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5 reasons why England's Golden Generation failed in the big stage

With a line-up like that, expectations are bound to be high
With a line-up like that, expectations are bound to be high

England won the FIFA World Cup in 1966 and have tried to replicate that fantastic feat over the last few decades, but it has not happened. The period between 2001 and 2010 was when the fans believed the team could end the drought. A group of players had stepped up like no other. England seemed to have some of the best players in the world.

The England football team was littered with world-class stars who were doing extremely well in the Premier League and Champions League. This was a time when English clubs were extremely dominant in Europe. Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea formed the big four in England. Their players also made up most of the England team during that period.

However, things did not click. The Golden Generation could not achieve the things they were tipped to achieve. Having the amount of quality and talent in the side did not come to much use as they did not rise to the glory that was expected from them. This was a team riddled with star power, but they did not take advantage of it.

But why did they not go on to achieve the success that they should have? There are a variety of factors.


5. Heightened expectations

England's golden generation could not handle the weight of expectation
England's golden generation could not handle the weight of expectation

When the core of the England team was established, many people thought that these were the players to bring back the glory days to the Home of Football. Stars like Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney had a tremendous amount of support and expectation to do something in the major tournaments.

The English media can get into a player's head and affect his performance. The degree to which England is constantly hyped up by the media is matched by the criticism they show after an unsuccessful tournament.

The weight of expectations of an entire nation and lots of fans elsewhere is too heavy to carry for even the best players in the world. The nerves may be too much to overcome.

They feel pressured and unsafe from their media. It is difficult to do so well with the prospect of fans turning on you looming over your head. England have always done exquisitely well in the qualifying stages of international tournaments but falter on the grand stage.

The biggest evidence of this is the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Wayne Rooney had an excellent qualifying campaign where he was one of the top scorers. He failed to score a single goal in the World Cup.


4. Bad luck during penalties

England have suffered multiple times in penalty shootouts
England have suffered multiple times in penalty shootouts

Penalty shootouts are a lottery and a deal of luck, with a mix of calmness and experience. This has been England's Achilles heel in the past. Right at the core of the Golden Generation era, they were knocked out of two consecutive tournaments in the quarter-finals against Portugal. Both of them were on penalties.

The 2004 European Championship saw David Beckham miss a couple of penalties against France and Portugal. An intense 2-2 draw against the hosts produced a spirited performance from the Three Lions, but some poor penalty-taking undid them. Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo scored the winning penalty to dump England out. History repeated itself two years later, as even more poor penalties hurt England.

Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and the rest have had no problem in stepping up in high-pressure situations with their clubs. The laundry list of club trophies won by all the players in the squad just shows that they should be able to step up. However, the occasion may have gotten to them and favoured the Portuguese once again.

Wayne Rooney got sent off during normal time in the quarter-final, which begs the question of whether England could have sealed the game before the spot-kick disaster.


3. Inability to find a suitable manager

England failed to qualify for Euro 2008
England failed to qualify for Euro 2008

Sven-Göran Eriksson became the England manager in 2002 and led the Three Lions to a quarter-final finish in that year's World Cup. However, that was as high as they would go even with the barrage of players they had at their disposal. He came under fire for his relatively calm approach, failing to inspire his players from the touchline.

The lack of emotion from the Swede was incredibly frustrating for supporters, and he would leave after a third consecutive quarter-final finish in a major tournament in 2006. What happened next was a disaster.

Steve McClaren was tasked to ensure that England would qualify for Euro 2008. With the majority of England's best players about to enter their prime years, the likes of Gerrard, Ferdinand and Lampard knew that this would be the Golden Generation's best opportunity.

They failed to qualify for the tournament outright after a 3-2 defeat to Croatia, in what was a major embarrassment. A team with such great players should be able to qualify without any problem, but England didn't.

The ship was somewhat steadied when Fabio Capello came in and led England to the 2010 World Cup. Again, trying to match the ridiculously high expectations, England failed to deliver. Another reason for the Golden Generation failing was the lack of a manager who could feed all the egos in the team over the period.


2. Massive egos

Too much quality
Too much quality

An overflowing squad of world-class players would obviously have its problems. There were multiple players in every position who could feasibly start for England. The lack of a clear and definitive starting eleven hurt the Three Lions.

John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Jamie Carragher and Sol Campbell were all doing extremely well for their respective clubs. But only two of them could start, Terry and Ferdinand were not able to click together as a centre-back partnership.

England's midfield was similarly stacked, with Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard and Scholes in it. Paul Scholes retired from international duty early because he couldn't break into the England midfield which was occupied by Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. However, the two of them were not able to mesh well together as a unit. Even with the best of players, there has to be some sort of chemistry within them or they are not at all effective.

Another issue was the integration of young blood into a team filled with huge names. The likes of Shaun Wright-Philips, Aaron Lennon and Theo Walcott struggled to break into the team during those 'Golden' years. It was only after the likes of Beckham, Lampard and the others retired did they manage a few appearances.


1. Club rivalries

Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool could not coexist in the same team
Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool could not coexist in the same team

These massive egos have likely stemmed from the biggest factor of the Golden Generation's failure. The players never actually prioritised international football during their intense battles in the top 4 of England. They were so engraved with their clubs that they utterly compromised, and phoned it in with their country. There was always a massive sense of difference and a lack of unity in the England camp.

The Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United players would all sit separately and bond with their group instead of integrating as a team. They were too competitive at club level to form any sort of bond with their rivals.

This became more and more prominent after 2004 when Liverpool finally established themselves as a force in Europe. Every year, except for one, from 2005 till 2012 saw at least one English team reach the Champions League final. Liverpool, United and Chelsea were consistent semi-finalists. But the great form could not translate over to England.

This was a unique problem at the time, as intense competition and rivalry at club level hardly seem to affect international teams. Italy won the World Cup in the same year which Juventus got relegated for match-fixing. Spain had the greatest period in their footballing history from 2008 till 2012, with at least 80% of the team consisting of players from Real Madrid and Barcelona. If they could coexist and succeed together, the English could have as well.

This period will be looked at by many as a missed opportunity to return to the top world football for England. It will be remembered as the period where the best of players decided to prioritise club over country, and the entire footballing nation suffered because of it.

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Edited by Amit Mishra
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