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Last Updated: Friday, 23 November 2007, 07:52 GMT
Time up for the 'golden generation'
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Steven Gerrard
There will be question marks over many of the squad as England move forward, including some of the most established names

The Football Association has apologised. England's football has taken its place on the margins of the game's elite.

The next question is simple - what will become of England's so-called "Golden Generation" that has turned out to be little more than a cheap imitation?

This was the most talented group of England players in 40 years. It must have been - they told us often enough.

Not any more.

They will be remembered as an unloved, under-achieving group who failed to deliver the success they and their undoubted talents promised.

England will watch Euro 2008 from the safety of home, and attention must focus on finding a new leader and then qualifying for the next World Cup in South Africa.

The first task for Steve McClaren's successor is to conduct a fingertip search of all the flaws in his predecessor's regime and then work out who he will take with him on the journey to 2010.


In what is an admittedly flimsy defence for McClaren, he could rightly claim injuries undermined his reign.

He lost key players at crucial times. Indeed against Croatia he was without his entire first-choice defence and attack - a tough task for any coach.

But this cannot cover up the inadequacies that made him a poor choice or his demise sadly inevitable.

Ben Foster
Micah Richards
John Terry
Rio Ferdinand
Leighton Baines
David Bentley
Steven Gerrard
Michael Johnson
Joe Cole
Wayne Rooney
Theo Walcott

There will be question marks over many of the squad as England move forward, including some of the most established names.

David Beckham, one of the few successes against Croatia, must never be used as the default option again. His time has gone and we thank him for it.

England, however, cannot simply cast aside a huge chunk of the current squad as a job lot because the players coming through may not be enough to see them safely through the next campaign.

There are concerns though, with Frank Lampard touching 32 by the time of the next World Cup, Steven Gerrard 30 and John Terry an injury-ravaged 29. Rio Ferdinand will be 31. And Sol Campbell's day is now surely done.

England will rely on Lampard, Gerrard, Ferdinand and Terry in the short-term, but they must hope they keep form and fitness for another three years.


The goalkeeping cupboard is threadbare, with Paul Robinson shell-shocked and David James presumably at the end of his England career.

Scott Carson is a gifted keeper, but what mental scars have been inflicted by his error against Croatia?

West Ham's Robert Green has been outstanding this season, but England's best hope may lie in a full recovery from a knee injury for Manchester United's Ben Foster.


Gary Neville is unlikely to figure again, while his brother Phil's England career must also now be a thing of the past.

Theo Walcott
Theo Walcott was taken to the 2006 World Cup at the age of 17

In the full-back positions, Manchester City's Micah Richards is an outstanding talent on the right side who can also play in the centre.

Joleon Lescott's time will come again, despite a nervy international introduction.

Everton's Leighton Baines must be a candidate on the other flank, especially with Ashley Cole struggling for top form and Wayne Bridge suffering the mother and father of all nightmares against Croatia.


Joe Cole has done more than enough to be retained, while Aston Villa's Ashley Young and Spurs' winger Aaron Lennon can now push to the fore and pressurise the disappointing Shaun Wright-Phillips.

Blackburn's David Bentley bursts with confidence and ability. He should emerge as a key figure. Manchester City's Michael Johnson is also rich in promise.


And then we have Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor and Everton youngster James Vaughan, both real talents and further proof that England does have reserves of young players with ability.

Michael Owen is another whose long-term England future is questionable. The hunger is there, the spirit is willing but the flesh is increasingly weak.

Wayne Rooney, as ever, will have the hopes and ambitions of the nation at his feet in the years ahead.


It could be time for Theo Walcott to be given his head after his mystifying call-up to the 2006 World Cup, at least a year too soon.

England would also be helped by Jermain Defoe getting regular football at Spurs - which brings us on neatly to another burning question about the demise of the game in this country and the so-called dearth of talent.


Fifa president Sepp Blatter wants clubs to be limited to a quota of foreign players, which many believe would unblock the path to young England talent coming through.

This was backed by Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, support that was rich in comic irony.

If Gerrard is so keen to stop young Englishmen being blocked by mediocre foreign talent, the first thing he should do is burst into boss Rafael Benitez's office on Friday and warn him off bringing in any more of the imported also-rans he has inflicted on Anfield in recent times.

The quota issue, however, is too much of a red herring. There is much more to the equation than this.

England's players have ability, but this whole campaign has been a mess of mixed-up selection and tactics.

It is the job of the next coach to put all the right pieces in place and cast aside those who have given their best but may now be past their peak.

This is a difficult balancing act, but must be achieved if England are not to revisit their current humiliation.

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