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England needs to learn from failure of 'Golden Generation'

BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa -- Monday afternoon, the inquest into England's worst defeat in World Cup history will begin in earnest.

Fabio Capello will conduct a press conference in the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus for the last time in South Africa, maybe his last time as England coach, period. The Football Association is unwilling to fire the 64-year-old -- he'd be due £12m in compensation -- but might get nervous if the press were to collectively turn against "Don Fabio." England always needs a scapegoat and they don't come more convenient than a granite-faced Italian who's never made an effort to win friends in the media or materially improve his English.

He did make some mistakes, of course: relying on a less than fit Gareth Barry -- not a defensive midfielder by trade -- to keep the fantastic Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller at bay, for example. Players will start briefing against him now, you'll hear a lot more about his supposed aloofness and a regime that was insensitive to the players' needs (read: alcohol and knowing the starting lineup well in advance) over the next few days.

Capello can be forgiven for blaming Uruguayan assistant referee Mauricio Espinosa, the official did miss the the glaring obvious. The Italian thought the decision on Frank Lampard's "Wembley goal" as Germans call this kind of "is it, isn't it?" situation, was "incredible," and rightly so. It was also natural for a manager to cling to the consoling idea that things could have worked very differently if only the referee had done a better job. Any manager would have put up the same argument.

Over all, the players' reaction to the devastating defeat at the hands of their "arch enemy" (Lampard) reflected a welcome sense of realism. Captain Steven Gerrard was grace and sportsmanship personified.

"We can't use the (disallowed Lampard) goal as an excuse", the 30-year-old Liverpool midfielder said. "For me to stand here and say that moment was the reason we lost would be a lie. Germany were the better team over 90 minutes."

Joe Cole was equally honest: "I am devastated. We just weren't good enough. Plain and simple. We weren't good enough from the start of the friendlies."

While Germany defender Arne Friedrich told of "the best team spirit and togetherness I have experienced since getting into the national team eight years ago," Lampard involuntary hinted at tensions in the England camp with a telling slip of the tongue.

"Things conspired us against us, tonight," he said, "sometimes we conspired against us."

John Terry's botched coup will surely come up in the post-mortem. If Capello stays on, Terry's days in the national squad are probably numbered.

But Lampard, 32, also had a slightly different take on the result.

"No one can tell me that Germany were a lot better than us, not '4-1' better than us," he said.

This was a bit of the old delusion that had befallen the "Golden Generation" and significantly contributed to their downfall: the idea that the team's talent and array of big names alone entitled them to achieve great things.

Behind the Chelsea midfielder, Wayne Rooney was stomping through the Free State Stadium mixed zone with ear plugs in, eyes fixed on the middle distance. He didn't stop to talk about his poor form at the World Cup, just as he didn't stop to talk about his dismissal against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Unlike their colleagues from Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga, Premier League players are used to facing the media on their own terms, in other words: rarely at all. English football absolves them of the need to face the music at inopportune times, of the need to confront uncomfortable issues, of the need to pause and reflect on things. It shouldn't. Not because the players owe a duty to the media -- their ultimate pay-masters -- nor because the supporters have a right to hear from their stars. No, behaving like any other professional athlete would first and foremost benefit the players themselves. Engaging with criticism makes you grow as a person, builds the character, grounds you. Living in a bubble, not dealing with reality ensures your development is permanently arrested, on the other hand.

We can talk tactics, too, of course, Joachim Löw certainly did.

"We knew that Gerrard and Lampard always support the forwards and that the midfield would be open, there would be spaces," the 50-year-old explained. "Our objective was to use Miroslav Klose to draw out John Terry, to force him to come out of the defense. We knew that the fullbacks would be very much to the side and this would create the spaces between the English defenders that would help us penetrate their defense. We did that very successfully and could have gone 3-0 up even in the first half. We wanted to penetrate the defense and we were successful there."

That's Germany's performance, summed up perfectly in four sentences. The Germans were better on the ball, they had a better game plan and they had individuals who surprised themselves by reaching new heights.

"I'm having a tough time to come to terms with this result," admitted the outstanding Müller.

"I said before the tournament that this team had quality and skills," insisted a happy Bayern Munich right back Philipp Lahm, the captain.

Capello, a bad performance, lack of team spirit, a sense of entitlement and tactical incompetence: take your pick. For England to really move on and to make sure that their history of underachievement doesn't perpetuate itself endlessly, the hunt for the scapegoats, the search for the one, most important factor must be suspended, however.

More introspection and naval gazing is the last thing England needs, because the traditional belief that the solution to the problem lies within itself, only waiting to be discovered, is very much part of the problem. Instead, the English should do what Germany has done when it realized that its reputation was no longer in line with the actual talent at its disposal: look and learn.

At the turn of the century, a delegation of the German FA went to study the French academy system that was churning out world-class players and decided that similar structures had to be put into place. German clubs and the federation made a concerted effort to produce more talent, allocating hundreds of millions of Euros in the process. Ten years later, this policy has come to fruition.

"No German manager in recent history has had as many players to chose from," wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung before Löw named his World Cup squad.

Tactically, Germany have also tried to emulate the best, namely Spain. In the light of the 2008 European championship final defeat against Luis Aragones' small pass-masters, Löw has changed to a more possession-based style. The fact that Sunday night's historic 4-1 defeat of the English was achieved with counter-attacking football doesn't really matter: the point is that Germany used to the ball so much better than the opposition.

England will have to change, everything really, because in the Darwinian world of modern football, simply staying true to your inherent strengths -- grit, application and pace -- is no longer enough. Germany, who used to pride themselves on very similar traits, have found that they needed to adapt dramatically to re-emerge as a true power on the world stage.

If England can, for once, draw the same lessons, annihilation at the hands of its fierce rivals might just be the best thing that's ever happened to it.

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