The end of a golden generation? You must be having a laugh



Football so often provides us with such mind-bending feats of astonishment and wonder that it can feel a little spoiled to whine about it its drab moments. But I'm going to do it anyway.

The 2012/2013 instalment of The Premier League was, as far as the entertainment stakes go, up there with taking a walking tour of an abandoned carpet factory. Manchester United had the title wrapped up in time to stick it under their Christmas tree, about 12 teams seemed to go out of their way to try and get relegated, and us poor spectators had to content ourselves with nothing but the “fight for fourth” on the final day. It was the sporting equivalent of watching a VHS in the bath because the cinema had sold out.

Actually, it's the players you had to feel sorry for. So frustrated were they by the endless stream of mediocrity they were serving up, they turned to biting, kicking, abusing and tweeting each other just to get by. Have you ever been so bored that you'd pop a pig's head into your mate's locker? Glen Whelan has, the poor little mite.

In fact, so fed up by football are they, half of the Premier League decided to pack it all in for good yesterday. Paul Scholes, Phil Neville, Michael Owen, even Jamie Carragher - a man so timeless and adaptable that if you trace his ancestry back far enough you eventually get to a race of Play-Doh men - can't face it anymore. The apathy even spread abroad, with David Beckham sobbing his way into a decade of appearances in charity matches and Mark Van Bommel leaving as big a mark on the modern game as he did on Dusan Tadić's ankle.

Will they all be missed? Probably. Will we spend a summer that's bereft of a major tournament hearing about how brilliant they all were? Definitely. England might not have the most technically-gifted footballers or the best coaching infrastructure, but we're still world leaders in glorifying our own mediocrity.

That's not to say any of them are bad players, of course. Between them they can point to Premier Leagues, Champion's Leagues, or the fact they're related to Gary Neville to attest to their glittering careers. But the sad fact remains that none of them will leave the sort of footballing legacy it looked like they would some 15 years ago.

Take Paul Scholes. One of the finest midfield players this country has ever produced, he's arguably the player who most contributed to Sir Alex Ferguson's countless successes at Manchester United. But he's spent the last two, arguably three, seasons puffing around looking like car mechanic who's won a “be a player for a day” competition. His defining moment in an England shirt? Being the player repeatedly shoe-horned into odd positions to ensure the teamsheet had as many big names on it as possible. We've heard time and time again how badly the national team have needed a tempo-controlling calming presence in midfield. Turns out they had they one but they'd marooned him on the left wing.

There were also points in the last decade when there was a genuine case that Michael Owen was the best goalscorer in world football. Two terrific World Cup displays, a career defining FA Cup Final performance, a huge transfer to Real Madrid... and it all came to an end with 17 minutes off the bench for Stoke in a season where he mustered a solitary goal. He's 33 – at that age, Raul got 20 for Schalke and Shearer and Rivaldo both surpassed the 30-goal mark. Granted injuries played a part, but for all the expectation that's accompanied Owen's career, he retires having scored more than ten goals in a season just three times since he won the 2001 Ballon D'or.

The saddest tale of all, though, is that of Carrager. Breaking through into the Liverpool team at the age of 18, he was the man who was supposed to lead Liverpool back to a glorious new dawn. Forget the headline-grabbing Steven Gerrard, Liverpool have always been built around a steely defensive foundation. But manager after manager has come and gone from the Merseyside club having failed to mould an impenetrable wall around his alarmingly angular jaw. They've picked up the odd cup here and there, but when Carragher made his debut in 1998, Liverpool had 18 titles to Manchester United's 12. Now they trail by two. 38 England caps in 17 years tells its own story as well. That's only two more than Wayne Bridge.

Then of course there's David Beckham, who inadvertently provides us with the best possible example of the problem as a whole. He was a good player, a very good player in fact, but he's somehow become the defining image of the modern game through virtue of scoring a handful of very dramatically-timed goals. His legacy will live on for hundreds of years, even though nobody can quite tell you what he actually did to deserve such status. A global icon off the pitch, he was little more than Leytonstone's answer to Nolberto Solano (albeit with much better hair) on it.

Scholes, Carragher, Owen and Beckham have certainly earned their retirement. I'm just not sure they've quite earned their status.

Read more of Adam's columns.