It is almost 16 years since Stuart Pearce scored his penalty against Germany in the shoot-out at the end of England's semi-final at Euro 96, a brief moment of exhilaration in what turned out to be another famous disappointment chalked up by the national team.
On Wednesday, Pearce returns to Wembley as the manager of the England team, in all likelihood for just one game, but nonetheless having risen higher up the coaching hierarchy than any of his fellow Englishmen who were on the pitch that warm June evening. Higher, indeed, than any of those who were in the Euro 96 squad that went further in a tournament than any England team has since.
What became of the boys of 96? The panel (below) briefly charts the stories of the XI from that night and others in the squad. Aside from Pearce and Nick Barmby, there are no current managers among them. There is an FA director (Gareth Southgate), a Premier League first-team coach (David Platt) and two out-of-work managers (Paul Ince and Tony Adams). There are the leading pundits (Alan Shearer, Jamie Redknapp and Gary Neville) and two still playing (Phil Neville, Robbie Fowler).
There are those from Euro 96 who have simply slipped out of the mainstream (Darren Anderton, Steve McManaman), a celebrity ice dancer (David Seaman), a professional poker player (Teddy Sheringham) and the sad tangle of a life that is the lot of Paul Gascoigne.
Like any team, a group of individuals thrust together at one point in their lives, the boys of 96 have naturally taken different paths, according to character and ability. This was the first generation to earn Premier League salaries which has meant the financial imperative to move straight into management upon retirement was not as pressing as it had been for previous generations.
You can take the viewpoint that the careers of Pearce and his team-mates post-playing have been pretty consistent with the usual divergent patterns of any profession. That is until you study what the Germany team from Euro 96 have done since then.
To a man, the Germany first XI that started the semi-final have worked in football at some point in their post-playing careers. Many are still heavily involved. The 1996 alumni includes a current Bundesliga manager (Markus Babbel), a Bundesliga chairman (Stefan Kuntz), the technical director of the German FA (Matthias Sammer) and the German national team goalkeeping coach (Andreas Köpke). There is also the coach of Bayern Munich's reserves (Mehmet Scholl) and the coach of the Germany Under-16s team (Steffen Freund) from that team that started against England at Wembley. There have been jobs in management for Dieter Eilts and Christian Ziege. Andreas Möller was technical director at Offenbach.
Then you come to the other names in the squad who did not play in the semi-final. Oliver Bierhoff, who scored both Germany's goals in the final, runs the Germany national team as a general manager for Joachim Löw. Löw's predecessor was Jürgen Klinsmann, another of Germany's boys of 96. Fredi Bobic is the sporting director of Stuttgart.
It is a remarkable roll-call. By way of comparison, the development of England's players of the same era looks feeble. As a snapshot of two countries' different attitudes towards the development of ex-players it is telling.
Who takes the blame? To some extent it must be the players. Some of them are still quite recently retired – the England squad 16 years ago was young relative to the Germans – and you get the impression that, for example, Redknapp will be a manager one day: it is in the genes. So too Shearer and the Neville brothers.
But there is also a concern about the opportunities being given to former players. For example, Sol Campbell, another Euro 96 squad member, with 73 England caps, is showing worrying signs of falling off the football radar. Of course, there needs to be some impetus from him to stay in football but what a waste it would be to lose all that experience. It is hard to believe it would happen in Germany.
What of the other Euro 96 boys? Les Ferdinand and Steve Stone are both on the coaching staff at Premier League clubs (Tottenham and Newcastle respectively) although had they been in Germany perhaps their progression would have been quicker. Tim Flowers is on the coaching staff at Northampton Town in League Two. Ian Walker managed Bishop's Stortford in the Conference North until December.
Not all former internationals can have the kind of post-playing career that Klinsmann, Babbel, Sammer and Bierhoff have enjoyed but it can hardly be right that the difference between the two countries is so marked. It is also unreasonable to expect that the Football Association should carry the can for the absence of any pathway from a distinguished playing career to working as a coach or in a club boardroom.
It cannot be a coincidence that 13 of the Bundesliga's 18 clubs are managed by Germans compared with only four out of 20 Premier League clubs managed by Englishmen. A further 11 Premier League clubs are managed by Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish managers but, whatever way you cut it, that is of precious little use when the FA wants to appoint an Englishman as manager of the England team.
It comes down to opportunity and from the class of 96 it is evident that eminent former German footballers get more opportunities than their English counterparts. Not all of them will make it as managers, but the more chances a former player gets, the greater the likelihood he will succeed.
When the FA announced last week that Phil Neville was to join the Under-21s coaching staff on Wednesday it was considered so unusual that it merited back-page treatment from some newspapers. In fact, it is exactly what this country should be doing for its famous players heading towards the end of their playing careers – as many of Neville's fellow Euro 96 squad members would no doubt agree.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW: HOW ENGLAND LINE UP AGAINST GERMANY
England XI v Germany, Euro 96 semi-final
David Seaman: Celebrity TV ice dancer, golf days
Gareth Southgate: FA head of elite development, formerly Middlesbrough manager
Tony Adams: former manager of Portsmouth
Stuart Pearce: caretaker England manager; Under-21s manager. Formerly manager of Manchester City, Nottingham Forest
Paul Ince: former manager of Notts County, MK Dons, Blackburn, Macclesfield
Darren Anderton: media work
David Platt: first team coach, Manchester City
Steve McManaman: TV pundit, one-time business associate of Carson Yeung
Paul Gascoigne: struggles with addictions; mental health problems
Alan Shearer: BBC pundit
Teddy Sheringham: TV pundit, pro poker player
Notable others in squad
Nick Barmby manager, Hull City
Jamie Redknapp Sky Sports pundit
Gary Neville Sky Sports pundit
Phil Neville club captain, Everton
Robbie Fowler player, Kolkata Camelians (Indian Premier League)
Andreas Köpke: Germany goalkeeping coach
Matthias Sammer: technical director of the German FA, the DFB
Stefan Reuter: formerly general manager of 1860 Munich
Markus Babbel: manager, Hoffenheim
Thomas Helmer: director at Arminia Bielefeld, TV presenter
Christian Ziege: formerly manager of Arminia Bielefeld
Steffen Freund: Germany U16s coach
Dieter Eilts: formerly coach of Hansa Rostock
Mehmet Scholl: coach of Bayern Munich reserves
Andreas Möller: formerly technical director, Kickers Offenbach
Stefan Kuntz: chairman of FC Kaiserslautern
Notable others in squad
Jürgen Klinsmann former Germany manager, now coach of US team
Oliver Bierhoff general manager of Germany team
Oliver Reck caretaker manager, Duisburg
Mario Basler manager, Rot-Weiss Oberhausen
Fredi Bobic Stuttgart sporting director
- More about:
- Bayern Munich
- FC Bayern
- Manchester City
- Phil Neville
- Premier League
- Vfb Stuttgart