James Maddison, Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden - how does Gareth Southgate fit them all in to his England team
Our most talented set of soccer stars since 1966 seemingly had the world at their feet and were, so we thought, nailed on certainties for glory.
Boasting such world class talents as David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen, we believed it was simply a case of when, not if, they would ever end the years of hurt since Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy.
How wrong we were.
Frustratingly, the undoubted array of individual talents at the disposal of manager Sven Goran Eriksson, never quite lived up to expectation.
While on paper we quite possibly had the best squad in European football, on grass we were only good enough to reach three quarter-finals - the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and the 2004 Euros.
Such a failure to make the most of so much footballing strength, is a cautionary tale worth heeding.
The opening few weeks of this new football season have offered proof, if any were needed, of just how deep our resources go when it comes to potential England squad players - particularly in midfield and across the front line.
Indeed, it could be argued that present manager Gareth Southgate has something even more valuable than gold at his disposal, as he looks to deliver silverware success with his ‘Platinum Generation’.
With great players, however, comes great responsibility… and no little pressure.
The almost perverse and very cruel nature of English sport could yet see the man who restored our pride in the Three Lions and took us to a World Cup semi-final and a first ever Euros final, branded a failure if he does not achieve the holy grail of actually winning a trophy.
He certainly has the tools to complete the job, but then, so did Sven, and look what happened there.
The key to success, therefore, lies with Southgate and his ability to find that elusive winning formula from the myriad of options at his disposal.
This past week alone has highlighted just how difficult a task he faces as we head into Euro 2024 as one of the undoubted favourites.
As Phil Foden scored for Manchester City, James Maddison’s resurgence at Tottenham continued with a top class display at Arsenal, for whom Bukayo Saka once again found the net in a quality display.
Strikers Ollie Watkins and Callum Wilson both scored for Aston Villa and Newcastle respectively, while Jarrod Bowen, James Ward-Prowse, Eberechi Eze and Anthony Gordon also pressed their claims for squad inclusion.
Abroad you have Jude Bellingham setting La Liga alight with his magnificent start at Real Madrid and of course the captain Harry Kane, who bagged a hat-trick at the weekend and has already scored seven goals in just five Bundesliga matches – a new Bayern Munich record.
Throw into the mix the likes of Jack Grealish, Marcus Rashford, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Raheem Sterling, Connor Gallagher and even Ivan Toney, and you start to understand the challenge Southgate faces.
Watching back the highlights on Match of the Day, you find yourself thinking out loud… ‘he must be a certainty for the England squad’, ‘Definitely the first name on my team sheet’, ‘England can’t do without him, he must play’, ‘Southgate is a fool if he doesn’t pick him’.
And before you know it, you have a team of 17 with eight players in the midfield. Southgate does, of course, have his favourites and is clearly not afraid to forego current form if it means picking a balanced XI, hence his selection of Harry Maguire in a defence which also has its own selection headaches.
The emergence of Marc Guehi at Palace and Levi Colwill at Chelsea, together with the solid display of Brighton’s Lewis Dunk on debut against Scotland, has ensured that it is not only in midfield and attack where Southgate has his selection headaches.
Loyalty is no bad thing if it means the players grow used to playing alongside one-another, forging an almost club-like awareness, and there will need to be more of that as we build towards next summer’s Euros in Germany – starting with the home friendly against Australia and qualifier with Italy in a fortnight.
History shows us that having an embarrassment of riches in footballing talent does not necessarily guarantee success. It is what you do with the talent that matters most.
In Southgate we must trust. Trust him to heed the warnings of the past. Trust him to come up with a system and a gameplan which complements the vast array of skills he has at hand. And finally, trust him to nurture this quite brilliant generation of players and turn their undoubted potential into a lasting legacy as the men who finally lived up to their reputation.
Over to you, Gareth.