England's reverse alchemists managed to ensure the so-called Golden Generation produced only leaden performances at the World Cup finals and, like any struggling scientist, Fabio Capello now has to reassess his formula for success. But who are the corrosive elements within his squad, and who should form part of his new experiment?
Such was the dismal nature of England's humiliation in South Africa, it is tempting to suggest that Capello should follow the lead of France coach Laurent Blanc and exile all 23 members of the World Cup squad for next week's friendly against Hungary. But while John Terry attempted a mini-insurrection following that 0-0 draw against Algeria, there was no full-scale industrial action from the England camp, only ineptitude. This is a squad that must be pruned, not punished.
There are some arguments for stability: Joe Hart is the No. 1 in waiting, Ashley Cole remains one of the world's leading left backs, James Milner is a worthy talent in midfield and the attack must continue to be shaped around Wayne Rooney. Emile Heskey and Jamie Carragher have also done the decent thing and retired of their own accord, but in other respects, the demand for real, sweeping change cannot be ignored.
The next World Cup finals, to be held in Brazil, are four years away and the time is ripe to provoke a generational shift in an England squad that, with an average age of of 28.7, was the oldest ever sent to a World Cup finals, beating the record held by the 1954 vintage that boasted a 39-year-old Stanley Matthews.
The Wizard of Dribble represented his country into his 43rd year, but England should not show similar deference to some of their senior players, who have attracted accusations of complacency and a failure to live up to bloated reputations. Below, Soccernet outlines the changes Capello must make if he is to convince an unusually sceptical English public to once again invest their hopes and dreams in the national side. For some of the country's flops it is surely a case of overhyped, overindulged and over and out.
END OF THE ROAD
DAVID JAMES (Bristol City, 40) The oldest man at the World Cup, James took advantage of Rob Green's horrendous error against United States to usurp his rival as Capello's chosen 'keeper. However, barring a scientific breakthrough in the quest to reverse the ageing process, James should be phased out in favour of younger alternatives. James may argue otherwise, but his decision to turn down interest from the Premier League and Celtic in order to sign for Bristol City this summer is surely the first step in his regression from the national spotlight.
JOHN TERRY (Chelsea, 29) Nothing would better symbolise stagnation in the England squad, or draw a more negative reaction from the Wembley crowd on August 11, than the sight of Terry pulling on the national shirt and emerging from the tunnel to face Hungary. Widely reviled thanks to his sordid role in Wayne Bridge's international retirement, Terry's attempt to undermine Capello with his infamous World Cup press conference was described by the coach as a "big mistake" and his performance against Germany was abysmal. Terry symbolises everything that the public dislike about the modern footballer and his international career should be brought to a swift conclusion.
MATTHEW UPSON (West Ham, 31) The West Ham defender has never been a leading figure at international level and, although he ended the World Cup as the country's joint top scorer alongside Jermain Defoe and Steven Gerrard, the abiding memory was his unwitting part in Germany's dissection of England in the second round. Michael Dawson is a full five years younger than Upson and, if Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King can overcome their persistent fitness problems, there will no longer be any room for the Hammer. The modest centre back is in no way complicit in the slump in the public's perception of the England team, but Upson does not cut it on the pitch anymore.
FRANK LAMPARD (Chelsea, 32) The fact that people are still asking whether Lampard can play alongside Steven Gerrard in midfield is, surely, clear evidence that after ten years of fuzzy thinking and clumsy interaction between the two, he clearly cannot. One must go, and Lampard is two years older than his England colleague and will be 36 when the next World Cup comes around, making him the prime candidate to face the chop. Though he has done little wrong for his country, Lampard has never achieved anything significant at the highest levels of international football and his continued presence in midfield would surely be more of a burden than a blessing in a new-look side desperate for a fresh identity.
SHAUN WRIGHT-PHILLIPS (Manchester City, 28) Wright-Phillips was not even the best winger at Eastlands last season, but his experience saw him picked for the World Cup ahead of Adam Johnson. It is a decision that Capello must regret. Wright-Phillips was largely anonymous in South Africa, particularly when asked to play at left midfield against USA, and while he still has the appearance of a ball boy, the City midfielder looks very much like yesterday's man. With Theo Walcott certain to return to the England set-up, Aaron Lennon still boasting promise and Johnson staking his claim, Wright-Phillips is now the wrong man for the job.
