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Is England’s current team better than the "Golden Generation"?

England
(Image credit: Getty)

England's performance at Euro 2020 was generational - really. No England team since you-know-when has managed a final. 

Even that England team: the "Golden Generation", who carried the weight of a nation's unreasonable expectations on their shoulders. They have may been pillars at club level but they couldn't achieve what Gareth Southgate's army could - despite their unbelievable talent.

RICH JOLLY What happened to England's "Golden Generation"? How the country's most talented squad never came good

Which begs the question - which team was better, player for player? Let's take the best team from 2004-2007 and pit them against the best of 2021 to decide...

Jordan Pickford vs David James

When it comes down to performances for the Three Lions specifically, there can only be one winner. David James might have been a formidable keeper at club level – racking top more than 570 top flight games – but his displays for England were average at best. 

Pickford, on the other hand, has been sensational between the posts for Gareth Southgate's side. He made a number of eye catching saves at Euro 2020, helped England win their first penalty shootout since 1996 with his heroics against Colombia at the World Cup two years earlier, and his solid distribution forms the bedrock of Southgate's possession first philosophy. Pickford gets the no.1 jersey. 

Winner: The current crop

Kyle Walker vs Gary Neville

Serial winners and seemingly ever-present at Manchester clubs, there's a lot that Kyle Walker and Gary Neville have in common. The cliche was that Neville was a great defender shunted out to the right due to a lack of height - but Walker has long been one of the most consistent full-backs in the world and a lynchpin for Pep Guardiola.

No disrespect to G Nev, but Walker is the more complete player - and you'd expect that, given how full-backs have evolved in the past decade. His importance to Gareth Southgate - whether in a three- or four-at-the-back formation - cannot be understated. 

Winner: The current crop

John Stones vs Rio Ferdinand

At club level, this wouldn't even be close, but Stones has excelled for England in two major tournaments, whereas Rio played in an era of abject failure. 

The former scored twice at the 2018 World Cup (both coming in a 6-1 shellacking of Panama in the group stages), helping England to the semis, and was again crucial as England's watertight defence provided the foundation for success at Euro 2020. No, they didn't win the tournament, but a final appearance is something to be lauded. 

Rio, on the other hand, never played at a Euros but did manage 10 World Cup appearances, keeping six clean sheets. He was rarely to blame for England's shortcomings, as his pace and quality on the ball gave England an advantage in and out of possession. He'd walk into the current team and just about edges this contest. 

Winner: The Golden Generation

Harry Maguire vs John Terry

While Stones and Rio were the elegant passers in the backline, Maguire and Terry have the same, no-nonsense, heart-on-sleeve approach. We've got two big captains of two big clubs here, both unafraid to put head and body on the line for club and country.

Maguire has become one of the best defenders in Europe, no doubt - but Terry was at that level, too. Between 2004 and 2007, the Chelsea man was an absolute rock for Jose Mourinho and one of the first names on Sven's teamsheet. 

Winner: The Golden Generation

Luke Shaw vs Ashley Cole

Luke Shaw's goal in the Euro 2020 final was perhaps the greatest moment any England fans has experienced since 1966. The bedlam, the ecstasy, the belief that it was finally, actually, about to come home.

Of course, it didn't. But Shaw fully deserved that moment after a stunning tournament, in which he laid on three goals for his teammates. In short, it was the best left back display in an England shirt since, well...

Ashley Cole. England's greatest-ever left back was perhaps the only shining light at every tournament in the noughties. He was quick, a great reader of the game, superb going forward and also stepped up to take a mean penalty whenever required. Shaw was brilliant this summer. Cole was brilliant for a decade. 

Winner: The Golden Generation

Raheem Sterling vs David Beckham

Two headliner-makers. Two game-changers. Two players who have been wildly unpopular in the British press for menial reasons before starring at an international tournament. 

Sterling and Beckham are completely different footballers. It's so difficult to compare the two - but we're giving it to Beckham. He could turn a match with a single swing of his right boot, even when the rest of the side were floundering. Sterling is a hero - but Becks was arguably England's biggest big-game player back then.

Winner: The Golden Generation

Declan Rice vs Steven Gerrard

England's midfield general. The engine room. The man tasked with winning a tackle and driving the team forward. 

It's hard to judge the two players, given Rice has played almost 100 games fewer for his country. But, on the other hand, Rice has played them all reasonably well, whereas Stevie G has plenty of stinkers littered throughout his 114 caps.

Pitiful displays in the latter stages of just about every major tournament, the fact he couldn't play with Frank Lampard and that his only major tournament goals came against Trinidad and Tobago, Sweden, Switzerland and the USA, beg the question: where were those against-all-odds performances he gave countless times for Liverpool?

Rice was imperious at Euro 2020, including an especially brilliant display against Germany in the last-16. We're giving it to him. 

Winner: The current crop

Kalvin Phillips vs Frank Lampard

Kalvin Phillips and Frank Lampard are completely different midfielders. Both, however, were tasked with an all-round job for England, late surges forward and combining with their midfield partner to ensure no one job falls to the one midfielder.

While Phillips was one of England's stars of 2020, it's impossible not to give this place in the team to Lamps, right? The Chelsea legend may have never lived up to his reputation at international level but he's still England's highest-scoring midfielder ever and was undroppable for most of his Three Lions career. 

Winner: The Golden Generation

Jack Grealish vs Paul Scholes

Again, two very different footballers. While Grealish, with his bulging calves, is all about driving forward with the ball and winning fouls in dangerous areas, Scholes was far better in a deeper role, pinging dangerous balls forward and setting the match tempo.

Yet there are similarities, both have been shunted out on the left for their country, despite a yearning to play more centrally, and both were seen by fans as potential game-changers when left out of the starting lineup. 

Grealish has performed his supersub role well so far for England, and is growing into an important player. But Scholes was a far superior footballer, misused for much of his career. Even still, there's light and dark between the pair in terms of quality. Scholes would transform the current team into potential world beaters and is exactly the sort of player Southgate craves. 

Winner: The Golden Generation

Mason Mount vs Wayne Rooney

Seen by Southgate as perhaps the most important cog in his high-pressing, possession based system, Mount has relished the responsibility and shone across his 24 England caps. He is quick, great on the ball, calm in possession and a leader out of it. 

Rooney, however, was seen as the most important cog by five successive managers. A brilliant, barrelling centre-forward for Sven at Euro 2004, he took the tournament by storm as a freckled teenager. It remains perhaps the best solo performance by any England player in major tournament history. He was solid, if less effective, under four subsequent managers, but always the man whom through everything went. England's all-time greatest goalscorer and the first name on this team sheet. 

Winner: The Golden Generation

Harry Kane vs Michael Owen

You can draw a parallel between this two penalty box predators, right down to the injury niggles - but for us, there's only one winner. 

While Michael Owen was unreal at his peak, tearing apart Germany in their back yard, Kane has top-scored at a World Cup and delivered for his country even when he's played poorly. Southgate's captain is a shoo-in for this side. 

Winner: The current crop

Results: Current Generation 4-7 Golden Generation

4-3-1-2

Pickford
Walker, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole
Beckham, Rice, Lampard
Scholes
Rooney Kane

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