Did the golden generation fulfill their potential?

One annoyingly loveable question surrounding English international campaigns in the Noughties was when were the country’s alleged world-class players going to add up to the sum of their parts? The question must be asked – was too much expected of them or was the problem ineffective management? A look at the individual club records of each would suggest the latter to be true, but can there ever be a decisive answer, as David Beckham, Golden Balls himself, announces his retirement?

Sven-Goran Eriksson got it in the neck for much of his five-year tenure – mainly due to his inability to get Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to play together effectively. I would argue that this problem can only truly be felt by international managers, as had Eriksson been managing the pair at Lazio, for example, he would simply have picked his favourite and sold the other. At international level of course, you are lumbered with the same players, unless a young wildcard emerges from the pack.

The minnows have a different problem entirely, and would love to have a similar problem to England, but the media (and fan) pressure to shoehorn two of England’s best attacking midfielders into the same eleven was undoubtedly, and Eriksson was unable to show the ruthless instinct required to bench one of them. As for who would be the lucky one in that choice, you could literally flip a coin to decide, such important servants they have been for Chelsea and Liverpool respectively.

Instead we had to endure the farce of Gerrard playing long periods for England stranded out on the left, leading to a lopsided line-up. Another regular option has been to have them both in the centre, with one holding and one attacking. With both being box-to-box midfielders to great effect for their clubs, this required a huge amount of discipline, and to be fair, neither complained. Even the likes of Joe Cole struggled with this obsession with 4-4-2.

Fortunately for David Beckham, he had no real competition on the right-wing, with only Shaun Wright-Phillips, and eventually Aaron Lennon emerging to give him a run for his money

For such a key area of the side, with no real destroyer to back them up, aside from the likes of Nicky Butt and (injury-permitting) Owen Hargreaves, Eriksson struggled to get a good balanced central supply to his forward line, over-relying on the poaching abilities of Michael Owen.

Only now that the maddening expectations of old have died down can the likes of Roy Hodgson experiment with different combinations, and finally put the Golden Generation out to pasture. While the current generation might have less individual talent, a more effective unit may yet be forged.