After the BBC showed England’s Euro 2004 demolition of Croatia, we thought we’d compare the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ with the new crop of talented youngsters that have emerged. Here is our combined England XI from 2004 and 2020.
Goalkeeper – Jordan Pickford
Misses out – David James
Not a great start. Neither Pickford nor James would be considered close to the level of some of England’s goalkeeping greats, such as James’ predecessor David Seaman.
However, James played every game at Euro 2004 and Pickford is undeniably first choice at the moment so it’s between the two for our combined England XI and Pickford gets the nod.
Ultimately, whilst his Premier League form remains wholly unconvincing and he has oddly small arms for a goalkeeper, Pickford has done very little wrong for England. This is why so far he has managed to hold off the likes of Dean Henderson.
James had plenty of highs for England but they were eclipsed by the lows, including an error against Austria in a World Cup qualification game that led to him being dropped for Paul Robinson.
Left back – Ashley Cole
Misses out – Ben Chilwell
An easy decision. Although Ben Chilwell is a fine left back and should be first choice for England for the next few years, he has no chance of keeping 2004 Ashley Cole out of our combined England XI.
The Arsenal player was fresh off the back of the legendary Invincibles season and well on his was to cementing his reputation as the finest left back in the world.
In many people’s eyes the greatest left back in England history, not even Chilwell could truly complain about missing out on selection to Ashley Cole.
Right back – Trent Alexander-Arnold
Misses out – Gary Neville
Quite a tough call this one as Neville, who would go on to earn 85 caps for his country, was an extremely fine and reliable servant for both Manchester United and England over a long and decorated career.
However, Trent Alexander-Arnold has spent the last couple of years redefining exactly what it is to be a full back. At the age of just 21, he has already contributed 25 Premier League assists for Liverpool, ten less than Neville managed in his entire career.
Whilst Neville was certainly better defensively, Alexander-Arnold’s attacking output has made him probably the best attacking full back in the world at the moment. He’s England’s best crosser of a ball since… someone who will come later in this list.
Centre back – John Terry
Misses out – Harry Maguire
Becoming the most expensive defender in the history of football isn’t enough to earn Harry Maguire a spot in our combined England XI over ‘Captain, Leader, Legend, Shithouse’ John Terry.
Whilst the Chelsea legend’s personality and off-field antics may not have endeared him to, basically anyone who isn’t a Chelsea fan, there is no denying that he was an incredible defender. In fact he was arguably the best in the history of the Premier League.
Both Maguire in 2020 and Terry in 2004 were the first choice central defenders for their country but, while Maguire has enjoyed an understated season steadily justifying that extortionate transfer fee that so many laughed at, he can’t match the pedigree of a peak John Terry.
Centre back – Sol Campbell
Misses out – Joe Gomez
England’s second choice centre back, at that point, Sol Campbell partners John Terry and it isn’t a difficult decision.
As mentioned John Terry is arguably the best defender in the history of the Premier League but Sol Campbell would be another whose name featured in that conversation.
England have struggled to find a regular partner for Harry Maguire over the last year. Joe Gomez, John Stones, Tyrone Mings and Michael Keane have all featured at different points, although it’s Liverpool defender Gomez who you’d imagine will get the nod in the long term.
However, with that still up in the air it’s impossible to pick him for our combined England XI over Campbell.
Left wing – Raheem Sterling
Misses out – Paul Scholes
Here is where the comparisons get a little tricky as England’s preferred 4-4-2 back then was quite different to the 4-3-3 that Gareth Southgate tends to utilise today, so a few of these head to heads won’te be like for like.
However, Raheem Sterling is definitely more of a left winger than Paul Scholes, who was controversially deployed there in Euro 2004. It marked the height of the Scholes / Gerrard / Lampard midfield conundrum as Sven-Goran Eriksson desperately tried to find ways to cram all three players into his XI.
Ironically, had he utilised the 4-3-3 that England now favour, it would have been a far simpler task. However, back then the notion of just playing a single striker was frightening.
Had be played in central midfield, Scholes would have been included ahead of any of the current crop. However, Sven shunted him out to the left and, as such, he misses out to an actual left sided player in Sterling.
