
Both Gerrard and Lampard could pick a pass but they thrived on having a player behind them who would get on the ball and dictate the tempo of the game. English football needs to develop two or three of these type of players. I am not suggesting that we should endeavour to take on the Spanish tiki-taka style, but we need players to compliment the more English qualities. If you look at the top Premier League clubs it’s easy to see the mix of power and dynamism with guile and creativity working. Last season’s champions, Manchester City, have Yaya Toure and David Silva and more recently we have seen Arsenal beat Liverpool with Diaby and Cazorla combining brilliantly.
Luckily for England it looks like they are starting to produce this type of player. Cleverly was outstanding against Moldova and Alex Ferguson’s refusal to buy a central midfielder suggests he has a lot of faith in the youngster. He is technically astute and an accomplished passer of the ball. Jack Wilshere is another in this mould. He had a brilliant start to his career, including a Man of the Match performance against Barcelona, out playing Xavi and Iniesta in the process. Wilshere himself said: “Players like Xavi and Iniesta are great players. Who wouldn’t try to model their game on them?” Those role models come as no surprise, considering he has been brought up at Arsenal where they play a possession based game. Wilshere’s technique is superb, he likes to get on the ball and dictate the tempo of the game as much as possible. He can pick holes in the opposition by running with or passing the ball. He is a phenomenal talent. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has also shown his quality over the last year. Although he is currently playing on the wing, Arsene Wenger sees him as a future central midfielder. He is more direct and powerful than Cleverly and Wilshere, but the three of them are all technically superb and together will provide the heart of the future England team. With these three in the engine room the future could be very bright.
This is a potential England line up come Euro 2016:
Potential England side in Euro 2016
Joe Hart – Hart was one of the standout goalkeepers at Euro 2012, he has a huge amount of experience for a 25-year-old. He is now a Premiership winner with Manchester City too and has many years at the top ahead of him.
Jack Butland – Butland has also emerged as a contender for the number 1 spot. He has been highly rated for a couple of years, and got his chance on the world stage during the Olympics where he was outstanding. England are in safe hands.
Kyle Walker – Walker won the Young player of the year award last season. He is very strong defensively and would have started at Euro 2012 had he not been injured.
Micah Richards – Richards will also push Walker hard for the right back slot and if he could add some discipline to his game then Walker better watch out.
Chris Smalling and Phil Jones – The pair have been learning from the best in Ferdinand and Vidic at Manchester United. Both are powerful in the air and very comfortable with the ball at their feet. Jones, is perhaps the more advanced at this stage but Smalling is seen as the replacement for Ferdinand at Man U.
Steven Caulker – Caulker could also provide competition at centre-back. He had a great season at Swansea last year and will be hoping to break into the Tottenham first team this term.
Kieran Gibbs – Gibbs has unfortunately had his progress halted by injury, but is still a fantastic talent. He has been thought of as the next Ashley Cole. He has a long way to go but the potential is there.
Ryan Bertrand – Bertrand has also been likened to Cole. He had a great end to last season at Chelsea even starting the Champion’s League final.
The depth of talent is certainly there and with Gary Cahill, who is only 26 added to that group then if they reach their potential they could be a very strong defensive unit.
Wilshere, Cleverly and Oxlade-Chamberlain have already been mentioned but there is also a wealth of talent to challenge these three.
Jack Rodwell – Rodwell has just secured a big move to Manchester City where his first team chances may be quite rare. He is a very athletic defensive midfielder. He has great positioning and is a brilliant tackler.
Ross Barkley – Rodwell’s former teammate is also rated highly at Everton.
Josh McEachran – McEachran was named Chelsea Young Player of the Year in 2011, but has since had a frustrating period on loan at Swansea. Hopefully his stint on loan at Middlesborough will be more fruitful.
Jonjo Shelvey – Shelvey is another who looks like he is about to make his breakthrough. He was Man of the Match for the U21’s against Azerbaijan on the weekend and Brendan Rodger’s tiki-taka style will suit him perfectly.
Wayne Rooney – Rooney is still only 26 years old, despite having made 76 appearances for England. He has had a controversial International career: Sent off at the 2006 World Cup, out of form at the 2010 World Cup due to allegations about his private life and suspended from the first two games of Euro 2012. However, he can become a leader and a role model for the younger generation as he gets older. England have a World Class striker to lead the line.
Theo Walcott – As long as Walcott doesn’t lose his pace, he can only get better. He showed against Ukraine in the Euros how devastating he could be.
Raheem Sterling – Sterling is very similar to Walcott. Lightning quick and a brilliant finisher. He looks dangerous whenever he gets the ball for Liverpool and doesn’t look remotely out-of-place in the Premier League despite only being 17.
Players like Ashley Young, Adam Johnson and James Milner will continue to improve and are still young enough to play for the next 4 years at least. Add that to the emerging talents of Danny Welbeck, who had a very promising Euros and Daniel Sturridge, who was a regular starter for Chelsea last season and England have a lot of attacking depth.
If we are being realistic, this complete overhaul is not going to happen before the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. John Terry and Ashley Cole will only be 33, and Steven Gerrard will have just turned 34. This will represent their last chance at a major tournament, but by Euro 2016 the new crop will be fully integrated. The most important thing about the emerging players is that there seems to be a common ability. A technical quality, that has been missing from the England teams of the past. The pace of Walcott and Sterling, the dynamism of The Ox and the craft and vision of Cleverly and Wilshere will form a devastating attack. They have a very good blend of power, pace and creativity. The likes of Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard may not have fulfilled their promise, but if the performances of Cleverly and Oxlade-Chamberlain are anything to go by, in addition to Wilshere et al, then we could be looking at a new ‘Golden Generation’ in the coming years. Perhaps, the real ‘Golden Generation’.
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