Comparing England's Class of 2018 with the 1990 World Cup team
As the England team prepare themselves for their World Cup semifinal with Croatia, the hype at home has reached fever pitch. This tournament was all about building confidence and gaining experience with a very young squad. Gareth Southgate’s men have become just the third English side to reach a World Cup semifinal.
With many fans convinced that “it’s coming home," let's take a look at how the Class of 2018 compares with the last English side to reach this stage. Sir Bobby Robson took his side to the semi-finals of Italia 90, where they fell to eventual winners, West Germany after a penalty shootout. England can consider themselves unlucky not to have won that match. While Croatia will prove a difficult prospect for Southgate’s side, the Blazers certainly aren’t of the West German's class. That XI included legends like Bodo Illgner, Thomas Hassler, Lothar Matthaus, Rudi Voller and Jurgen Klinsmann.
It’s probably not fair to make direct comparisons, as Sir Bobby’s side have their full careers behind them, while Southgate’s men have yet to live their career-defining moments. Instead, let's look more at how their styles compare and what Southgate’s men must achieve to overtake their predecessors in English football annals.
The managers entered their respective World Cups at very different stages of their careers.
Robson had been in charge of England since 1982. Although he had done reasonably well by reaching the quarter-finals of the 1986 tournament, losing only to the two sides of Diego Maradona, the press weren’t fond of him. He had failed to reach Euro 84 and been eliminated in the group stages of Euro 88.
Prior to this tournament, Southgate had never managed in a senior international tournament. Due to his inexperience, he also wasn’t exactly a media darling.
A World Cup semi-final can quickly change opinions. Sir Bobby went onto become one of the most popular English characters in football and many are now growing to love Southgate’s calm yet passionate style.
Tactically, their sides don’t look that different on paper. Southgate always planned to use the 5-3-2 formation and picked his squad accordingly. Robson also ended up playing three central defenders, although it fell into place much later. After a 1-1 draw with the Republic of Ireland, it was decided to ditch the traditional 4-4-2 in favour of a formation that would accommodate a sweeper. At the time, it was a popular tactic.
Southgate has been quite fortunate regarding injuries. Dele Alli is the only damaged first-teamer. Robson was not quite so lucky. He had to make do without his captain and talisman, Bryan Robson.
Shilton and Pickford are two very different goalkeepers. In 1990, Shilton was 40 and coming to the end of a 20-year international career. He wasn’t at his best in 1990 but was still a good goalkeeper. A younger version of himself may have done better with the deflected free-kick that looped over him in the semifinal.
Pickford is only beginning his career. At 24, he is young for a keeper. The job was open during qualifying, with Joe Hart still being selected and Jack Butland considered a viable option. Pickford won the job.
He made his first competitive international appearance in the 2-1 win over Tunisia that kicked off England’s World Cup campaign. Despite his youth, the former Sunderland star has confidence. He isn’t shy about letting his defenders know when he is unhappy.
Pickford must go a way to match Shilton’s achievements. Helping his team win a penalty shootout with a save against Colombia in the second round wasn’t a bad way to start.
Paul Parker might have been the weak link in England’s 1990 team but with two league titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Charity Shield from his Manchester United days, he certainly wasn’t a bad player. Parker would end up losing his place with both England and United to a young Gary Neville, albeit not before he involved himself in both semifinal goals.
Parker charged down any free kicks the West Germans made in dangerous areas. In doing so, he inadvertently helped the opponents take the lead. Out quickly to make a block on Andreas Brehme’s set piece, but as luck would have it the ball looped up in the air and beat the ageing Shilton.
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. With England chasing an equaliser, he put a high ball into the box that the Germans couldn't intercept before it dropped to Gary Lineker. The BBC host beat Illgner to equalise.
Regardless of what happens from here on, Trippier has had an excellent World Cup. The Spurs man has really shown his class, constantly busying himself up and down the right flank. Trippier has been instrumental with and without the ball. If England are to win this tournament, few would deserve it as much as the Bury-born fullback.
Stuart “Psycho” Pearce is arguably England’s best left back ever. He was the sort who would slide tackle his granny if it meant England would win.
Unfortunately, on the biggest nights of his career, he had a bit of a disaster. It ultimately led to England’s elimination. Pearce’s foul led to the free kick that opened the scoring. Later, in the penalty shootout, it was Pearce who blasted his penalty into the German keeper Illgner's legs after the first six penalties had all been scored.
Young has had an interesting career. From his days as a high-flying and frequently diving young winger at Watford and Aston Villa, he has become more mature and defensively adept with age. He has put up with a lot of stick over the years, including from his own fan base, but has had a solid tournament. The 33-year-old is two games away from lifelong legendary status.
All good defences have someone who sets the tone. Butcher and Maguire share that trait for England. Neither would take offence at being considered robust but would prefer not to be called dirty. There’s generally a fine line between the two.
The pair are extremely hard individuals willing to do whatever it takes to get a result every time they step on the pitch.
Had things gone differently in 1990, it would have been Butcher who lifted the trophy for England. While Maguire doesn’t have the same leadership responsibilities, he's become a leader on the field by example. Each would gladly put their head where many wouldn’t put their feet. At the end of the day, that can be the difference between winning and losing.
Butcher was 31-years-old in 1990 and made his last appearances for England in Italy. Maguire is just 25 and has just hit double figures in terms of caps. Should he continue in the way he has played so far in Russia, he is exactly the type of blood and guts player that the English fans will love.
No relation, but one thing in common. Both brought a lot of pace to their respective defences.