A NEW BEGINNING
PHIL JAGIELKA (Everton, 27) Jagielka, having recovered from a cruciate ligament injury that ruled him out for almost a year, is now approaching his prime as a defender. Though he was noticeably exposed by David Villa when winning his second cap in February 2009, Jagielka is one of the most accomplished defenders in the Premier League when on his best form. A versatile option, who has surely superseded his former Goodison colleague Joleon Lescott, Jagielka deserves the chance to make a sustained case for international recognition.
GARY CAHILL (Bolton, 24) Blackburn's Phil Jones may yet make a compelling case for a call-up if he builds on the real promise he displayed last season but, in Cahill, England already have a centre back of real potential plying his trade outside of the Premier League's established forces. Composed, rugged and uncompromising, Cahill is yet to earn a senior cap but was called into the squad for the final two World Cup qualifiers. A blood clot disrupted his end to the 2009-10 season but Cahill deserves consideration once again. The Bolton star would make a good replacement for Terry.
JACK RODWELL (Everton, 19) The Telegraph's Henry Winter repeatedly demanded Rodwell's inclusion in the squad for the 2010 finals and, while Capello would not bend to the will of Fleet Street's most elegant scribe, it is unthinkable that the Everton man will not be a part of England's future. Equally comfortable at centre back or as a holding midfielder - a position in which Capello is not blessed with deep reserves of talent - Rodwell has attracted covetous glances from Sir Alex Ferguson thanks to his commanding performances at Goodison and the time has surely come to fast-track this Under-21 international into the senior side.
ADAM JOHNSON (Manchester City, 23) Manchester City's millions have not always been put to the best possible use - just ask Roque Santa Cruz's physio - but the £7 million spent on Johnson last January looks a real steal. Dangerous on either wing, the product of Middlesbrough's prolific academy was included in Capello's preliminary 30-man squad for the World Cup finals but was overlooked for Wright-Phillips, whose place he had taken in Roberto Mancini's side. Johnson was consistently excellent for the Under-21s: he now deserves a chance with the big boys.
JACK WILSHERE (Arsenal, 18) Though the young playmaker is still eligible for the Under-19 side, such is Wilshere's obvious talent that he is an outside contender to lead England's renaissance. He was first tipped for full international recognition a year ago and a loan spell at Bolton appears to have ensured the miniscule midfielder has added a physical presence to his technical excellence. With his expert use of the ball and clever movement, Wilshere looks for all the world a Spanish prodigy - England just don't produce this type of player. But English he is, and Capello must take advantage, and soon.
THE WILD CARD
MIKEL ARTETA (Everton, 28) Speaking of the reigning world champions, with players of the calibre of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, Spain have never found a place for Arteta, who is without doubt one of the finest players outside of the Premier League's established Big Four. Indeed, the country naturalised Brazilian Marcos Senna before winning Euro 2008, further hindering his international prospects. The Everton midfielder has been eligible for British citizenship since January and, though it would attract huge controversy, Capello could do worse than convince the San Sebastian native to don the England colours. The Three Lions have long suffered due to their inability to retain possession for any meaningful amount of time, while David Beckham's decline has rendered them less effective at set-pieces. Arteta ticks both boxes.
Soccernet writers' selections
Out: James, Terry, Upson, Lampard, Wright-Phillips
In: Phil Jones, Jagielka, Rodwell, Wilshere, Adam Johnson
Out: Terry, James, Lampard, Wright-Phillips, Upson
In: Jones, Paul Robinson, Rodwell, Shawcross, Adam Johnson
Out: James, Upson, Carrick, Wright-Phillips, Defoe
In: Foster, Jagielka, Rodwell, Adam Johnson, Bent
Out: Green, Upson, Terry, Lampard, Wright-Phillips
In: Gary Cahill, Rodwell, Walcott, Adam Johnson, Wilshere
Out: Terry, Lampard, Wright-Phillips, Carrick, Upson
In: Adam Johnson, Arteta, Rodwell, Wilshere, Gary Cahill
Out: Terry, Green, Wright-Phillips, Upson, Carrick
In: Foster, Gary Cahill, Rodwell, A Young, Adam Johnson
Out: Upson, Terry, Wright-Phillips, Gerrard, Lampard
In: Gary Cahill, Jagielka, Wilshere, Rodwell, Adam Johnson