A timeline of England's Golden Generation

  • England had one of world football's best pool of players during 2000s
  • Three Lions couldn't turn this into tangible success
  • Failures at 2002 and 2006 World Cups as well as Euro 2004, while they did not qualify for Euro 2008
Image by Zac Alalouff
Image by Zac Alalouff /

Remember when The Simpsons was broadcast on BBC Two and then abruptly switched to Channel Four? When flip phones and text credit were essential? When England's team was lined with stars like David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen?

Simpler times. Not necessarily better, but simpler, for sure.

Back in those days, the cast of the Three Lions were A-list celebrities who were deserving of their status, but primarily because of the work undertaken with their respective clubs. It never quite clicked when representing England.

Here's the full history of that side.

Sven-Goran Eriksson's rebuild

Sven Goran Eriksson
The man with, well, some sort of plan / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

The enigmatic if flawed Kevin Keegan stepped down as England boss towards the end of 2000, and the man the FA wanted to replace him was Lazio icon Sven-Goran Eriksson - one of the world's greatest managers at club.

Understandably, this appointment was seen as quite the coup, but the Swede was quick to learn that managing England was not the great comedic adventure as portrayed in 2001's football odyssey - Mike Bassett: England Manager. Rather, it was the hellish and almost impossible job as portrayed in 2001's football odyssey - Mike Bassett: England Manager.

England announced their new era to the world with a famous 5-1 win at Germany in World Cup qualifying, and booked their place at the 2002 tournament with essentially their final kick of that campaign, with David Beckham scoring a 25-yard free-kick.

The Three Lions were roaring again.

Ronaldinho's lob ends World Cup 2002 dreams

Paul Scholes of England
Beaten by the winners / Ross Kinnaird/GettyImages

But results didn't really pick up again for England leading up to the World Cup - only one win from their last seven games heading to Japan and South Korea - and a slow start against Sweden in the group stage threatened to derail their redemption.

A statement win against Argentina, with Beckham completing his arc back to heroism with the only goal from the penalty spot, and another draw versus Nigeria was enough to send them through to the knockouts.

Denmark were easily dispatched with in the last 16, only for eventual winners Brazil to come from behind to knock out England, despite playing most of the second half with only ten men.

It was back to the drawing board for Eriksson and co.

Portugal on penalties, part 1

Ricardo didn't even wear gloves, for goodness sake / Sportsphoto/Allstar/GettyImages

Euro 2004 and its qualifying campaign saw the rapid rise of Wayne Rooney, who seemed to be the final piece of the Golden Generation's star-studded puzzle.

But even Rooney's integration wasn't enough to stop England from tripping up over themselves.

Once again, a rocky run of form - this time one win in six - set an unstable tone. Eriksson's men led tournament favourites France 1-0 in their opening group game, only to concede twice in added time to throw away all three points.

Rooney led the way with show-stopping displays against Croatia and Switzerland, restoring some momentum ahead of their crunch quarter-final with hosts Portugal.

But England's oldest nemesis of all - the penalty shootout - wretched its ugly head. The Three Lions went out, thanks in large part to some heroics from gloveless Portugal goalkeeper Ricardo.

Portugal on penalties, part 2

Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney
Getting embarrassing now, lads / Richard Sellers/Allstar/GettyImages

At this point, pressure surrounding the national team was at an all-time high. It was both a help and a hinderance that English clubs were thriving.

The arrival of Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez on these shores in 2004 saw England as a country embrace new tactical ideas and traditions. Three Lions players were getting a better footballing education on a day-to-day basis and there was a theory this would help them for the 2006 World Cup.

And yet it went in the other direction. Club allegiances, if anything, became too strong. There was a coldness among the group that needed ridding if England were to win.

Rid it they did not. They squeezed through a group containing Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago and Sweden, then only just about saw off Ecuador in the last 16.

Then the new enemy. Portugal, again. Quarter-finals, again. Penalties, again. England crashed out, again.

Eriksson's reign was over.

Wally with a brolly

Steve McClaren
The wrong kind of iconic / Alex Livesey/GettyImages

In place of Eriksson stepped up one of his assistants in Steve McClaren, arguably the best English manager in the game at that point.

But now, this squad had soured too much. There was too much baggage on the international stage and between them all at club level. They couldn't drop that competitive edge even when they stepped through the doors at St George's Park and Wembley.

McClaren's selections proved confusing too, and after a limp 3-2 defeat at home to Croatia, England's hopes of winning Euro 2008 were ended at the qualifying stage.

The Golden Generation was over.

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