Des had a great career, although he never played for a title-winning team. He managed a few cups with Nottingham Forest. Symbolic of his nature, he only ever played for the Reds, Sampdoria and Sheffield Wednesday when he would have been more than good enough to fit into an elite side. Fans used to chant "you'll never beat Des Walker." For a long time, it wasn't far from the truth. He was a superb defender, particularly when asked to man-mark the opposition's main attacking threat.
Kyle is naturally a right back but as three at the back has become popular again, many teams have reverted to playing a fullback as one of the three. He's done a good job. At five foot ten, he's not the tallest, but he is capable of holding his own in the air. Of course, his pace is a real asset to any back line. He has just helped Manchester City win the Premier League. At 28, he is riding his career's crest.
Wright had a bit of both Terry Butcher and Des Walker about him. He was tough but could also play the game. For this reason, he was selected to take on the sweeper role. At the time, he was at Derby County, alongside Peter Shilton. His performances for the Rams earned him a move to Liverpool. Although he missed Anfield's heyday, he captained the team to an FA Cup win in 1992.
Stones is easily the best defender in the 2018 team. Concentration has been an enemy early in his career but the 24-year-old is maturing into an excellent centre-half. He is very much the modern centre-back, brilliant with the ball at his feet, which is perfect for his coach at Manchester City, Pep Guardiola. Stones just won the first league title of his career. With City finishing so far clear last season, it's likely that he will add more.
The biggest difference between the 1990 and 2018 sides is the midfield. The 1990 version attacked ruthlessly. The 2018 group has its attacking players but they are more restricted. It's a pattern the entire game has followed over the 28 years between England's World Cup semi-final appearances.
Platt was a superb player for England. He wasn't as technically gifted as his midfield partners but had a great eye for goal, ending Italia 90 with three, including the famous winner in the last 16 tie against Belgium, when the game looked destined to go to penalties. Platt's performances earned him a move to Italy where he played for Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria. He returned to England with Arsenal, whom he helped win the double in 1998.
Henderson is a player often undervalued. He doesn't put up gaudy numbers but as a player you would want in your team for his leadership and work rate, Henderson will always be up there. He also has a very underrated passing ability that has helped him excel in a deep role in this World Cup.
Gazza introduced himself to the world at Italia 90. Like Platt, it led to a lucrative move to Serie A. In those days, it was the place to be, even without Cristiano Ronaldo. As good as Gazza was, he underachieved due to his demons. In 1990, Gazza was 23, and one of the tournament's big stars. In a tragic case of foreshadowing, it literally ended in tears. He received a booking in the semi-final that would have ruled him out of the final had England beaten West Germany. Fortunately, for the 2018 team, the rules have since changed.
Dele Alli is a year younger than Gazza was in 1990. With so much more coverage, he has long since arrived on the international stage. Like Gazza, Alli plays for Spurs but their styles are dissimilar. Both are willing to put themselves about but Gazza was much better than Alli at taking on defenders. For his part, Alli could show the old dog a trick or two about getting into the box.
Waddle and Lingard are also apples and oranges stylistically. Each held an attacking role in their respective teams. In the end, Waddle missed the penalty that ended English dreams in 1990 but during the game itself, he came incredibly close to scoring twice. His first chance was an effort from just across the halfway line that almost caught Illgner out. While that was an audacious, opportunistic effort, the only thing that let him down on the second was physics. He picked up a loose ball at the corner of the box and drove a shot low past Illgner. It hit the post. Considering the angle, it appeared more likely to carom into the goal. Somehow, it managed to bounce back into play. Maybe he was overcompensating when he skied the notorious penalty.
Lingard has done a job for England. The Manchester United man is a live wire. He scored an excellent goal in the win over Panama. His pace bursting forward causes all kinds of problems for defenders. He doesn't have Waddle's skills Waddle but is much quicker. In this day and age, that is the more important asset.
Neither man would be considered an out-and-out striker but both were charged with supporting the main striker as much as they could in their respective eras. Both are small in stature. Both left Anfield under a cloud with Beardsley upsetting fans by moving to Everton whereas Sterling signed for Manchester City.
Beardsley was an extremely talented player, creative with an eye for a goal. He scored over 200 times throughout his career. During his years at Anfield he won two league titles, an FA Cup and three Charity Shields. Beardsley was one of three English players who scored his penalty in the shootout defeat to West Germany.
Sterling receives a lot of unwarranted criticism for his poor finishing rate. He hasn't really hit the heights in this tournament but his pace and movement cause panic and fear among the opposition. That hasn't gone unnoticed by Gareth Southgate who has stood by the forward despite many campaigning for him to be dropped from the starting eleven. Sterling is another of the City contingent that won their first league title last season.
Both sides had a prolific forward to lead the line in style. Lineker scored five goals in 1990 which was one less than the six that made him the top scorer in the 1996 finals. Kane looks to be well on his way to matching Lineker's achievement of being top goalscorer at a World Cup. The younger man currently sits on six goals, three ahead of Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe, his nearest still active rivals.
Lineker scored 48 goals during his international career and famously missed a penalty in a friendly that would have tied Bobby Charlton on 49 goals as the then England top scorer. Lineker was 29 at Italia 90.He unexpectedly called time on his international career two years later after Euro 92.
Kane has become Europe's top striker in the past two years. He has scored at least 20 Premier League goals in each of the last four seasons and just topped 30 for the first time. At international level, he has scored 19 goals in 28 games. Matching Lineker's 80 games would take him close to Wayne Rooney's English record of 53. Most encouraging to Three Lions supporters is his consistency from the spot.