Right wing – David Beckham
Misses out – Jadon Sancho
Plenty of people are describing Jadon Sancho as a ‘generational talent’ after his heroics for Borussia Dortmund in recent seasons. Whilst that may prove to be correct, he hasn’t done enough on the international stage yet to justify the exclusion of David Beckham.
One of the wealthiest and most famous people on the planet, there isn’t you can feel sorry for David Beckham about. However, if you were going to pick one thing it might be the fact that his celebrity occasionally overshadowed just how good he was at football.
You don’t earn 115 England caps, thus becoming the nation’s second most capped outfielder, unless you have something about you and David Beckham’s right foot was certainly something.
One of the finest crossers of the balls in football history, he rescued England with that infamous free kick against Greece and various other key moments during his career. Portrayed as a villain for a while after kicking out against Diego Simeone, Beckham eventually became England captain and a national hero. A worthy inclusion in our combined England XI
Central midfield – Steven Gerrard
Misses out – Jordan Henderson
A fascinating comparison at club and country level. A few years ago the notion that Henderson would even be in the same conversation as Steven Gerrard for Liverpool fans would have seemed absurd. However, one Champions League and one (probable) Premier League title later and suddenly people are genuinely questioning whether Henderson is the better captain.
Based purely on international form though, it has to be Steven Gerrard. You could argue that both players have never looked as at home playing at Wembley as they have at Anfield. However, while Jordan Henderson has so far benefited from a lack of direct competition for England, Gerrard managed to become England’s fourth most-capped player (114) in an era that included Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Owen Hargreaves.
To do that was the mark of a truly special player and one who would later go onto become the permanent captain of his country.
Central Midfield – Frank Lampard
Misses out – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Just like the central defence, England’s 2020 midfield isn’t settled which makes picking players from 2004 more straightforward. If the defence is a question of who partners Harry Maguire, the midfield is currently just a matter of who lines up alongside Jordan Henderson.
There are a few options. Ruben Loftus-Cheek is a very strong candidate when injury fre, although that’s a rarity. Phil Foden will definitely have an increased claim in the months and years to come. However, at the moment you’d have to say that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is probably the most likely.
Because of that uncertainty though, it is once again very difficult to put him in over a 100+ capped midfielder who is classed as one of the best in Premier League history. As such, Lampard is a no-brainer for the combined England XI.
Forward – Wayne Rooney
Misses out – Marcus Rashford
Wayne Rooney became England’s most capped outfield player (120) and all time highest goalscorer (53) goals. He also captained the side for several years. Yet often people reflect on his international career as though he didn’t achieve his full potential.
A large part of that is due to the insane standards he set for himself at a very early stage and the 2004 Euros were peak Wayne Rooney. The precocious 18-year-old scored four goals and eventually was included in the team of the tournament. He was utterly fearless and no opposition defender could handle him.
Marcus Rashford made a similarly remarkable start to his own career both domestically and internationally. He scored on his England debut, becoming the youngest ever Englishman to achieve the feat and the third youngest England scorer overall.
However, with 10 goals in 38 appearances his scoring rate is significantly lower than Rooney’s was after 3x as many games. Ultimately it was an impossible ask for Rashford, Wayne Rooney is probably England’s best ever international striker and he would have to make our combined England XI.
Forward – Harry Kane
Misses out – Michael Owen
Lastly a very tough decision to make on who would partner Wayne Rooney.
Michael Owen, before injuries set in, was a sensational talent. His goal against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup will live long as one of the most iconic goals in England footballing history and in 2001 he would become the first Englishman to win the Ballon d’Or since Kevin Keegan in 1979.
However, Harry Kane’s goalscoring record for England is nothing short of outrageous. By the end of 2004 a 24-year-old Michael Owen would have 28 goals in 67 appearances at a rate of one goal every 2.4 games. By comparison, a 26-year-old Harry Kane currently has an astonishing 32 goals in 45 games at a rate of 1 goal every 1.4 games.
Cynics will accuse Kane of stat-padding against lesser sides and scoring penalties but he also led England to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, the nation’s best performance at an international tournament since Euro ’96.
We have to include a man who, at his current rate of scoring, will match Wayne Rooney’s total after 75 games, 45 games less than the former-Manchester United man, in our combined England XI.
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