'That's what I think of your Golden Generation.'
So, sports car or saloon? It’s a bizarre question, of course it is, but should give us pause for thought. In some ways it’s inkeeping with many a reaction to an England squad announcement, seeking to give a competitive style to the national side without pausing to consider the fact that whatever the answer, it was still a being attributed to a Vauxhall.
Some old institutions — Luton’s premier carmakers probably included — end up being too established to simply start again from scratch in the hope of a better, brighter future. When you get to that point you have to reinvent a bit, which as it happens is precisely the fate of this metaphor as I don’t have the foggiest fucking idea about cars, car parts or Vauxhall Motors, even if one of those things used to be in the Conference.
But anyway. The point is progression. And this England squad – provided they’re not asked to do any defending – is one of the more progressive. And, as no lesser a straw-clutcher than Adam Bushby has said, “a 4-3-3 with Gerrard our deepest player, Hendo and Wilshire either side and Sturridge, Rooney and Sterling up top is pretty exciting isn't it”.
Well, yes. It could be. What’s more, this England World Cup squad doesn’t include a specialist DM a la Barry, Butt or Batty (with the former perhaps slightly unlucky not to be included). There’s no space for Carrick. It’s progressive in that there are new options, certainly. Whether those options are included in the starting XIs is another matter.
If, as Roy Bushby suggests, a young squad is sent out to play at pace, certainly going forward, it’ll be trying to do so in some significant heat. Englishmen aren’t particularly good at that, admittedly, but those still living vicariously through these young players’ emergence in the Premier League believe it to be possible. The truth is that no one knows. Only six players of the squad have been to the World Cup before. It’s the youngest group since 1966 *lays fact gently down, tiptoes away*
This uncertainty is actually the most refreshing thing. The doom and gloom has sort of gone, but it’s been replaced by nerves and, whisper it, excitement – which, if anyone can remember back to 1998 or thereabouts, is actually how it’s supposed to feel before a World Cup. Now that the squad’s there for everyone to see, but with a few weeks to watch, we’ve got the stomach-churning sensation when you book long-haul flights for a load of money, or, to put it in Magic Spongers parlance, when you’ve snuck an onion into your mates’ apple pie and, because he’s such a shit chef, you’re not sure if it’s going to make things a whole lot better or a whole lot worse.
People are thinking guilty, attacking-prowess-based thoughts about this England team for the first time in ages, which will make it all the more disappointing/funny, depending on how cynical you are, when we retreat to the edge of our penalty box against the Italians after 10 minutes because it’s ‘too hot’.
The comparison with France ’98 also gains kudos as it is the last time we had the emergence of a world-class-looking teenager. Remember Michael Owen, kids? Well before he started melting ears as a pundit, he was a bloody exciting footballer. Enter stage left, Raheem Sterling, and genuine belief that England has a superstar in waiting again, after a long old wait. And that Ross Barkley looks good, doesn’t he.
Sometimes all we can do is look back to look forward. One key difference between this England squad and that one in ’98, for example, is that Chris Evans seems to have finally fucked off, so there shouldn’t be any photos of Wayne Rooney stumbling out of a kebab shop at 2am surfacing a month before the tournament starts.
Fast forward to South Africa, instead, and a cursory glance at the 2010 World Cup squad is enough to realise that leaps have been made in the right direction. That one, a ‘yeah, so what’ kind of squad, hardly compares to 2014’s ‘it’s alright that, isn’t it?’. Which is what exactly what you think when you look at that ’98 squad. And for the first time in these two 30-year-old editors’ lives, the Golden Generation that so blighted our youth has all but been put out to pasture. That can only be a good thing.
Like we said, there’s ‘uncertainty’. There’s excitement. There’s Italy and Uruguay in our group. This could be fun.