When the news broke, the backlash was on the coat-tails. As we learnt that David Beckham had not been selected in Stuart Pearce’s Team GB squad for the Olympic Games, the widespread disbelief became more and more palpable by the minute.
How could they do this to him? This is David Beckham OBE we’re talking about: the man who has been the face of Team GB since London won the right to host the Olympics. He was there when it was announced that London would host the games, he was there when the flame was passed over, he was supposed to be there when Team GB took to the field in their first game against Senegal on July 26th. Team GB has only ever been about Beckham; a massage of his ego. The squad was going to be him and 22 irrelevant others, wasn’t it?
It’s all horribly similar to the furore over Roy Hodgson getting the England job when it was expected that the job was Harry Redknapp’s to turn down. The reaction, particularly from a lot of journalists, is similar. They have their favourites and now two of them have been done over in quick succession. For David Beckham, read Harry Redknapp.
Beckham’s exclusion from the squad represents a bitter heartlessness to some, but sound logic to others. After all, he is 37 and the Olympics is a good chance to give young players a chance to progress and prove themselves. On the other hand, he has served his country so well for the past 20 years, when he started out as an u18 international before moving on to the u21’s and then the full national side, which he captained over 50 times. His experience could be invaluable for those youngsters looking to take their first steps into the international game.
As much as it is said that Beckham would still be able to do a job on-field for Team GB, the likelihood is that he was there as a brand more than a player. He would be wheeled out to attract people to buy tickets for the football and then make a cameo appearance or two to keep the paying customers satisfied.
Other nations take football at the Olympics very seriously; most particularly the South American nations. Indeed, Uruguay have selected Luis Suárez and Edinson Cavani in their squad as two overage players in a bid to bring home a gold medal. Meanwhile, the likes of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi all trotted out for gold medal winners Argentina in 2008 with bronze medalists Brazil giving minutes on the pitch to Thiago Silva, Alex Pato and Ramires.
The Olympics is not a place for has-beens. It is a test of athletes who are supposed to be at their peak. The idea of restricting each side to three players over the age of 23 is to allow youngsters to develop their game and have the experience of playing in an international tournament. This does not excuse the inclusion of Ryan Giggs either; a man who has not played in an international tournament but, at the same time, has turned his back on his country more times than some Welshmen care to remember.
Of course, playing at the Olympics would be a great honour for any player and none more so than Beckham, who has enjoyed a glittering career at some of the biggest clubs in world football – and Preston. However, there is no room for sentimentality in sport and Beckham’s exclusion should be welcomed as a chance for the future to be showcased.
After yet another England failure at the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, the opportunity for vindication in the form of an Olympic gold medal should not be passed up for sentimental reasons. Team GB should go into the tournament with the intention and belief that they are good enough to win the gold medal.
If England are to realistically challenge for international honours in years to come, there would be no better starting point to bed some of the stars of the future into international football than at the Olympics. The likes of Jack Butland, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley and Daniel Sturridge – if all are selected- would benefit from the tournament with or without Beckham there to guide them along the way.