England’s ‘golden generation’ massively underachieved on the national stage in 2006, but they were a phenomenal group of individual players.
Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side were dumped out of the World Cup by Portugal at the quarter-final stage, but the side that started the opening game against Paraguay was arguably the best 11 that has ever taken to the field for England – on paper.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were at the peak of their powers in central midfield, David Beckham was in his prime on the right-hand side, and there were few better defenders in world football than Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.
Ten years prior though, and those same 11 were fresh-faced youngsters desperate for playing time in the Premier League.
Thankfully, they were given enough game time to flourish in the Premier League and become world class players – it would’ve been a disservice to football if they didn’t, regardless of their failure on the national stage.
Now, it seems another critical moment in the future of English football is approaching.
There is an abundance of talent beginning to emerge in England’s top flight, and if they continue to rack up minutes like they have done this season, another ‘golden generation’ could be just around the corner.
Gary Neville started the World Cup in 2006 as one of the best fullbacks in world football, but a decade earlier he had only just cemented his place as Manchester United’s first choice right back.
Neville became United’s starting right back in the 1994-95 season after an injury to Paul Parker, and subsequently retained the position for nearly 15 years.
Likewise, Trent Alexander-Arnold broke into the Liverpool team two years ago as a result of an injury – in this case to fellow Englishman Nathaniel Clyne.
Since then, he has made the right-back slot as his own, and is widely regarded as one of the best fullbacks in world football.
Alexander-Arnold could quite easily replicate Neville’s feat, and the last two seasons could just the beginning of an illustrious career.
As Neville was making a name for himself at Old Trafford, Rio Ferdinand was making his debut for West Ham, and shortly after, John Terry would do the same at Chelsea.
Both Ferdinand and Terry’s futures were sculpted by loan moves; to Bournemouth and Nottingham Forest respectively.
After successful spells away from their parent clubs, the pair would go on to be two of the best centre halves England has ever produced, winning titles at two of the biggest clubs in the country.
In similar fashion, there is another English centre-half breaking through at Stamford Bridge this season.
Fikayo Tomori appeared once for Chelsea in 2016, but relied on loan moves to Brighton, Hull City and Derby County to force himself into consideration for a starting spot.
It is early stages for Tomori, but if he fulfils the potential he has shown at the start of this season, there is no reason he can’t replicate Terry’s success at Chelsea.
Axel Tuanzebe is another centre-back that looks set for a breakthrough season following a successful loan spell – the 21-year-old spent last season at Aston Villa, but is now third choice in the centre of Manchester United’s defence.
There are centre-backs developing in the bottom half of the table too – Ben Godfrey is captaining newly promoted Norwich at just 21.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are fondly remembered for their loyalty to Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, spending years playing at the highest level of the game.
Mason Mount and Phil Foden could be the modern-day answer to that pair; Mount has been on the books at Chelsea since he was six-years-old, while Stockport-born Foden has played for City since he was nine.
Foden has flirted with a starting spot under Pep Guardiola, but such is the quality of City’s squad, he may rely on David Silva’s departure to realise his full potential.
Guardiola has unbelievable faith in Foden though, describing him as the “most talented player” he has ever seen.
Mount meanwhile is thriving under the guidance of Lampard himself, scoring three times already for Chelsea this season after earning himself a starting place.
Of the starting England team in 2006, Owen Hargreaves was the only player to have played abroad, coming through Bayern Munich’s academy, and making 145 appearances for the German side.
Jadon Sancho is a present example of an English player making a name for himself overseas.
Sancho left Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund two years ago, and since become one of the most sought-after players in Europe.
Reiss Nelson, who is now a fully fledged first team player at Arsenal, also benefitted from a move to the Bundesliga.
Peter Crouch started up front for England against Paraguay, and although he isn’t quite as tall as the former Liverpool man, Tammy Abraham is proving to be just as much of a handful as the six-foot seven-inch striker.
Abraham has become Chelsea’s first choice number nine this season, and has scored seven goals in seven games for the Blues.
If he continues his goal-scoring form, he could be leading the line for his country at the Euro’s this summer – let alone in ten years’ time.
There are more and more youngsters emerging across the league this season who haven’t even been mentioned here – Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Kyle Walker-Pieters, Joe Willock and Reece James are all key members of top-six teams’ squads.
Dean Henderson is Sheffield United’s first-choice goalkeeper, while James Maddison and Ben Chilwell should also be noted for their performances at Leicester.