Africa absentees leading new England
For men such as Andres Iniesta, David Villa, Xavi, Thomas Muller, Diego Forlan and Wesley Sneijder, the 2010 World Cup was one to savour. But they were not the only footballers to emerge with reputations enhanced. Many who went nowhere near South Africa are continuing to reap the benefits from the tournament.
Such are the peculiar politics of the England football team. It appears Fabio Capello is likelier to favour anyone who is not a walking reminder of the embarrassment in Bloemfontein. Those who did not witness the 4-1 thrashing possess an active advantage when the Italian perms from the personnel at his disposal.
Of the 24 players named in the party to face Montenegro, only seven went to the World Cup. While Steven Gerrard and Glen Johnson presumably would have been picked if fully fit, while Jamie Carragher and Emile Heskey have retired from international football, and while David James is now a 41-year-old playing for the Championship's lowliest team, that turnover goes far beyond the natural. That is revolution, not evolution.
Moreover, while the selection of some of the other 17 - such as Kyle Walker, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll - would have bordered on the unthinkable before each advanced rapidly, the majority of the influx were under consideration 17 months ago.
No fewer than five - Leighton Baines, Scott Parker, Adam Johnson, Theo Walcott and Darren Bent - were among the seven players trimmed when a provisional 30 had to be reduced to an eventual 23. In every case, there are reasons to suggest Capello made a poor call then, but each could deem it a lucky break.
The men preferred instead are suffering from guilt by association. They are tainted and tarnished even when they were not granted the opportunity to do anything wrong. Stephen Warnock edged out Baines and Michael Carrick was taken instead of Parker. Neither took the field in South Africa, but both have been discarded since then.
In attack, the contrasting fortunes of Bent, Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch tell a tale. The Aston Villa forward, ignored then, went on to become a first choice in the aftermath of England's ignominy in Africa. Yet that was scarcely the fault of Crouch, who played a mere 17 minutes, or Defoe, whose winner against Slovenia was the closest thing to a highlight in a dismal campaign. Both have been in form this season, but it has counted for naught.
But amid the calls for a clearout, some decisions were understandable - Matthew Upson, out of his depth in the defence the Germans decimated, has been displaced by Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill - but some of those removed were innocent while some of those retained were rather more culpable. John Terry, Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney all had undistinguished World Cups but remain ever present in the squad when available; while the two midfielders have had spells on the bench, of Capello's untouchables, only Rio Ferdinand has really had his status revoked. Even that seems attributable to the injury problems that made him a late withdrawal from the World Cup.
Elsewhere, the winds of change have blown in some newer faces. A cynical interpretation is that it was a smart piece of PR as Capello appeared unconvinced of their merits when overlooking them earlier. A pragmatist with a fondness for experience is unlikely to have experienced a Damascene conversion, but he had to reposition himself as the apostle of a different age.
An alternative explanation is that, perhaps by the disappointment of missing the World Cup, several players were spurred on to excellence and forced the manager's hand. Ashley Young and Stewart Downing earned their moves to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively with their fine form for Aston Villa, Parker was voted Footballer of the Year and Baines was arguably the Premier League's outstanding left back last season. While his performances came in for criticism, Walcott has averaged a goal every three games for Arsenal since the World Cup; before then, it was one every seven and a half.
Each may have forced Capello to alter his opinion. By belatedly recognising the excellence of Parker and Baines, by finally promoting Joe Hart to the rank of first-choice goalkeeper, by realising that the golden generation are in their thirties and that the future could not be postponed any longer, some wrongs have been righted.
Nonetheless, the scale of the subsequent overhaul suggests two things. Firstly, that Capello picked the wrong squad for South Africa and secondly, that for many a player, it was a great career move to miss the World Cup.