The Golden Generation ‘A False Hope For England’ (Pt 2)

England have qualified for the 2016 European Championships in France. The media, the fans, the players and most importantly the FA expected England to qualify. There is a sense of false hope though about the qualification process as England haven’t been challenged in my view, not yet anyway. There will no doubt be a few friendly’s over the course of the year and England will face the stronger nations in the competition like France, Italy, Germany. However if we’re been honest the hardest team England have had to play throughout the qualification group is Switzerland and although they have a talented group of players I wouldn’t exactly call them a really tough test.

England though go into the Euro’s with an unblemished record and are in high spirits and this was much like the tournament twelve years before in Portugal 2004.

After the 2002 World Cup and a continuation of a good building block from that tournament and certain ghosts been laid to rest. England fans could look forward to a successful Euro 2004. The likes of Scholes, Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham, Owen had all now become first team regulars and were starting to show some form for both their country and clubs. There was an emergence of one talent that would shape the next decade for England to come and the name of this one player was Wayne Rooney. The cheeky but quiet scouser had shone in an Everton shirt as a 16 year old, Rooney made his big money move to United that same year. Everton were losing an emerging talent while England were gaining an unpredictable super star.

Some including me compare him to a star two decades before who never completed his full potential. Paul Gascoigne born and raised in the heart of the north east was one of England’s best talents in the 90s. The passion, the unpredictable ability he had as a player, he completed a star studded Italia 90 squad. Italia 90 gave birth to Gazza a man that the nation cried with, loved and celebrated with all in one moment. Well in 2004 it was the birth of Wazza, Rooney was the hope and the icing on the cake England needed. There was no doubting Rooney’s quality on the ball his fearless and tenacious self. Something that fresh, bright and young talented English footballers have, some are just not scared of the super stars and will run and run and run. England had a new hope a new start and the England fans had a new song to sing. Sven knew he had a special player on his hands and so he needed to handle Rooney properly keeping his feet on the ground. Something that Robson had to do two decades earlier with Gazza.

2004 was the year this generation could’ve come good, they were drawn in a group with France, Switzerland and Croatia a group that posed many threats but certainly one that could be progressed from. A lucky win for France in England’s first game made the task just that little bit harder for Sven’s men. Rooney showed his class against the Swiss and Croatia as he stole the show. England brushed Switzerland aside 3-0 and beat Croatia 4-2. This set up a quarter final game with the hosts Portugal. England were up against a team that on paper were no better, Portugal were beatable. However as always with England lady luck was against the three lions and they crashed out on penalties. Sol Campbell had a goal disallowed in the game and Rooney had to go off trough a serious injury. The players were unprepared for penalties and bottled it against a Portugal side that didn’t actually look that good. Sven new he’d blown his big chance to become a historic legend for the England national team, that tournament in 2004 was that generations chance for glory and they blew it.

Two years later in Germany it was time for the 2006 World Cup, Rooney had been able to get some more international duty under his belt and England went into 2006 with possibly lower expectations than in 2004. England once again braced themselves for a tournament that would ultimately end in failure. The three lions struggled in the group and looked slow, sluggish and lost of ideas in many of the games. I still a school kid watching England and some of the players I looked up to like Gerrard and Scholes. I thought how boring are we to watch? Where was the excitement in that team? Yes there was Rooney but even he didn’t have that unpredictable ability anymore, people knew who he was. We were predictable, if Rooney didn’t work sling big Peter Crouch on and let’s just hoof it up to him. England thankfully progressed through the group but they did it by huffing and puffing. Beckham put a bit of magic into the tournament as he rolled back the years with a free kick against Ecuador in the last 16. Then once again in the quarter finals England faced a Portugal side that were two years older than back in 2004 and had gotten better like England over those two years. Both Portugal and England were trying to evolve at the same speed and at pretty much the same time. It eventually proved that, that Portugal side were better equipped in tournaments than our England side. The game was very poor as Rooney was sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho, Beckham went off through injury and England lost on penalties. Sven knew that his time as England manager was up, his tenure had been dominated by big players on high wages who never came good for their country. Who couldn’t do it on the world stage, who bottled it who never did anything inspiring except for a few odd glittering moments of brilliance it had been a waste of time, a waste of a generation. After the failure of 2006, Sven departed England and the FA were on the lookout for a new boss. Many wanted one of the top European managers but most England fans craved for an English manager to be placed at the hot seat of the national team. Big Luiz Felipe Scolari was the FA’s first choice, but he didn’t want the job citing that the media would be too “intrusive on his life”.

The FA’s second choice was Steve McClaren and for ever more he was known by many as “Second Choice Steve”. McClaren had done ok at Middlesbrough as manager, but managing Boro and managing England are totally different animals. McClaren was seen as a great coach that could coach, but not a great manager. He was also seen as to be too much in the Eriksson mould. McClaren was a disaster there is no other way to put it really. His first decision was to put John Terry as captain so that meant taking the role off David Beckham. Now although Beckham was getting on a bit and his best times were behind him, there was a noticeable disliking to the decision. Not because Terry was given the armband that was fair enough as he was a very good defender and had 24 caps already to his name. However the situation wasn’t handled brilliantly and in fact Beckham along with Sol Campbell and David James were thrown out of the England reckoning altogether. England started Euro 2008 qualification well but a period of poor form and boring style of play meant the manager and team went under mounting pressure.

