MARTIN SAMUEL: Compared to the golden generation, Gareth Southgate has gems everywhere… he can throw players at the problem like Chelsea or Man City can throw money. It’s scary
- The current England team find themselves compared to the ‘Golden Generation’
- Yet Gareth Southgate has way more depth than Sven Goran Eriksson ever did
- Raheem Sterling has been England’s star player but others could still replace him
- An XI could be made of players who have started no more than two games
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
When Wayne Rooney limped from the field 27 minutes into the 2004 European Championship quarter-final with Portugal, Sven Goran Eriksson, manager of the famous golden generation, looked along his row of substitutes and knew exactly what to do.
He brought on Darius Vassell.
Nothing against Vassell. Made 22 appearances for England, mostly as a substitute, or in friendly games, his one competitive start coming against Sweden at the 2002 World Cup.
He ran channels, worked hard, he scored six international goals in his career, including a cracker on his debut against Holland.
Darius Vassell was the calibre of back-up during the years of the ‘Golden Generation
The year after the Portugal game he left Aston Villa for Manchester City in a £2million deal — one fifteenth of what Manchester United paid for Rooney because he was one-fifteenth of the player. That quarter-final was his last appearance for England. Eriksson had other options, but nothing like Rooney.
Joe Cole was very talented, but nobody was comparing him to Pele. The same with Kieron Dyer and Emile Heskey. Beyond Rooney, England’s talent pool wasn’t deep enough to float an inflatable unicorn.
The golden generation was, in essence, a golden team. There were no goalscorers in Rooney or Michael Owen’s class, no full backs as effective as Gary Neville or Ashley Cole.
And the accommodation that needed to be made in midfield, with Owen Hargreaves holding, would have meant Eriksson having to decide between Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, with one missing out — which he was never going to do.
Raheem Sterling has been England’s star player but others could still replace him
Compare then to now. Not only is Gareth Southgate making tough decisions, omitting players who could justifiably have expected more game time, but consider the depth of talent at his disposal.
Raheem Sterling has arguably been England’s player of the tournament, but if he had the misfortune to pick up an injury on Sunday, the queue to replace him without a perceived drop in standard would form like a conga line.
Of course, England have not got a striker in Harry Kane’s class, but they have various forwards who can play as a false nine, or as the central figure in a tweaked system.
And when Denmark were tiring on Wednesday, Southgate could throw players at the problem the way Roman Abramovich or Sheik Mansour can throw money.
Declan Rice was puffing, too. So on for his 63rd cap came Jordan Henderson, captain of Liverpool, Champions League winner, Premier League winner, surely a starter until his unfortunate injury.
So Southgate is lucky? Not really. He’s made his own luck.
At the World Cup in 2010, when Robert Green, England’s goalkeeper, blundered against the United States and lost the support of Fabio Capello, the manager’s hands were tied.
He knew by then that Joe Hart was England’s best goalkeeper but he had not started a game.
Gareth Southgate cannot be seen as lucky as manager of England; he has made his own luck
Capello did not think it fair, or wise, to throw him in under tournament pressure, so had no choice but to use David James, a player even he now refers to as ‘Calamity’.
Actually, James didn’t let England down in South Africa but it was Capello’s fault that he had not prepared all three goalkeepers, given he was unconvinced.
So if Southgate has option after option in almost every area, that is his doing.
If he has three right backs and two left backs, plus Kieran Trippier, it is because England have depth and he has explored it. Has there ever been an England group as strong as this? Not for many years.
In 1996, across five European Championship games, Terry Venables started 12 players. Nine were constant, while Paul Ince and Gary Neville missed a match through suspension. On both occasions, his answer was to play David Platt.
Not one change was made to the starting XI when England went to extra time and penalties before losing to Germany in the semi-final and on three occasions in the previous four matches Venables used Steve Stone as a substitute.
