If one thing is guaranteed to ensure a team fails to live up to its potential in sport, then it must be when someone calls it "the golden generation". It's catchy and makes a nice headline, but all too easily it can become the first stage in a process that starts in hype and ends in underachievement.
The phrase was first coined by Portuguese journalists to describe a batch of young players led by Luis Figo who won the Youth World Cup in 1989 and 1991. So much was expected of them, but the best they could muster was to be the losing finalists at Euro 2004.
For England, the "golden generation" kiss of death was administered by the then FA chief executive Adam Crozier in 2001, when he claimed the likes of Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard could win the World Cup in 2006 with Sven Goran Eriksson at the helm. It seemed faintly logical at the time: these were talented players on the home front. But domestic class has not been mirrored on the international stage and Lampard yesterday admitted the description has been an embarrassment for the England players for some time.
"By calling us that it was almost as if people were waiting for us to fail," the Chelsea midfielder said. "The 'golden generation' should only be said once you have won something. Look at 1966 when they won the World Cup. That was a 'golden generation'. So it was said much too early about us. The whole thing is frustrating for us. We didn't make up the term. Once we have finished and hopefully won something then we can talk about generations."
For too long England squads have veered between misplaced over-confidence and an inferiority complex. The idea of this being somehow a golden generation of England players means the former has predominantly been the case for the last decade. The shock of failing to qualify for Euro 2008 under Steve McClaren, however, went a long way to bursting England's over-blown self-belief, and under Fabio Capello the players have learned they will only be judged on results, both individually and collectively.
"They are very talented individuals but we have not made the most of it," Lampard, 31, said. "We have all held our hands up to that many times. Now is a great chance. This is not me saying, 'Yes, we are going to win the World Cup,' but we are in better shape than we have been.
"The team is working as a unit much better than it has done in the past. We have good individuals, we are experienced, we have World Cups behind us. The proof will be in the pudding. It is up to us to take all those plus points and use them next summer."
Gareth Barry missed Saturday's defeat to Ukraine but could return to face Belarus tomorrow at Wembley. The midfielder was booed on his return to Aston Villa with his new club Manchester City recently, after club team-mate Joleon Lescott was jeered playing for his country last month.
Barry said players from City now expect to be abused at grounds, as supporters perceive them as being greedy. Asked if he thought fans were jealous, Barry said: "Yes, a lot of money has been ploughed into the club and people on the outside may enjoy seeing us fail rather than go on and achieve something this season. I am sure that can make us stronger."
Barry also backed his former Villa team-mate Emile Heskey, who has stated he may leave the club if he is not playing regularly. Barry said: "I know where his fears are coming from. It is something Emile will need to think about and choose the best route to go."Reuse content