Monday, May 14, 2007

England's Silver Generation - Ebren

In 1996 a wonderful Czech team came second to Germany in the European Championships. The team of Nedved, Berger, Poborsky and others became known as the "Silver Generation", and went on to thrill us at tournament after tournament.

This summer England's "Golden Generation" took to the fields in Germany and thrilled no one. At all.

Since then a change of coaches has seen a home draw with Macedonia, an away loss to Croatia, a draw with Holland, a loss to Spain, and a scoreless draw with Israel – England's worst run of results ever.

Looking at a team of multi-millionaire superstars struggle against the policemen of Andorra I got to thinking about the men that didn't make it into the England squad. The silvers.

Managed by Sam Allardyce, the coach that brought 4-5-1/4-3-3 to the Premiership (a formation that most of the first team play with their clubs), can we build a team that would qualify for the European Championship?

The first thing we have to do is rule out the first team, which currently reads: Robinson, Foster, Carson; Barry, Ferdinand, Terry, Woodgate, Carragher, Richards, Cole, Neville; Carrick, Lampard, Gerrard, Lennon, Downing, Hargreaves, Dyer, Parker; Defoe, Johnson, Rooney, Nugent.

I think to be fair Owen, Joe Cole and Crouch (and others) should be ruled out as well as the only reason they aren't in this squad line up is that they are injured/recovering from injury.

Building from the back who stands between the sticks?

Easy, the man with the most clean sheets in Premiership history. I give you David James. Robert Green and Chris Kirkland as back up.

Back four then. Glenn Johnson, Ledley King, Sol Campbell, Nicky Shorey. On the bench for the defence, Andrew Taylor of Boro, Joleneon Lescott, Laeighton Baines, Luke Young, and Paul Konchesky. Danny Mills didn't look too bad in the 2002 world cup, and Perry and Thatcher both captained the under-21s if we need a bit more experience.

The midfield central three, needing two defensive midfielders and a Gerrard/Lampard type.

Pretty simple really. In Nicky Butt we have one of the players of 2002 (according to Pele). He's in. Let's put a passer next to him in the Alonso role. Step forward Tom Huddlestone. The forward midfielder - Joey Barton is an excellent player, but I'm not picking that sort of a git in my team. Sorry, Sam's team. Assuming we can't coax Scholes out of retirement (and I would be on the phone, sorry, Sam would be), that leaves quite a few options.

Leon Osman is an underrated player, he could do a job. Nicky Barmby is still about, just because he's playing for Hull doesn't mean he's lost any of the ability 23 caps and pay £19.75 million for him across his career.

But with Big Sam in charge, it will have to be Kevin Nolan.

Bench pick between Jagilka, Harper, Sidwell, McCann, Reo-Coker and those mentioned above. Oh, and Beckham might make it. Perhaps ahead of Nolan in the starting 11, only if he can play the system that is, I'm not Sven here.

The two wide midfield/forwards next.

On the left Etherington could do a job, if a little lightweight. Kieran Richardson has pace to spare, and scored two goals on his England debut. Lita and Bent are full of running and would score plenty. But James Milner gets it. With Matty Taylor on if we need a more defensive option.

On the right there are more Options than in the hot-chocolate aisle of Sainsbury's.

Bentley, Pennant, and Smith are all good enough. Bowyer was top goalscorer in the Champions League from midfield. He's there or there abouts. Wenger plays Walcott from the right, and Bent and Lita are there again. But Bentley wins. He's really rather good.

So all we are left with is the line leader. The Drogba figure.

Smith has excellent first touch, and will hold the ball for the on-rushing midfielders well (remember the Roma game?), I've mentioned Lita, and I really rate him. Dean Ashton is not fit yet, but would get a run out in a friendly at least. Robbie Fowler would be on if we needed a goal in the final 30, and Sheringham is still playing and scoring with more cunning, touch and vision than anyone since Bergkamp did one to Holland. I won't mention Emile Heskey and his 43 caps.

But the best English line-leader is Kevin Davies. And he's the closest thing we have to Drogba to make this system work.

So there you have it: James; Johnson, Campbell, King, Shorey; Butt, Huddleston, Nolan; Milner, Bentley, Davies.