Good player, Stone. Would he get in this squad? Probably not. The disappointments of previous decades have given this country a fear of golden labels. It is preferred to pretend the secret is emotional bonds, the creation of a band of brothers, rather than a band of exceptional footballers. And, yes, spirit is important, too.
England’s ‘B team’ would comprise talent of the likes of Ben Chilwell and Jude Bellingham
Southgate has worked exceptionally hard on forging it, on banishing the cliques and distrust that has poisoned previous dressing rooms.
Yet it is disingenuous if we do not concede that, yes, there is also a certain glow.
There are regulars from previous tournaments who would not make a long list in certain positions now, and bit-part players today who would cruise into the starting line-up from competitions past.
An XI of players who have started no more than two games at the Euros would read: Johnstone; James, Mings, Coady, Chilwell; Henderson, Bellingham; Grealish, Foden, Sancho; Rashford.
And that doesn’t find room for Trippier –— or those, like Trent Alexander-Arnold, Nick Pope and Mason Greenwood, that misadventure has left behind. Does that make this a golden generation?
Deny away, but you’ve got to admit it’s a damn fine start.
Penalty? Who cares..
Having now had the opportunity to watch England’s extra-time penalty from a variety of angles, my considered verdict is: who cares? Not because England got the benefit of the call but because it was one of those decisions to which the phrase ‘seen them given’ applies.
Seen them given for England, seen them given against. Seen them given for just about every club, seen them given against. So nothing to lose sleep over, either way.
If Danny Makkelie thought it was a penalty and nobody in the VAR booth vehemently disagreed, it’s a penalty. Had he waved play on, that would have been acceptable, too. It was not so clear in either direction. The best team won, though, I do know that.
P.S. You may also hear that play should have been stopped because there were two balls on the pitch. This is wrong.
Sterling’s penalty was checked by VAR and the rules state the second ball did not interfere
Law 5 (Outside Interference) specifically states: ‘an extra ball, other object or animal enters the field of play during the match, the referee must stop play and restart with a dropped ball only if it interferes with play’.
Makkelie clearly believed the second ball was not interfering, so allowed the move to continue.
Anyone who says the game should have been stopped, therefore, doesn’t know the rules. And think about it: if a game was halted simply because a second ball came on, an unscrupulous coach or substitute could introduce one to break up play or stop a move.
Famously, as manager of Gremio and Palmeiras in Brazil, Luiz Felipe Scolari would use this as a disrupting tactic.
It has also been suggested he deployed burly security men as ball boys to facilitate it. That is why stopping play is at the discretion of match officials.
Wonderful how a little success can make patriotic Englishmen of us all.
On two occasions recording the Game On podcast this week, Alan McInally referred to England as ‘we’.
We’ll get Graeme Souness yet, don’t you worry.
And now a little game called Imagine if Italy were England. What would everybody be saying?
That they beat a poor Turkish team, an ordinary Welsh team whose stars are past their best and a Switzerland team ranked two places lower than Mexico, all at home, to qualify from the group stage.
That they were outplayed by Austria and needed extra time to scrape through the round of 16.
That they beat a Belgium side that always disappoints in tournaments, that has an aging defence, that had a half-fit Kevin De Bruyne and was without Eden Hazard. That Italy were outplayed by Spain in the semi-final and were very fortunate to win on penalties.
If Italy were viewed like England, their victory over Turkey would be seen as routine
And that their run of 33 games unbeaten is nothing special and includes victories over Finland (twice), Liechtenstein (twice), United States, Bosnia-Herzegovina (four times), Armenia (twice), Moldova, Estonia, Northern Ireland, Lithuania and San Marino.
Indeed, the sequence only includes five matches against recognised football powers and the results from those games are three draws (versus Portugal, Holland and Spain) and two wins by tight margins (1-0 v Holland, 2-1 v Belgium).
It would all be nonsense, of course. Italy are a very good team, deserved finalists, and fancied by many to lift the trophy.
