By 90Min
September 09, 2019

What makes one generation of footballers stand out amongst the rest?

Is it the quality of individuals within the group? No, the word 'generation' is a collective one. It relates to everyone within that set and how they interact. Therefore, the cohort that included David Beckham, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard should not be described as 'golden'.

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There is no denying that as solitary players, each one of them was fantastic. Beckham was a phenomenal striker of the ball, Gerrard had unparalleled leadership skills and Lampard reinvented the role of a midfielder.

The same is true of Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand and all their marvellous teammates. Still, their individual qualities did little for England when it mattered most. 

In terms of performances at tournaments, the Three Lions side of the 2000s wasn't even silver or bronze. Fortunately, the current squad are on course to glitter and dazzle at the upcoming European Championships and beyond.

As a unit, Gareth Southgate's recruits work wonderfully well. There is a clear system in place and the 49-year-old has the personnel to perfect it on the pitch.

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The modern game requires energy and purpose, without sacrificing technical ability and footballing intellect. Their coach has fine-tuned a style of play that meets those demands and he has the talent to make the most of it.

Take the fullbacks, for example. Today, your wide defenders need stamina to bomb up and down the pitch, though their delivery from the flanks is equally important. 

Name a player who does that better than Trent Alexander-Arnold. The Liverpool starlet may need to refine his defensive abilities, but he is nearly the finished article in attack. Danny Rose is not quite at the level of his young counterpart, though he offers more going backwards. 

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Kyle Walker, Ben Chilwell and Kieran Trippier are hardly poor replacements for either man. When it comes to fullback - arguably the key position in 2019 - no one is better stocked than England.

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Central defence is equally impressive. Harry Maguire is not worth £80m, yet he is an integral part of Southgate's backline. Composure, brawn, bringing the ball forward - the Manchester United new boy offers everything John Terry and Ferdinand did.

That's not to say he was as proficient as either of his predecessors, but Maguire has evidently learned some tricks from both of them. Put him next to a confident John Stones and you have a ball-playing, aerially-imposing backline.

Behind the defensive line is a self-assured goalkeeper who has proven his mettle in the heat of a World Cup knockout tie. Jordan Pickford held his nerve in the shootout with Colombia, though his truly heroic display came in the following round versus Sweden.

After Lampard, Gerrard and Paul Scholes came a significant drop-off in midfield ability. There is no such decrease under Southgate. The boss can ask numerous players to undertake numerous roles, with each as reliable as the last.

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Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson - regardless of what their doubters say - are both superb anchors in the middle of the park and either man can do precisely what the manager asks. 

Further forward, there is an abundance of creativity. James Maddison is an artist for Leicester City, whilst Mason Mount has already proved Lampard was right to give him a shot at Premier League level.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another individual who can change a game in one moment of brilliance, as can fellow Chelsea engine Ross Barkley. The duo have a combination of power and precision that adds a new dimension to Southgate's midfield.

Of course, the stellar frontline needs no bigging up. Raheem Sterling has hit seven goals in his last seven Three Lions appearances, building on his marvellous record of 54 for Manchester City since August 2017.

Jadon Sancho is likewise a winger who gets into the box and finishes opportunities. With just one out-and-out striker, it is essential that the widemen offer support.

As for Harry Kane, he will break Rooney's goalscoring record for England. It is a matter of when he does so, not if. Having the Tottenham marksman in the squad is invaluable; he would be spearheading the attack of any Three Lions generation.

And what is the best thing about this generation? The average age of the current squad is just over 25. This Three Lions lineup is already looking fierce; imagine how ferocious they will be once they hit their peak.

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Many of them have reached the semi-finals of a World Cup, a greater achievement than nearly all who came before. That shows heart and talent, but it also serves as motivation for future tournaments. 

Fourth place will not satisfy this hungry pack, this golden generation of English footballers. 

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