Managed by Big Sam.

Fight, flair, pace, technique, solidity at the back.

This silver second-choice team has the ability to comfortably qualify for the European championships, and they would probably have a decent shot at winning it, or at least beating Northern Ireland.

The question is, is silver better than gold?


Margin said...

some interesting picks.

I'd probably play Bent up front and encourage Huddlestone
to keep slotting balls through the defence to play a simple pace game. but then you chose Big Sam as manager instead of Curbishly (who would probably pick Murphy specifically to play those passes).

Oh - and Leighton Baines might have to be my left back. I think he has been excellent this season.

andrewm said...

A decent shot at winning it???

Sorry Ebren, I don't want to lower this to the level of the GU football threads - God forbid - but unless you have incredible faith in the powers of Sam then you're talking tosh, my friend.

Some of the players you mention are downright poor by international standards.

I honestly don't have time right now to go into this, but I've said many times on GU that England's back-ups and U-21s are average at best, and the future is bleak for the national team. You've not convinced me otherwise.

Ebren said...

Can't beleive I forgot Murphy - another of the 2002 boys.

Nicky Shorey has better stats than Baines.

Actually he's got better stats than Chimbonda, Gary Neville, Evra, Terry, Emerton, Lucas "£70k" Neill, and O'Shea.

Not that I'm taking the Moneyball thing the whole way - but the end of season stats make interesting reading (on Gerrard vs Lampard for example). Actim Index here

Ebren said...


This "Silver" team is better man-for-man than Greece's was three years ago.

On the international stage skill is second to teamwork and organisation. None of the players I have mentioned would not be first-teamers for Northern Ireland (who have beaten Spain, Sweden, England, and Denmark), most would be first choice for Scotland (top of a group including the world cup finalists and a quarter-finalists) or Wales (beat Italy under Mark Hughes).

What you need is defence-breaching skill in a couple of positions, and the rest of a team to do their jobs coupled with a manager that is good enough to neuter opposition strengths and identify weaknesses. With Scotland the skill comes from McFadden and Fletcher (or did the last time I saw them), with Argentina in '86 it was Maradona. In 90 England had Gazza, a good finisher, and a lot of effort.

My Defence is solid (James; Johnson, Campbell, King, Shorey). Good screens in front of them (Butt, Huddleston, Nolan). Milner, Bentley, and Huddlesone are all capable of picking apart a team or dribbling a man (that's why I picked two dribblers) and the wingers are really fast.

I've got set-piece strength in their as well.

My silver team would be a decent shout as winners, look at what happens when Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea (better than most international teams) played Big Sam's Bolton.

andrewm said...

You make a good case, but the Greece example does not apply in my opinion. I admire their achievement greatly and I was delighted when they won, but the fact is they caught a lot of teams on the hop. Big Sam's team that you outline would be facing teams who are fully prepared for that style of football, and indeed expecting it.

You've largely chosen hasbeens and mightbes, along with middling players that I just plain don't rate. Your squad as a whole is in my opinion 1/10 as talented as the French, Spanish and Italian squads it would face, not to mention the Dutch, the South Americans, I could go on ....

Given all that, Sam would need to be Rafa Benitez x 100 - and he ain't.

Ebren said...

Andrew - Arsenal and Chelsea have been "fully prepared for that style of football, and indeed expecting it" for years. They still keep losing to it.

Talent is subjective here. All of the silver "starting XI" are premiership players, who week in, week out, play against the best of the French, Dutch and Spanish national teams in the Prem (and some of them in Europe against everyone) as well as the best from Africa and some players from South America.

David James is rated as the second best keeper in the prem on the Actim Index (i.e. going on stats not subjective opinions about how "good" a player looks). Matt Taylor is the 18th best player in the League - ahead of Ferdinand, Carrick, Alonso, Essien, and a lot of others.

Shorey I've outlined above. Lescott's better than Toure, Vidic, and Carragher. Bentley's better than Hleb, Lennon, and Van Persie (all internationals).

These stats were compiled with players playing against the same opposition as each other week in week out.

They might not be seen as "good" but they are clearly "good enough" to take on and out-perform the more famous players if played in the right system. Martin O'Neil would have been another good manager for this team - although I would have played a 3-5-2/5-3-2 with him in charge.