The point being, any achievement by any nation can be picked to pieces if negative souls are malevolently inclined. It still surprises that so many are.
Like England, Italy have clicked together and find themselves worthy finalists at Euro 2020
Crying shame if trolls pile in
A piece of footage has gone viral showing Mason Mount giving his England shirt to a little red-haired girl, who is instantly overcome with emotion, bursts into tears and falls into the arms of her father.
Belle, 10 – at least that’s what it says on her England top – can now expect a pile on from the usual social media gurus telling her she can’t handle the pressure and needs to toughen up if she’s to achieve anything at these Euros.
England should be wary of Johnson’s tactics
The one downer on an otherwise fabulous night for English football was seeing Boris Johnson in his England shirt trying to further his popularity by association.
He initially hung the players out to dry over taking the knee and his former Health Secretary, the utterly discredited Matt Hancock, began the pandemic calling for footballers – but no other workers or high-earners – to take a pay cut.
The Prime Minister was busy at Wembley trying to further his popularity by association
Having subsequently seen government positions and largesse awarded to his aide-mistress Gina Coladangelo and assorted cronies we at least now have a better idea of Hancock’s own standards regarding financial fair play.
England’s players may wish to judge accordingly, and keep their newest admirers at arm’s length.
Honours for Gareth?
Roy Hodgson oversaw England’s worst World Cup finals campaign since 1950 and a European Championship defeat by Iceland. He was given a CBE – a superior honour to Bobby Moore, Bob Paisley, Bill Shankly or Gary Lineker.
So, heaven knows what they will award Gareth Southgate if he becomes the first tournament winner since Sir Alf Ramsey.
Harry Windsor, so keen to find freedom away from the trappings of royalty – all bar the money – could barely wait to flee this country and return to his Californian millionaire’s playground last week.
Might Duke of Sussex soon be on the market? Not a million miles from Crystal Palace, either.
Former England boss Roy Hodgson was bestowed with the high honour of a CBE
Attention to detail is what makes Mancini so impressive
On the Italian television show Le Lene, guests are invited to describe themselves in one word. When it came to Roberto Mancini’s turn, he chose ‘genius’. And, it could be argued, he is.
He took an Italian side that had failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and turned them into deserved European Championship finalists.
And he did it the usual way; by throwing himself into the job unconditionally. Some international managers see a stepping stone to a lucrative club post.
Sven Goran Eriksson was always batting his eyelashes at Manchester United or Chelsea. The newspaper sting that caught him out was with a supposed future owner of Aston Villa. Eriksson took the meeting, just the same.
Roberto Mancini is meticulous in his preparation and has transformed the Italian team
Yet Mancini has never given the impression he is working towards anything more than the greater glory of the national side. He has now extended his contract until the World Cup finals in 2026.
The commitment should not surprise. Mancini’s eye for detail was always impressive. During his time with Manchester City, he took against the city centre hotel the team stayed in before home matches. So the venue agreed to make changes.
They met Mancini’s specifications which were not easy. Walls were knocked down. Areas reshaped. Finally, the work was complete. Mancini changed hotels anyway.
He has always been a strong leader. David Platt recalls rooming with him as players at Sampdoria and finding Mancini sat at a table with a large exercise book and coloured pencils.
He said he needed help on a project. Platt asked its nature. Mancini said he was designing the new kit. That is how highly he was regarded. Sampdoria simply took Mancini’s ideas of what the colours should be, then sent them off to the manufacturers.
His Italian team will have no less attention devoted to it. Mancini is a phenomenal presence.
Get over host advantage
Only in England could there be a backlash against matches taking place at Wembley. Yes, it is an advantage to have staged games at home.
Just as it was for Uruguay in 1930, Italy in 1934, Spain in 1964, England in 1966, Italy in 1968, West Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978, France in 1984 and France in 1998.
It’s called host status. Get over it.
England have an advantage at Wembley but that always comes with being a host nation
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