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Golden generation

Remembering England’s incredibly talented midfield of 2004 and why it failed miserably

The Three Lions headed into Euro 2004 with arguably the most talented midfield in the world but it just didn't work

Enough words have written about England’s not-so-golden ‘Golden Generation’ already.

But we’re torturing ourselves once more because the frustration still keeps us awake during the long and lonely winter nights.

This photo makes us happy and sad at the same time

Getty Images
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This photo makes us happy and sad at the same time

In defence we were solid and with a young Wayne Rooney partnering the ever-sharp Michael Owen, we didn’t have a problem up top.

The problem area was midfield which is curious considering we pretty much had ALL THE BEST MIDFIELDERS IN THE WORLD!

Before we delve into why it didn’t work let’s take a look at the credentials of our protagonists…

David Beckham

David Beckham is one icon Southgate wants to use

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FUN FACT: Beckham was born at Whipps Cross hospital

England’s captain was the best crosser and free-kick taker in the world at the time.

He wouldn’t skin his man down the outside that often but he didn’t need to; his delivery did all the work.

A talismanic figure who inspired those around him.

Steven Gerrard

Fast-forward a year and Stevie G inspired the greatest comeback in Champions League history

Epa
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Fast-forward a year and Stevie G inspired the greatest comeback in Champions League history

The Liverpudlian box-to-box dynamo that would see a game that needs winning and grab it by the scruff of the neck.

His long-range shooting was a handy bonus but back in 2004 his main attribute was his omnipresence.

“Gerrard wins the ball back, plays a long pass to Gerrard, who whips in a cross for Gerrard at the near post…”

Frank Lampard

Yep, we had the all-time Premier League top scoring midfielder as well

EPA
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Yep, we had the all-time Premier League top scoring midfielder as well

Name a better goalscoring midfield… we dare you.

His trademark late arrival in the box often coincided with the final ball and more often than not that meant goal time.

A forward’s knack for scoring with a midfielder’s sense of positioning; a combination that served him well in over 1000 career games.

Paul Scholes

Just the 11 league titles for Scholesy

Offside Sports Photography
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Just the 11 league titles for Scholesy

Arguably the best of the lot.

Xavi and Lionel Messi have revealed that Barcelona’s La Masia academy use Scholes as an example of perfect technique when teaching the next generation.

He couldn’t tackle to save his life but his passing, shooting and heading were all of the highest standard.

How about the rest?

The reserve options weren’t bad either

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The reserve options weren’t bad either

The other four midfielders in the squad consisted of Class of 92 member Nicky Butt, consistent performer Owen Hargreaves, immensely talented Joe Cole and the mercurial Kieron Dyer.

Cole in particular represented a good option in reserve given that the following season he starred for a record-breaking Chelsea team.

Gerrard once proclaimed ‘anything Messi can do, Joe Cole can do as well, if not better’ which is obviously ludicrous but says a lot about how Cole was regarded among his peers.

Why didn’t it work?

Sven midway through his best Ulrika story

Times Newspapers Ltd
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Sven midway through his best Ulrika story

First and foremost we have to address the fact that Scholes was made to play as a left-winger.

Shifting the ginger maestro wide negated all his best qualities and limited how much he could dictate the game’s tempo.

Only years later has it become apparent that Scholes should have been the first name on the team sheet in centre-midfield.

England were tormented for years due to their lack of quality left-wingers and the Man United legend was the unfortunate sacrificial lamb.

The Gerrard/Lampard problem

This should have been a world-beating partnership

News Group Newspapers Ltd
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This should have been a world-beating partnership

In the days of 4-4-2 England’s two world-class centre-mids failed to live up to their billing.

There much was much debate over who should be the more advanced of the two and both seemed confused about their roles.

In hindsight a different formation may have provided the solution but it would have been bold of Sven-Goran Eriksson to ditch the tactical approach that saw finish top of their qualifying group undefeated.

Right ingredients, wrong recipe

Check out the brains trust over here…

PA:Press Association
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Check out the brains trust over here…

However, the relative failure must be down to the manager.

Eriksson had a wealth of resources and was backed by the FA for three tournaments but a hat-trick of quarter-finals was an ultimately underwhelming end product.

Simply selecting the four best midfielders and hoping they’d fall into place was a naive approach.

All these years later England fans can only ponder what might have been…

Remembering England football team's 'Golden Generation'