Some info about the Actim index:
The formulae were devised through analysis of hundreds of games since the start of the Premiership in 1992 and have been statistically proven to measure a player's effectiveness in winning matches.
In simple terms, the Actim Index comprises six calculations:
Calculation 1 - Assesses a player's contribution to a winning team, based on points won by the team when he appeared.
Calculation 2 - Assesses a player's performance in each game, by allocating points for actions that positively contribute to a winning performance such as shots, tackles, clearances and saves. It also takes points away from players for negative actions such as yellow/red cards and shots off target.
Calculation 3 - Allocates points based on time on the pitch.
Calculation 4 - Allocates points for goal scorers.
Calculation 5 - Allocates points for assists.
Calculation 6 - Allocates points for clean sheets.

The Actim Index aims to identify successful players who contribute to winning performances. However, rewards for team success are only part of the final rating. Players on losing teams can still score points in other areas. The view is that players deserve recognition for contributing to team success, but should still be able to score points if their team draws or loses. Jimmy Bullard finished the 2005/06 season in 13th spot (5.51 points) after a tremendous campaign with unfancied Wigan Athletic. The midfielder scored just four Barclays Premiership goals in his 3288 minutes on the pitch - compared to the 16 netted by Manchester United star Wayne Rooney (5.61 points), who ended the season in 11th place after playing just 62 minutes less. Goals do improve a player's score but you don't need to be a hot-shot to make an impact. Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand finished fifth with 6.24 but only managed to net three goals, and John Terry who finished eighth netting only four times during Chelsea's championship winning campaign. Indeed, Steve Finnan of Liverpool finished 12th with a score of 5.59 scoring no goals from 33 appearances.

Jimmy Bullard would have been in my squad - but he's been injured all season.

Margin said...


"Actually he's got better stats than Chimbonda..."

having better stats than a spurs defender tells a different story - but point taken.


On the well organised + one or two defence spliters - one or two is often not enough against the best sides as they can be shut out by a well organised side too.

Ideally everyone would have that talent but would be well organised as well - Italy at the world cup for example, had no lack of talent but were very well drilled too.

so while your Silver team would do fine against sides like England, it would struggle a bit against top countries.

Ebren said...

Obviously you'd rather have 11 ball-playing geniuses who also worked hard and were tactically adept, had sub-11 seconds 100m times, and were 6'5" and super-fit.

But Scotland and Northern Ireland seem to be doing okay against France, Italy, and Spain with less than this.

The point I was making was that the selection and tactics are holding back england, as we can take out our 22 best players, and those that are injured, and still put a team together that could challenge almost anyone and would have a decent shout at international honours (I don't think it would be a favourite, but I would expect it to qualify from it's group and run the big teams close).

Margin said...


But my point is that your silver side, faced with croatia, would probably still lose. It's just it would lose for a different reason to the golden lot.

we lost because of bad management and disorganisation. the silver side would lose because of the lack of talent.

And while Scotland offer a good model - would your side be able to beat Walter Smith's scotland? I don't think so. It would lack the talent to beat such a well organised team.

not that any of this really matters now.

Big Sam is retiring from competitive football.

Ebren said...

Margin - against Scotland I would predict we would win. Both teams work hard with two or three flair players, but my lot all play in the Prem. They are better players. So I would say Silver wins.

Against Croatia - I reckon my team could defend as well a real England (or close to as well). Hopefully wouldn't have a "Robinson moment". So that's only one goal they need. Croatia would have more technique, but we would have a fair amount (it's not like I picked a team of hoofers). Liverrpool and Chelsea can beat Barcelona, Bolton can beat both of them. I see no reason we couldn't win against Croatia. Croatia - 4.5 mil people. England (50m people) should have two teams capable of beating them in terms of talent.

Margin said...

I think the silver side would beat scotland now - as Smith has gone. but not the golden side. they would still lose.

croatia however have more talent than scotland and are better organised too.

I know that on paper croatia didn't hammer the golden team - but on the pitch they did. That game was far closer to 5-0 than to 0-0 on the balance of play.

The better organised silver side would make a better game of it - but they would lack the diversity of attack croatia can apply on top of their organisation.

