For around a decade, the press said that the England side was part of a ‘Golden Generation’ and amongst the most talented teams that this country has ever produced. Regularly mentioned in the same breath as the England World Cup Winners in 1966 which still remains England’s sole international honour, a lot was expected from the England team in both European Championships and World Cups between 2002 and 2010. However, during this period England regularly underachieved, not going past the quarter-finals in any of the tournaments and even having the embarrassing honour of not even qualifying for the Euros in 2008. Since Fabio Capello’s appointment as head coach, he has been slowly trying to move away from the focus of these so called players and instead aim to blood in younger hungry players showing promise. After three years, it seems that this focus has certainly shifted to this and with much success.
The beginning of Capello’s reign in December 2007 was fairly difficult. Already eliminated for Euro 2008, the England team were relying heavily on the same players and the squad needed some freshening up. The huge reluctance to avoid playing Gerrard and Lampard together in the centre of the park and playing David Beckham on the right was one of the main problems that the manager faced. Capello’s first observation was that the players played with fear and he publically said that this was because of the huge expectation of the fans. Making himself an obvious target with his comments with his lack of coherent English, this ensured that he was going to be criticised early on. This is probably one of the main reasons why the supporters did not take to him immediately.
The first thing Capello did in terms of the shape of the side was to have a more defensive minded midfielder who played alongside Lampard in Gareth Barry and then he gave Steven Gerrard a free role, coming in from the left. With Wayne Rooney being England’s most talented player, a lot was done to ensure that he was able to express himself as much as possible and get the ball regularly in order to influence games and improve his fairly disappointing goalscoring record for the Three Lions. The first striker to provide this foil was Emile Heskey. Other players such a Peter Crouch scored regularly for England, (22 goals in 42 games) however, being unable to get the best out of Rooney and being less effective against the bigger sides ensured that he was not a regular in the side and now the squad. The most recent forward to play alongside Rooney has been Darren Bent though his presence alongside him at the Euros in up for debate due to Rooney’s suspension for the first two games.
England have participated in only the World Cup in 2010 during Capello’s reign. Having already announced that the Euros in 2012 will be his final tournament, he can only really be judged on the performance in South Africa which was hugely disappointing. Draws against the USA, Algeria and an unconvincing 1-0 win against Slovenia meant that England qualified as runners-up from their group before Germany inflicted England’s heaviest defeat in a World-Cup when they thrashed them 4-1. With Germany playing one of their youngest teams in a World-Cup Final, this led supporters to question where the young talent was coming from in comparison to other leading international teams. Capello was extremely close to leaving his post as a result of the shambolic performance at the World Cup, however unusually, he was given another chance by the FA until 2012 to put things right. A lot of speculation suggested that one of the main reasons why he managed to survive was that his high wages and long-term contract meant that sacking him would have been too dear for the FA.
This year, since the World Cup Finals, England have made a lot of progress. In nine games, England have remained unbeaten with six wins including victory against the reigning World and European Champions in Spain. England even managed to beat their nemesis in Sweden for the first time since 1968. More importantly, Capello has been able to blood in a lot of promising young players in 2011. Most notably Jack Wilshere, who has managed to dislodge Frank Lampard at the heart of the midfield. Also; Joe Hart has made the number one position in goal his own, defenders Gary Cahill and Phil Jageilka have managed to get regular games in defence due to Rio Ferdinand’s ongoing injury problems and Scott Parker with his good season for West Ham last season has make himself first choice as a defensive midfielder at the expense of Gareth Barry. Though the England Under 21 side had an early exit at the championships in June this year, players such as Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker, Jack Rodwell Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck have been able to break into the senior side in the autumn with success.
With England’s accomplishments this year, which included a very strong finish in terms of results, this has led to a lot of optimism about the potential of the current squad especially for the Euros in Poland and Ukraine. Though there has been a marked improvement in the spirit and the recent results of the team, making bold assumptions and putting pressure on this young side before a major tournament (again!) would not be the wisest thing to do. What needs to happen is more trust in the nurturing of these young players. The Euros next year is likely to be too early for this England side. Gradual improvement with further game time for these younger players in order to build a new spine should be the next aim over the next few years.