by Rob Shepherd.
Rio Ferdinand is the first player of England’s golden generation to hint at the real reason why it became the wooden spoon generation.
It remains heresy to say it but read between the lines of Ferdinand’s new book and he suggests it was the cult of David Beckham which undermined England when the golden boys should have peaked under Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Appraising the Eriksson era, Ferdinand says: ‘I think Sven was a bit overawed by Beckham.
‘If truth be known he was a bit too much of a Beckham fan.’
That was never more true than at the 2002 World Cup finals.
Yes, Beckham had made sure England got there when he scored THAT memorable free-kick goal in final minute of the game against Greece to make it 2-2 at Old Trafford thus securing qualification to the finals in South Korean and Japan without the danger of going to a play off.
It was one of the great dramatic moments in the history of the England football team and cemented Beckham’s iconic status. But that’s also when the cult of Beckham took over. In my opinion to the detriment of the England team.
It was swimming against the tide to argue as much back then, but I know there were a few England players of that era who felt the same at the time, certainly now.
While not anti-Beckham, many felt his domination of England as ‘Brand Beckham’ expanded into a global empire undermined a team that had the best group of players since 1990, when England reached the semi finals of the World Cup, potentially even better.
They should have got closer to winning the 2002 and 2006 World Cup than they did. Certainly the 2004 European Championship.
But in each tournament Team England seemed, for some of us observers, more like Team Beckham.
Team Beckham was indeed a phrase some players would mutter under their breath.
Ferdinand was and remains friends with Beckham. And the way football world has gone in a commercial sense Ferdinand is hardly going to come out and suggest Beckham’s international career was allowed to run and run under Eriksson despite the fact it seemed obvious he was being picked for his name, his status as captain and his danger from free-kicks rather than the all round contribution he offered at his height.
But the phrase: ‘If truth be known, he (Eriksson) was a bit too much of a Beckham fan’, speaks volumes.
In 2002 Beckham, who was at the peak of his game then, suffered from a metatarsal injury.
It should have ruled him out of that World Cup, but Eriksson made the decision to nurse him back in South Korea and Japan.
Beckham did return, even scoring the winner against Argentina from the penalty spot. But he was clearly a passenger as it would prove in the defeat to Brazil.
By Euro 2004, Beckham, by then at Real Madrid, simply was not the force of nature he had been for England and would miss a decisive penalty in a shoot out against Portugal in the quarters.
In 2006 Beckham did not seem fit enough again but was still picked yet in the quarter final which England would lose to Portugal (again on penalties), lacked the energy and urgency he once had and was eventually replaced by Aaron Lennon with an injury at half-time.
All of this was not Beckham’s fault. He was a great player and leader for England. But at crucial times he was not fit enough to play with the energy his style required. Yet it seems Eriksson was too much of a Beckham fan to see the obvious and make the decision to leave him out to get to the best out of the team.
After all it wasn’t as if England were lacking in midfield talent. There was of course Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes around and others such as Joe Cole, Owen Hargreaves, Danny Murphy and the fleeting hopes of Lennon or Kieron Dyer.
Indeed had Eriksson not been ‘blinkered’ by his Beckham obsession and slavery to 4-4-2 there was a system that could have harnessed the best of England’s golden generation and even won the 2006 World Cup let alone the Euros.
Looking back, had England gone 3-5-2 when all fit they could have fielded this team:
James; Campbell, Ferdinand, Terry; G. Neville, Gerrard, Scholes, Lampard, A. Cole; Rooney, Owen.
Beckham would still have been part of the squad, but not the focal point of it. Indeed in some games he could have replaced his pal Gary Neville at right wing back.
The above team from the so-called golden generation looking back now looks like it could have struck gold, but the obsession with ‘Golden Balls’ meant it underachieved.
Eriksson’s successor Steve McClaren must have felt that, which is why he axed Beckham. But when results went wrong the coach would and bring Becks back.
Fabio Capello then indulged in Beckham too, enabling him reach an outfield record of 115 caps, before injury made the decision for him. He could not play at the 2010 World Cup, by which time the golden generation, drained by as Capello’s ‘prison camp mentality’, phrased by Ferdinand, had lost their sparkle.
Rio Ferdinand #2Sides My Autobiography is to be released on October 2 published by Blink Publishing.