Margin said...


no to nasty barton but you consider nasty bowyer?


andrewm said...

I've thought for a long time that you're too big on your stats, Ebren.

Did Bolton win the league this season?

Your team would qualify fine. They would then be humbled in the first game that really mattered.

MotM said...

It's a mighty interesting line-up. I like the defence (Lescott is a superb defender and fine team man), but I have some sympathy with Andrewm about the class up front.

England had a lot of threats in 1990. Gazza we remember, and Lineker, but Platt was a real threat and Beardsley a simply magnificent player 100 times better than Paul Scholes. Trevor Steven was much under-rated too.

Unlocking tight defences consistently requires fast feet, fast passing and fast brains. James Vaughan really looks the goods at Everton (my brother said that he gave Terry a torrid time on Sunday) and I'd suggest Theo Walcott just behind him. I'd rather have Scott Parker than Bowyer.

Here's my slightly different approach to an alternative cricket XI at

offside said...

I'd love to read miro's take on this. I haven't seen enough of those players recently to comment meaningfully but I did have a good laugh at the line "Danny Mills didn't look too bad in 2002".

He looked awful.

Interesting idea otherwise, and these players might be "hungrier" than the superstars of the current line-up, but I don't see Steve McClaren taking a chance like that. So, it looks like we'll never know.

mimi said...

Is this the right place to say Stuart Pearce is going down, and that's not an image any of us want in our heads?

offside said...


mimi said...

offside: you're not the first to link those words, and surely you won't be the last.
Can we have some more fish for Little: she yowls at the screen?

guitougoal said...

it's a very creative approach and gutsy but none of the managers are being gutsy or creative.
Close to Drogba? I am affraid that's an overated statement.

bluedaddy said...

Bit late to this. Interesting idea but I would agree with Andrewm that too many of these players are just not that good. Glen Johnson for example. Whatever it was that got everyone excited about him eludes me entirely.
Plus some of these players may have good stats but surely the real test comes when you step up a level. If you can hold your own in the Champions League, playing against unfamiliar players, you are proving your worth.

Saying that I do think Ebren argues quite a good case. Stats maybe just be stats but their 'story' is probably as valuable/worthless as popular opinion. It would be good to see a bit more of this B International stuff going on.

I think the main point is that the manager is the key. Where i might worry about BS, as with Sven, (as for McLaren - just dont get me started) is his flexibility. Can he change a game mid-game, use a whole a squad Big Phil-style, be inventive within a tournament rather than putting all his cards on the table? I honestly think we have good enough players to get to semis/finals but we havent found the man to do so.

Ebren said...

"surely the real test comes when you step up a level"

Point one - I'm not sure international level is "stepping up". It's a definite down-step from Champion's League and possibly (no - make that probably) from the Prem as well.

"If you can hold your own in the Champions League, playing against unfamiliar players, you are proving your worth."

Most of the team I name have. James (Liverpool), Johnson, Butt, and Campbell all have CL experience. King looked great playing for England in 2004 (so I say he can handle it). Davies I have reservations about, but he can't be worse than Heskey (43 caps, 5 goals).

And how do you get that experience without being picked? Most countries outside England have to pick players that have no significant CL experience based on their domestic performance in middle and lower-ranking PL, Serie A, and La Liga clubs, or in their home league (or lower - look how many championship players are now full internationals).

Again - I would argue that many successful teams have members of them who are "just not that good". Perotta is not very good. Karembeau won the world cup as well, not even mentioning Kleberson (way worse than Butt, and in fact McCann, Jenas, Reo-Coker and yet played every game in a WC winning side).

But you are right.

At the core of it all was my point that you can't question the quality of out players.

Their desire, commitment, attitude, tactics, management, motivation, and a lot more. But not their quality - as our B side has more quality than at least 3/4s of international sides - as you would expect from a country of 50m people.

The underlying point was a ringing criticism of the England set up for squandering not one, but two capable international sides. I mean, how on earth?

MotM said...

Is it a consensus that the CL is a higher standard than international football?

This Liverpool team have won it once and might again in the last three years. HB and AndrewM may disagree (please do) but I would take the Italy 2006 team to beat them 9 times out of 10 (and France and Germany too).

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