England team still the Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard show
Hodgson picked a young World Cup squad, but why retain remnants of the Golden Generation?
NO ONE gives England a chance in Brazil. What a relief. In the early years of the World Cup England didn't bother to send a team. Well, what was the point? There was nothing those Johnny Foreigners could teach the English – the inventers of the game – about football. When the FA did finally deign to send a squad, in 1950, we were humiliated by little 'ol America, losing 1-0, the goal scored by Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian dish-washer who years later was murdered on the orders of his country's dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier.
Though the Three Lions triumphed 16 years later, when we hosted the tournament for the one and only time, our World Cup record since has been a tale of sorry failure. But that never stopped the more pie-eyed sections of the press pumping up the public's hopes in the weeks leading up to World Cups. Remember 1998 and 2002? How about the 'Golden Generation' of 2006? Or what about four years ago, when Wayne Rooney was going to strike gold in South Africa but ended up telling a camera what he thought of the fans?
This time around even the tabloids have realised we haven't a hope in Brazil. There's the weather, of course. The insufferable South American heat one reason no European country has won the World Cup in the four previous occasions it's been staged in that neck of the woods.
But humidity apart, England just haven't the players to seriously challenge the best in the world, no great surprise when between them on Sunday, the starting XIs of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal contained just four Englishmen.
The 23-man squad announced by Roy Hodgson on Monday is notable for its youth, and for that the England manager is to be praised. The 18-year-old Luke Shaw has been preferred to the 33-year-old Ashley Cole, and there is no place for Michael Carrick of Manchester United. Hodgson has picked Frank Lampard, who turns 36 during the tournament, but the Chelsea midfielder is likely to start most games on the substitutes' bench, coming on for the final 20 minutes to add his experience.
Lampard, Carrick and Cole, along with Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney - who are included in the squad, were all members of the so-called Golden Generation, those gifted players who a decade ago were billed as the boys to bring home the World Cup. In truth they were nothing like golden, as successive failures in World Cups and European Championships demonstrated. Yet still they were selected. Gerrard, Cole and Lampard have over 300 caps between them but nothing to show in the way of winners' medals. They should have been ditched a long time ago but Hodgson's predecessors, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, were weak managers who, at times, seemed almost in thrall to the players' celebrity status.
In England's two other national sports, cricket and rugby union, coaches have never been afraid to drop players if they lost form. Jonny Wilkinson and Kevin Pietersen, two greats of their respective sports, were both omitted from England squads at the height of their careers but that has never happened to Lampard, Gerrard or Rooney.
It's ten years since Rooney last impressed at a major international tournament – the 2004 European Championships in Portugal. Who knows, but for his foot injury midway through the first half of the quarter-final against Portugal, he might even have inspired England to ultimate triumph rather than yet another last eight exit. In the decade since England fans have been waiting for the Manchester striker to scale such heights again, but he never has, just tantalised us with the occasional glimpse of brilliance.
Perhaps in Brazil, with the expectation low and the pressure off, Rooney will rediscover his world-class spark. Then again, perhaps it will be Rickie Lambert, one of three Southampton players in the squad who proves England's unlikely hero. Why not? In 1966 an inexperienced rookie called Geoff Hurst was expected to play second fiddle to Jimmy Greaves, and we all know what happened next.