Matthew Monk

Matthew Monk is a school teacher from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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Sowing Magical Seeds

    As results go, beating the Germans 5-1 in Munich is quite good. I mean, it could have been better - it could have been 5-0. Or even better, it could have been England 5, Scotland 1.

    The victory in Munich was very impressive to say the least; it was probably England's best away performance since 1948 when the fabled forward line of Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton, Wilf Mannion, and (greatest of them all) the legendary Tom Finney destroyed the pre-Superga Italians 4-0 in Milan. At that time England did truly have a claim to be the best team in the world, but within six years that myth had been exposed first by Larry Gaetjens in Belo Horizonte, and then it was finally ended by the Magical Magyars, 6-3 at Wembley in 1953 and (even more impressively) at the Nep Stadion, 7-1 in 1954.

    The Hungarian team of 1954 are the greatest team never to win the World Cup. There is no contest here. France in 1986, Holland in 1974 and 1978 and Brazil in 1982 may think that with some justification that they were the best teams at the finals, but when it comes to look for the greatest team never to have been champions of the world, then the Hungarian team that went to Switzerland in 1954 will never be surpassed. Now, I must admit that never saw this team play at first hand (I wasn't even born until 21 years later!) but I still find it difficult to believe that the team of Puskas, Hidegkuti, Kocsis and Grosics failed to win the World Cup. This is of course until you realise that they had to beat a German team to win it, and even though Fritz Walter was 33, he inspired his team to win the final 3-2, and start the end of the great run of this exquisite team. By 1956, both Puskas and Kocsis were in Spain, and the Magical Magyars were no more.

    Herein lies what I think is the most intriguing issue following England's great win in Munich. Within a few years of England's previous greatest away performance they had been obliterated by Hungary and were left drifting for thirteen years until finally reclaiming their once proud position at the summit of the game in 1966. Yet, within four years England had lost this crown to Brazil and failed to even qualify for the finals for another twelve years. Hungary's collapse was even faster - just three years after Wembley the era was over, and as yet it has never come back. The point I am trying to make is however well England played in Munich, the significance of it can only be judged in a few years time.

    Anything could happen to this team in the next few years. With performances like this, England should put up a strong challenge in Asia next year and in Portugal in three years time. But looking at history tells us that just as easily they could be defeated in a key match next June and then fall apart altogether by 2006 - if it could happen to the two teams I wrote about above, it can surely happen to an England team that (after all) has only defeated a side well beaten at (and barely improved since) France 98 and Euro 2000.

    Yet I can't help thinking (hoping?) that this victory is different. The current England team is very young. Apart from David Seaman, the rest of the team are in their early to mid twenties or even younger. But, with the increase in top level, competitive European football that the expanded Champions League has brought all the players have at least as much experience of playing against the best opposition as the last England team to do well in the World Cup (at Italia 90) had. This generation of players is also much faster and more skilful than past England teams - the likes of Gerrard, Scholes and Owen are fast becoming complete players, yet none of them will be anywhere near 30 next year.

    Added to this, England finally has a forward-looking Coach, who is not saddled with a reliance on past favourites (as Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle were) or handicapped by tactical ineptitude (like Graham Taylor and Kevin Keegan). In Sven-Goran Eriksson, England have appointed a Coach with a good (but not brilliant) track record, but more importantly they have appointed an outsider who has come in with fresh ideas and picked the best players he can find, regardless of allegiance or reputation. For instance the way he has jettisoned dead weight like Dennis Wise and Teddy Sheringham is something that no other English manager would have done - simply because he has no knowledge of their faded reputations or friends in the press. There is still of course the question of what will happen if Eriksson gets a job offer from say Barcelona or Internazionale; what happens if he jumps ship and leaves the England team?

    Another positive aspect of this victory is that all the players involved came from just four Premiership teams - Manchester United, Leeds, Arsenal and Liverpool. This meant that there was a great understanding between the players, and even though they are great rivals at club level, the camaraderie and spirit running through the team was obvious. As well as this, the fact that these clubs are quite clearly the strongest in the Premiership and almost certainly will be England's four representatives in the Champions League next season can only help to make the national team better.

    But are they good enough to win something? I think that Japan/Korea 2002 is going to come too soon for this team. I could be wrong, but I think England are not going to cope with the humidity of East Asia as well as Argentina or Italy, and as yet do not have the strength in depth of France to make a real challenge. But what of Euro 2004 or Germany 2006? In five years time Steven Gerrard will be 25, Michael Owen will be 26 and the likes of Beckham, Scholes and Campbell will be 30 or 31, and in their footballing primes. Remember, Pele was 29 in 1970, as Gerd Muller was in 1974. Of course, World Cups have been won by younger players (the seventeen year old Pele in 1958 springs to mind), but on the whole teams in their late twenties have historically been the victors.

    So the seeds that were sown in Munich may bloom again in five years time, but this time England might be beating Germany to win the World Cup, not just qualify. Or, as in Tom Finney's great side, and the Magical Magyars found, a better side might come along and beat them. And who would bet against that team being German? Certainly not Ferenc Puskas.



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