If there were ever a moment that summed up the collective opinion of the England football team, it came just minutes after their shock Euro 2016 defeat to Iceland, in the BT Sports studio. Where a glum faced Gary Lineker tried to extract a reasonable explanation of what had happened from Alan Shearer, Rio Ferdinand, and Jermaine Jenas.
“That was the worst performance I have ever seen from an England team, ever!” said Shearer, who looked genuinely upset by what he had just witnessed.
“We were out-fought, we were out-thought, we were out-battled, and we were totally hopeless” he added.
Ferdinand agreed with Shearer before chipping in with a few of his own adjectives. “Embarrassing” “Tactically inept”.
Watching these ex-internationals cut into the younger generation, it’s was easy to let your mind drift back to the glory days of the 2000s, when the so called ‘golden generation’ graced the pitch, effortlessly carrying the hopes of a nation on their shoulders. Beckham’s iconic haircuts, Rio’s white suit, prime Rooney, a world-beater in every position.
Except, it wasn’t like that at all.
For all their pride, the golden generation struggled to find their feet at pretty much every World Cup and European Championships that they attended. They failed to put aside their domestic rivalries, and often let their performance levels drop as soon as they switched their reds and blues for the whites of England.
They were icons, but they was little to like about them. And each time they returned home following another underwhelming tournament performance, it was hard to justify the Lamborghinis, and the £100,000 weekly salaries.
When Roy Hodgson’s side crashed out of Euro 2016, it was time to start over. The optimism had finally died. They had been running on fumes, but it was the generation that preceded them that had burned through most of the gas.
It seems only fitting that Gareth Southgate’s new-look England team should arrive at a time of unbridled social change. Out of Brexit, growing class divides, and an ever expanding political spectrum, has come a team of normal lads who seem to enjoy playing football.
Yes, they’re making extraordinary sums of money, and yes, they probably drive flash cars. But they’re not the same as the previous generation. Marcus Rashford doesn’t want his own TV show. He wants to eat spaghetti on toast while he’s chatting to Jesse Lingard on Xbox live. Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling, Eric Dier, and the rest of England’s youngsters have a similar demeanour. Even new captain Harry Kane looks like he’d be more comfortable captaining a student quiz team.
They’re a team of unburdened players. Excited, hopeful, and keen to see what they can bring to the ultimate stage.
They’re not playing for England, they’re playing for themselves, and they’re oddly likeable.
Unlike Brazil, Germany, or Argentina, England are yet to find out who they are, and this has led to low expectations from fans and experts back home. But rather than viewing this as a negative, Gareth Southgate and his squad, in their own little World Cup bubble, have every reason to be optimistic. The young fringe players, the experimental tactics – it’s world’s away from the days of Ferdinand, Beckham, Lampard, and Gerrard, and fans should be grateful for that. England may be lacking in star power, but a team of hard working players from different backgrounds is a team worth celebrating. Who knows how far they can go.