Who needs a Golden Generation?
A national team with most of its stars playing regularly in Europe’s top five leagues will consider itself blessed. If even a handful are doing so with the top clubs, then the belief that a world title is in the horizon creeps in. As hope swell in the hearts of their countrymen; an untold amount of pressure is mounted on these players. They get a golden tag; with the words – “Golden Generation” engraved on it.
You’d think that this golden generation is associated with a crop of players who had actually struck gold for their country. Well, you know better.
We’ve watched the demise of golden generation after golden generation without even a trinket of silverware to brandish.
In essence, the phrase, 'golden generation' is a media-manufactured name-tag that does little or no good to the immense pressure a set of players must carry until they eventually win something relevant. If they don’t, then they’ll be crucified with sarcastic criticism.
Some countries, mostly from the European and American divide, spend billions of taxpayers’ money developing their football(ers) and fostering continuity in the national team. Of course, they succeed and produce some of the world’s best football talents. These players shine like crystals at their clubs but ultimately struggle to drive home the point when donning national colours. I’ll name names: England, Belgium, Argentina, France and even five-time Champions, Brazil.
So you checked and found out that every one of the aforementioned countries (except Belgium) was once a World Cup winner. Still, none of the above has a world champion in their present squad. If we take continental titles into account, I’ll have to strike Brazil from the list; that still leaves us with some of the best football nations on the planet today. Golden generation didn’t help? None of these has been truly golden in at least 16 years. By that I mean, win the World Cup.
England, Belgium or France could prove me wrong this year, though. Which brings me to my point.
Golden generation vs reality
After two or three major tournaments without substantial success, the truth dawns on everyone – these highly-rated superstars might never match their predecessors or make history. The wait would continue.
England can understand that better than anyone. With the multi-billion-pound football structure on the ground in the English game, they always seem to churn out world-class players. Yet, only in 1966 did they bring football home. Call it the golden year. That generation of players absolutely deserves the golden tag. Interestingly, that class didn’t know what it meant to be part of a “golden generation”. Simply because the phrase hasn’t been hatched then.
When England travelled to Italy for the 1990 World Cup, expectations were at the roof. But Bobby Robson’s squad wasn’t considered a golden generation. However, they reached the World Cup semi-final; narrowly losing out on penalties to Germany.
So since 2002, England has had one “golden generation” or the other. Their names roll out the tongue – David Beckham, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard. But in fact, none of these players ever experienced what it felt like to play in a World Cup or Euro semi-final. Meaning - they won nothing for their country.
The current Argentina squad, led by Lionel Messi is seen as the golden generation who would bring back the memories of 1986. They are yet to win anything better than silver. Retirement knocks at the door.
As you well know, France, Brazil and Belgium are currently blessed with some of the best players in the world. Expectedly, they’ve been labelled the golden generation of their nation. It hasn’t transcended into any notable success to discuss.
Winning the World Cup takes more than just a squad of players littered with the biggest names in football. It entails stellar tactics, a blend of youthfulness and experience and the ability to perform together as a cohesive unit. This is what England and Belgium have lacked; until now.
We can’t stop the media from tagging a set of players “golden generation”. But we must understand that it’s just like naming a dog, wolf. It takes much more than that to actually bring it home. The Russia 2018 semi-finalists must’ve stumbled upon that reality earlier than others.