2012: the year of the Golden Generation

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The term Golden Generation was once cursed, carrying with it nothing but bad luck and chronic under-achievement.


Portugal have felt the heavy burden of the tag – in fact it was in honour of their group of talented players that the name was first coined.


Rui Costa, Joao Pinto and Luis Figo formed the core of an outrageously talented team that chronically under-achieved at the tail-end of the last century and the beginning of this one. Ditto the Netherlands.


During the eight year period between 1996 and 2004 the best they achieved was runners-up to a limited Greece side in Euro 2004 and by then the Golden Generation had already started to break up to be replaced by the likes of Deco and Cristiano Ronaldo.


England of course are another fine example of the doomed Golden Generation, and perhaps the finest exponents of it.


When Sven Goran Eriksson took control of the Three Lions he confidently predicted that the 2006 World Cup would be the one in which they would peak.


After all, the likes of Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry would be in their peak years.


Now, we know that isn’t exactly what happened. England wilted in Germany and crashed out of the tournament at the hands of Portugal at the quarter final stage, Sven soon left the job and England have been lurking around the duldrums of international football ever since, even though the vast majority of the vintage still cling on to the last of their vitality.


However, Golden Generations failing to live up to expectations are so mid-2000s. A commentator's nightmare it must be, but we are currently in the midst of seeing a handful of teams achieve their full potential.


Before a Spain game prior to 2008, holding a conversation about La Roja was quite straightforward – label them under achievers, extol the virtues of their individuals but point out knowingly that they simply are not greater than the sum of their parts.


Indeed the likes of Raul, Pep Guardiola, Fernando Morientes, Santiago Canizares and Fernando Hierro should have achieved much more than they did, in fact the should have achieved something. Anything.


But that is now long forgotten thanks to the silverware secured by the current crop of genuine superstars that have claimed the European Championship and the World Cup and will go in search of becoming the first team to win three major international tournaments in a row.


Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Carles Puyol and Fernando Torres (yes) all successfully banished their nation’s underachieving pass with victory over Germany in the Euro 2008 final and Holland in 2010 – now they want the same again in Poland and Ukraine this summer.


In their way will be another Golden Generation in the form of a group of talented Germans.


Their breakthrough moment came with their dashing performance in the 2010 World Cup against England, and now they look serious challengers as usurper of Spain’s crown as the most successful in this generation of…Golden Generations.


Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Sami Khedira all sparked the revolution that was enabled by Germany’s willingness to open their thinking up to attack-minded football after their failings at the turn of the century, while latterly the likes of Mario Gotze and Marco Reus have emerged to make them a tricky proposition indeed.


Croatia and Belgium can also claim to have produced their richest crop for some time and the latter will certainly be a force come the next World Cup in Brazil while the Netherlands' current squad is packed full of talent to the point where....yes…they are considered a Golden Generation.


There is an element of coincidence and an element of hard work that goes into forming a successful Golden Generation. Belgium’s current crop of players can be traced back to the development of centres of excellence at Standard Liege and at Genk while the effects of La Masia are evident in Spain’s approach - not that former Spanish coach Luis Aragones would agree.


“It was my idea to play in that style, to get shorter players together and have them push forward as a team but I remember them saying I was crazy,” he said in Marca this week.


“I'll never forget that I was heavily criticized when I dared to call up Iniesta, Silva and put Xavi in, who had hardly played in the European Cup.”


So with the age of the Golden Generation currently at its peak in theory Euro 2012 should be amongst the finest tournaments in living memory.


Each of Spain, Germany and the Netherlands contributed to the vast majority of excitement that was generated during the 2010 World Cup – all that has changed in the last two years is that Spain have got a little defensively weaker and both the Germans and the Dutch have developed somewhat.


Perfect opportunity, then, for either of the two latter teams to keep up the current trend of players achieving exactly what their talents suggest and show that the term ‘Golden Generation’ is no longer what it once was.

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