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
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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
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
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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