With Golden Generation on the decline, finally England friendlies mean something

by Will ODoherty

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Friendlies like the one England will play against Ghana on Tuesday used to be dismal affairs, with little impact on the overall direction of the national side.

While a first-choice core was given time off to placate club managers, players on the periphery got a chance at a run out that would have had to border on Herculean to warrant inclusion when the game actually meant something.

But as England finally exit the era of the Golden Generation, there is a greater sense that the men who face the Black Stars at Wembley are part of the formulation of England’s next team.

This England side is now freed from the perceived irreplaceability of many of its players.

It is not his personality that makes John Terry’s regaining the captaincy on a permanent basis so regrettable, it is the fact it guarantees his selection when it might not be warranted. Only Ashley Cole and Joe Hart stand out as totally deserving automatic selection.

But the fact the armband has been taken away from Rio Ferdinand indicates Capello’s doubt that he can reliably continue at international level, and means a space has opened up for a new partner alongside the Chelsea man.

Michael Dawson deservedly heads the queue but Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka will know an assured performance will do much to advance their cause.

In the middle, Jack Wilshere – a player whose passing, technique and ability to dictate tempo has been sorely missed by the Three Lions – has quickly undermined the status quo that was the famously-ineffective Gerrard-Lampard axis.

If he has not done so already, another fine performance should see the eternal question over getting Lampard and Gerrard to play together change to deciding which of them plays at all.

Behind him, Scott Parker has finally been given a chance to show he is a better option to shield the back four than Gareth Barry, who must now respond after months of selection by default.

Aston Villa’s Ashley Young and Darren Bent dovetailed effectively for the second game in a row and have surely proven themselves capable at international level.

With Young, Bent and the injured Theo Walcott, England’s attack is much invigorated after the disaster that was South Africa and if Andy Carroll can show his aptitude in leading the line then it will be reinvented.

Wayne Rooney’s suspension for the Switzerland game would have been mourned a while back, but his indifferent form combined with the emergence of a new batch of players means some consider it a blessed relief.

Rooney, like James Milner and Aaron Lennon, is a player from the old England team with the talent and youth to make a major impact with the new edition. But the fact there a players looking to make his return something other than a foregone conclusion shows why England fans have cause for optimism and have a reason to tune into a friendly for a change.

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