Over-23's have much to offer in the pursuit of legacy
There has been much derision, in some quarters at least, about the place of football at the Olympics and, more specifically, the potential participation of both David Beckham and Ryan Giggs.
“A ploy to sell more tickets” some say. Well, yes, it cannot hurt to have two of the most famous footballers of all time on the bill. But while the appearance of Beckham and Giggs will lure people to stadiums, only the most cynical of British (yes British) football fans would say that they do not want to see the pair play together.
If, as has so often been said in the lead up to the games, that the aim is to leave a sporting legacy, then this is the way to help the future of football. Because, with all due respect to Josh McEachran and Craig Gordon, children who go to watch the Olympic football tournament will not be inspired to play the game by watching players that have the potential to be excellent. They want to watch bone-fide stars.
We would not expect to settle in for a days viewing of the heptathlon and instead of seeing Jessica Ennis competing, we find out we are being represented by a girl with a bright future from Hailsham Harriers AC. Likewise Chris Hoy, already a winner of multiple gold medals, will not be giving up his spot to a young upstart.
Some critics use the argument that the likes of Giggs and Beckham have already achieved enough in their careers falls down. It is true that they have both been phenomenally successful – Beckham in winning league titles in three separate countries and Giggs for his remarkable one-club career for Manchester United. But the reason for that success is their remarkable desire and drive to carry on performing at the top level.
Beckham may be plying his trade in the MLS, a league seen by many as barely of League One standard (an opinion not supported by the influx of players from America to the Premier League), but anyone who watched his performances in the last few months of LA Galaxy action would be unreasonable to suggest he has nothing to offer.
Giggs continues to play an important role for United, so much so that Sir Alex Ferguson is ready to extend his contract yet again. The most decorated player in the English game, one who has never played at a major tournament, deserves this chance.
Still unconvinced? The likelihood is that you feel that Beckham and Giggs are taking the place of a couple of youngsters who would benefit from the opportunity. Well, there are 23 positions available in the squad, 20 of which will go to under 23’s. If a player is not good enough to force his way into the 20 best young players in Britain then perhaps he doesn’t deserve to be in there.
Those who do make it to the games will learn an infinite amount from such veterans whose passion for the game is so visible every time they lace their boots or when they talk to the media. The influence of a two week spell with Beckham or Giggs could be the difference between a star and an afterthought.
For every Beckham or Giggs, there are 50 potential Ravel Morrision’s, the young Manchester United player who seems destined to throw away his big chance at Old Trafford. Who knows what the chance to train and play with a hero could do for a player’s career?
The Olympics is a time to celebrate. The whole of Britain will watch and hopefully support our athletes. David Beckham and Ryan Giggs have as much right to be there as Hoy, Ennis, Usain Bolt or Mark Cavendish. Instead of always lookingfor the negatives in something – a very British trait – it is time we embrace this unique opportunity to see two modern icons for the final time.
Who knows, they could inspire the next generation of World Cup winners. Now that would be an Olympic legacy.