English defenders are like buses. You wait ages for one to arrive and then two turn up at once.
Even better, under Sven-Goran Eriksson, nine turned up. Nine genuinely classy centre-backs all eligible to play for England at the same time.
Throw in a midfield of David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes, as well as Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney up front, and it all looked pretty rosy.
Remember all those trophies we won during that glorious period? Oh, wait.
But let’s not get caught up in the glorious failure of England’s golden generation. Let’s just appreciate a time when we were producing centre-backs quicker than you could say snap election.
We’ve worked through every centre-back partnership used under Sven from June 2003, when John Terry earned his first international cap.
(We’ve not counted Zat Knight’s two caps or Anthony Gardner’s one appearance, because we’re still not entirely sure how they got called up.)
Rio Ferdinand and John Terry (15 games together)
Sven’s first-choice partnership of Ferdinand and Terry was disrupted thanks to an eight-month ban imposed on the Man United defender in 2004.
The chalk and cheese approach of Terry’s ruggedness and Ferdinand’s ability to play out from the back made them arguably the finest partnership in world football.
During the 2006 World Cup, which turned out to be Sven’s last games with England, they only conceded two goals in five games but were let down by a faltering attack.
Sol Campbell and John Terry (8 games together)
When bans or injuries ruled Ferdinand out of international action it fell to Campbell to partner Terry in the heart of England’s back four.
Campbell became the first player to have appeared at six consecutive international tournaments for England when he replaced Ferdinand against Sweden during the 2006 World Cup.
While not possessing the same level of technical ability as Ferdinand Campbell’s sheer power and athletic ability made him an attacker’s nightmare.
Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell (4 games together)
Prior to Terry’s arrival on the international scene Campbell and Ferdinand were very much first choice.
But they were limited to just four appearances together under Sven during the Terry era as Campbell was relegated to third choice.
Their finest moment came in shutting out Craig Bellamy, Ryan Giggs, Gary Speed and John Hartson during a 2-0 win against Wales during Euro 2004 qualification.
John Terry and Ledley King (4 games together)
King’s ability was such that he often played defensive midfielder for England, shielding Sven’s other combinations of back four.
When he was playing in the centre of defence, more often than not he was paired with Terry, as was the case when the pair pocketed Andriy Shevchenko in a 3-0 win against Ukraine.
King’s knee problems limited his training to once a week, but he never looked out of place on the international scene, whoever was partnering him.
John Terry and Matthew Upson (4 games together)
Upson is something of a forgotten man at international level, despite pulling on an England shirt 21 times.
His most consistent partner was Terry, with the pair combining for a pleasing, if slow, right foot/left foot partnership on four different occasions.
Upson was actually Terry’s first partner at international level, with the pair playing together during the Chelsea man’s debut- a 2-1 win against Serbia and Montenegro.
Gareth Southgate and Matthew Upson (2 games together)
Who did Terry replace on his international debut? None other than current England gaffer Southgate.
For 45 minutes Southgate had partnered Upson, a combination that was repeated when England beat Slovakia 2-1 eight days late.
Southgate retired from international duty shortly after, allowing the next wave of defenders to come through.
Sol Campbell and Ledley King (2 games together)
More often than not King was shielding Campbell from midfield.
But the pair did step out in the centre of defence on two occasions.
One of those appearances- a 1-1 draw against Japan ahead of the 2004 European Championships- only lasted two minutes, but they all count.
Jamie Carragher and Rio Ferdinand (2 games together)
As with King, Carragher’s versatility meant that many of his caps came at full-back rather than centre-back.
It was probably for the best, judging by the 4-1 loss inflicted by Denmark on 17 August 2005.
Carragher came off the bench to replace John Terry at half-time, with the score at 0-0, at which point Denmark proceeded to run wild.
Their other appearance together in the centre of defence? A 1-0 loss to Northern Ireland.
Ledley King and Gareth Southgate (1 game together)
Portugal’s golden generation were fast fading when they came up against Southgate and King in February 2004.
The latter scored but couldn’t keep out Pauleta in a 1-1 draw. Honours even.
Jonathan Woodgate and John Terry (1 game together)
It doesn’t get more English than a centre-back combo of Jon and John, as was the case when Terry partnered Woodgate against Sweden in March 2004.
Woodgate only lasted 45 minutes before being replaced by Anthony Gardner. Six minutes later England were Zlatan Ibrahimoviched.
Ledley King and Jamie Carragher (1 game together)
The meeting of the Mr. Versatiles.
Their only partnership in the middle of defence came during a 6-1 win against Iceland.
It was actually a tougher test than it sounded, with Eidur Gudjohnsen partnering goalscorer Heidar Helguson up front, hence the lack of clean sheet.
Sol Campbell and Jamie Carragher (1 game together)
That 6-1 win against Iceland started with a partnership of Campbell and Carragher.
Campbell was replaced at half-time, by which point Helguson had already scored for Iceland.
Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King (1 game together)
King partnered Terry during a 2-1 win against Uruguay in 2006, coming on for Terry at half-time.
Peter Crouch scored his first game for England but it took a 90th minute goal from Joe Cole to get Sven’s side over the line.
Wes Brown and Jamie Carragher (1 game together)
Don’t think Wes Brown is classy? Tell that to the five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, Football League Cup and two Champions League trophies he’s won.
Brown and Carragher kept a Holland side featuring Roy Makaay and Rafael van der Vaart out in 2005 during a 0-0 bore draw.
Wes Brown and Sol Campbell (1 game together)
And so we reach the end. It’s been a long journey through the golden age of England centre-backs.
There’s no better way to end than on Brown’s other partnership, with big Sol, during a truly mental game.
England beat USA 2-1, Kieran Richardson scored twice and no one really knew what was going on. A perfect time to hand Zat Knight his England debut.
- Germany hire Sam Allardyce as UEFA Nations League relegation scrap hots up
- England cult heroes have made supporting the Three Lions fun again
- Eric Dier to be knighted following his tackle on Sergio Ramos
WATCH: Love of the Game – Part 2