It is not the fault of Rio Ferdinand, but now that the dust has settled and Roy Hodgson can take a good look at his England squad today, the rest of us could be forgiven for thinking it feels a bit like 2006 all over again.
Ah, 2006. Arsenal still played at Highbury until May, the same month they reached a Champions League final. Jose Mourinho was in charge at Chelsea. Tony Blair was in charge of the country. David Beckham was in charge of the England captaincy and, some argued, the team too. They reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup that year via the fake sheikh scandal, Baden Baden and Peter Crouch's robot dance.
In the last 16 of that competition England beat Ecuador, courtesy of what turned out to be Beckham's last goal for his country. The remarkable aspect of that game in relation to now is that five of the outfield players who started in Stuttgart, seven years ago in June, could well start the World Cup qualifier against Montenegro a week tomorrow.
Sketch out Hodgson's strongest side for Montenegro - unlikely to be the XI that faces San Marino on Friday - and it might look something like this: Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Ferdinand, Gary Cahill, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, Theo Walcott, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Jermain Defoe.
There are aspects of that side which are, of course, up for debate but either way, Cole, Carrick, Ferdinand, Gerrard and Rooney all look certain to play if fit. All five were in the England side against Ecuador in 2006.
In mitigation, Ferdinand's inclusion may well turn out to be a temporary measure and come the 2014 World Cup finals (providing England qualify) there may well be new emerging talents challenging for the squad. Fitness permitting, Jack Wilshere will surely be in the side and he will be just 22 come the summer of 2014.
But there is no escaping the fact that this is an old England team, which has not moved on significantly from the last two World Cup finals. The average age of the outfield players in that putative starting XI for Montenegro is 28 years and eight months, with five players aged 30 or over. Not necessarily disastrous in itself but indicative of a trend with England that older players stay in the squad for longer and, as in the case of Ferdinand, find themselves relied upon in moments of difficulty.
Consider England's European peers. France, 13 Fifa ranking places below England, and also rebuilding after disappointing performances at the last two major tournaments (an understatement in the case of the 2010 World Cup), are a good comparison. France's starting outfield players in the team that drew with Spain in October had an average age of just 26 years and seven months, with only Patrice Evra (31) over 30.
Spain are a comparison of sorts although it is difficult to compare anyone, let alone England, with the reigning world champions and winners of the last two European championships. Nevertheless, their starting outfield 10 against France had an average age of 27 years and two months. Their oldest player was Xavi, just 33.
As for Germany, the country ranked second in the world by Fifa and top of Uefa qualifying group C, they had a starting outfield 10 with an average age of just 26 in the 4-4 draw with Sweden in their World Cup qualifier in October. Their current squad for the World Cup qualifying double header with Kazakhstan does not include a single player over the age of 30. They do not just have a team for 2014, they have one for the 2018 World Cup too.
It all begs the question as to what is the best age profile for an international team, bearing in mind the school of thought that the international game lends itself more to older sides. The World Cup-winning Italy side in 2006, often cited as an example of a successful "old" team, began the final with 10 outfield players who averaged 29 years old, although they only had two over the age of 30. Their age range was compressed between 32 and 27, the age of Andrea Pirlo, their youngest player.
Getting the right blend of players for qualification, while keeping one eye on who is still likely to be a contender for the squad come the tournament itself, is an acutely difficult aspect of international management. As ever, the England manager is powerless to a great extent. He left out Joleon Lescott on the basis that he did not play enough for Manchester City but was forced to recall him last night.
It must be of concern to those with a stake in England's long-term future that in the current squad that meets today are eight players aged 30 and over: Ferdinand (34), Lampard (33), Gerrard (32), Scott Parker (32), Leon Osman (31), Carrick (31), Lescott (30) and Jermain Defoe (30).
That total of eight over-30s is the same as the combined total of over-30 outfield players from this week's current squads of Spain (Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa); the Netherlands (Joris Mathijsen, Rafa Van der Vaart, Dirk Kuyt and Ruben Schaken); France (Evra) and Germany (none at all).
The generation to which the likes of Gerrard and Ferdinand belong will always be criticised for their failure to bring home a trophy or even make a final at a major tournament. It seems unlikely, from where England stand today, and given the record of European sides in South America, that will change in Brazil next year.
Yet, when it comes to the 30-somethings, one thing is for sure: four successive managers from Sven Goran Eriksson onwards have relied upon them to a greater or lesser extent. It is not so much that generation you worry about; more the one that should have supplanted them by now.
£23m says Poyet should consider Reading job
The name that jumps out from the Reading managerial shortlist is that of Gus Poyet, who has impressed in the Championship at Brighton, who beat fourth-place Crystal Palace 3-0 yesterday, by managing on a tight budget and playing good football.
Let us imagine for a moment that Poyet is offered the job. Does he take it? Brighton are outside the play-off places on goal difference. Can they go up? A more pertinent question might be: which club, out of Brighton and Reading, has the better chance of being promoted next season?
With £23m in parachute payments for sides relegated from the Premier League this summer the answer is, quite simply, Reading. Which is another example of the way the Premier League's skewed solidarity payments affect life in the lower division.
Could bookmakers be paying for their greed?
I suppose it is possible there might be a scam going on in the Conference South, in which clubs are fixing games in order to take the bookies to the cleaners. Certainly the Gambling Commission think something is afoot and now the FA is investigating.
Or could it just be that at small clubs like Chelmsford City and Hornchurch information travels quickly around supporters and some of them are cute enough to act upon it? That is what betting is about: information, insight, being ahead of the pack.
We are bombarded by bookmakers' marketing today. Live odds. Cash-out now. In-play betting. Have a bang on this. They cannot find enough ways to part us from our money. Frankly, if the bookies are confident and greedy enough to offer odds on Conference South and find themselves way off the pace, I'm all for it.Reuse content