KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— No-one can query David Beckham’s career achievements. He has won the Club World Cup, the Champions League, championships in England, Spain and the United States, scored 17 goals in 115 internationals (an England outfield record), and bagged a catalogue of individual awards.
He was a member of the London ‘team’ in Singapore in 2005 which won host rights to the 2012 Olympic Games and he would love to be captain of Team GB out on the pitch when the time comes in late July and August.
But the Olympic football tournament is an oddity. This is the only event in the Games which is age-restricted. The 16 competing nations must field under-23 teams. The managers do have the option of including three over-age players but the vast majority do not, for the sake of team spirit.
The result is that the teams are young, bright, ambitious and full of players who are youthful and eager enough to run for miles and still be full of running when the final whistle blows. Is that the right competitive environment for Beckham who will be 37 at the time?
Or, for that matter, Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs who has also been tipped by the bookies for selection and who will be 38?
The controversy surrounding Team GB has been bubbling for at least three years, ever since it became clear that the British Olympic Association (BOA) wanted to take up the competitive right to field a host team.
And why not, after all? Football is the national sport; there is no such sport as ‘Olympism.’
How weird if the Olympic football tournament went ahead in London with no home representation.
However, to justify playing at the Games, Team GB need a medal. Anything less will provide extra ammunition for the snipers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who will insist that their international independence had been put at risk for absolutely no competitive purpose.
Apologies to the British women’s team, for whom the Games are probably more important, but it’s the men who will grab the Games’ football headlines, win or lose.
Hence, the choice of Stuart Pearce as team manager was important. Pearce is the current boss of the England under-21s and knows the majority of his likely squad better than anyone else. He is also a winner; no-one ever dare doubt his determination and drive.
This is where he and individuals within the BOA may disagree.
The impression so far with all this talk of Beckham and Giggs – and even Paul Scholes, for goodness’ sake! – is that Team GB are a Games public relations exercise with a heavy emphasis on ticket sales.
That is certainly not the priority for Pearce. Hopefully he can resist the publicity machine razzmatazz and pick a squad to target a medal. No simple task. He is doubtless well aware, on the quiet, that Team GB will be outsiders.
The likely inclusion of ‘home outsiders’ such as Gareth Bale means this will be a Select XI; not a side who have played their coherent way up through the international age group competitions over the past five or six years … as have most of their medal rivals.
Not only that, but Pearce will not have the luxury of 23 players as is the norm for coaches at the World Cup and the European Championship. The Olympic Games allows for squads of ‘only’ 18 players.
A couple of serious injuries in the group games – especially with club managers ordering their players not to risk staying on with a minor strain, pull or niggle – and Pearce would have serious selection problems.
With that in mind, including a couple of veterans who will be considered as only fit for part-time roles out on the pitch – to save or kill a game – could be a risk too far.
If Beckham had been just across the Channel this spring at Paris Saint-Germain then he would have been within easy reach, both to stress his own Olympic ambition and his top-level European-standard fitness.
Instead, he will be playing his club football at a lower tempo, in a different climate, halfway across the world.
Beckham says Los Angeles Galaxy will free him from MLS duty for the duration of the Olympics. A high-profile place for him at the Games is guaranteed. Pearce, however, may not feel this place is out on the football pitch.
Also at: www.Goal.com