Phil Neville, Steven Gerrard, Sven Goran Eriksson and various other people backed McClaren while the English press and fans were becoming more and more frustrated with the poor displays. McClaren did bring Beckham back into the team and England won 4 out of 6 qualification games. A loss against Russia meant it wasn’t in England’s hands and they had to avoid defeat to table topping Croatia. If they avoided defeat they would qualify for the Euro’s in second place. It was the night however that England became a farce on the international stage. England lost the game 3-2 on a rainy night at Wembley Stadium to which McClarn stood on the touch line underneath an umbrella, the English press ripped McClaren apart with headlines such as Wolly with the Brolly. There was a touch of sadness that England didn’t qualify for the Eruo’s it had been 14 years since England last failed to qualify for a tournament and 24 years since they had failed to qualify for the European Championships. The FA held an emergency meeting the day after the debacle against Croatia and McClaren was removed as manager. Never had an England team promised so much and delivered so little than on that night at the heart of English football the home of football. The players the manager and the FA were left disgraced, not trusted and frankly in a position that looked incredibly bleak. It wasn’t quite the dark days of the 70s and 80s but it came close it came very close. The fans were downbeat the players were booed the manager was sacked and overall the game in England for the national side was not looking good.

McClaren has since gone on to do well in Holand and is now at Newcastle United after not been able to push Derby County to promotion. What this shows is that McClaren a coach under Sir Alex Ferguson, is exactly that, a coach and not a manager.

What McClaren did bring to England is the realisation that we had dropped off the top teams in Europe and we were nowhere near a Spain, Germany or Italy. McClaren wasn’t the worse manager England ever had he was just put in a position of impossibility as he should have coached the side not managed it. I don’t blame McClaren for the failure of 2008 I blame the lack of English fresh talent coming through. I blame the way football has gone, McClaren will now and for ever more be reminded of his failure as England boss but in actual fact I felt sorry for him rather than blaming him.

Next in The Golden Generation a False hope for England part 3. We look at the Fabio Capello era, why it could’ve been good but was more of a disaster. Roy Hodgson the rise of England again but not as we know it and the future of England where do we lie on the international stage and how can we improve on our tournament showings.

Written by Steven Downes

The Golden Generation A False Hope for England (Pt 1)

Wayne Rooney is the last of the golden generation, and has just become England’s all-time leading goal scorer. However there still seems to be an air of disappointment with the team he progressed with. Here is an in depth look at what went wrong and how it went wrong from start to finish.

We have to go back two decades to where it all began, the 90’s for England were possibly the second best decade after the 1966 success. In the decade before the new millennium we had people like Gazza, Peirce, Adams, Lineker. We also had people like Graham Taylor.

Anyway, we’ll start at Terry Venables and Euro 96. The England team were under unbelievable pressure as they hadn’t qualified for the 1994 World Cup. In 1996 however under the leadership of Venables the team reached the semi-final stage a great success. Venables wasn’t in the job for long though and resigned after investigations into financial mismanagement. His successor was Glenn Hoddle a man that was looked up on as one of the better England players though the dark days of the 80s. England played some fantastic football under Hoddle as he brought a new style of play to the team. They went into France 98 with some confidence, but the team were knocked out at the second round following a defeat to Argentina on penalties and Beckham’s red card.

Hoddle left the national side due to none footballing reasons and England were on the lookout for a new manager. Kevin Keegan popped up as a potential leader from the touchline and although he hadn’t had the best England career there’s no doubt he could manage. He’d been in difficult situations when manager of Newcastle and he knew how football worked. Keegan’s tenure wasn’t an overall success though and the Euro 2000 showing was abysmal.

Keegan resigned after the last game at the old Wembley was played. Germany won the game 1-0, Keegan immediately resigned from the manager position in the shower of the England dressing room. It was a sad day for English football.

After the disappointment of Keegan it was Sven Goran Eriksson that took over the national team. He was the first foreign manager to manage England. The Golden generation was starting to come together, Beckham, Gerrard, Scholes, Lampard, Owen were all installed in the side either through Keegan’s reign or Hoddle’s.

One of Eriksson’s earliest matches was the extraordinary 5-1 win over Germany in Munich. A hat-trick by Michael Owen and goals from Gerrard and Heskey meant it was one of the biggest results ever recorded against the Germans. Was this the start of England’s rise to fame and success?

The next few matches after the Germany triumph were good, although England did struggle in those games and didn’t play very well. The Germany win could be looked up on as a one off, a fluke but that simply wasn’t true there were some great players in that team.

Eriksson’s first tournament would be the 2002 FIFA World Cup, a competition that many tipped France, Germany and Brazil to do well in. England were expected to do ok but nothing special and most of the journalists agreed that it was a big tournament too soon for some of the players.

England reached the quarter-final stage of the World Cup, something that most people were not surprised about, but they were up against a good Brazil team. It wasn’t the best Brazil team but it was an ok team. England could have won against the Brazilians but David Seaman let an unreal goal in from Ronaldinho who curled a free kick over Seaman’s head, a free kick that the keeper should have saved.

The 2002 World Cup would have stood that England team in good stead for tournaments to come, and although it was a disappointment to go out – It wasn’t the right time for that particular team to shine. Brazil eventually won the world cup in South Korea and Japan, with Germany as the runners up.

There were more testing times for both team, and manager to come.

In the next part of the Golden Generation – ‘A False Hope for England’ – I take a look at the rest of Eriksson’s reign, and how we became a disaster under Steve McClaren.