Beckham has been surprising excluded from Great Britain's Olympic Squad. But did he deserve to be included in the first place?
In a day of sporting upsets, the news closer to home is that David Beckham has become a surprise omission from the Olympic Squad. Manager Stuart Pearce has decided to go for Micah Richards, Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy as his three over age players, which means that Beckham, despite being an integral part of bid team for the Olympics, will be a spectator this August.
There seems to be a conception in this country that Olympic football is a mickey mouse international competition compared to the big ones of the World Cup and the various regional competitions such as the European Championships and the Copa America, however, this is probably because the home nations haven't competed in the Olympics since 1974 due to the status of each seperate country within FIFA. Despite the Olympics being hosted in London this year, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Football Associations have been opposed to a Great Britain team, concerned that it would affect their positions of power with the FIFA organisation. Which seems somewhat strange, considering that all the other Olympic sports, the home nations don't have a problem with their athletes being represented under the British flag. However, their paranoia is probably worthwhile, especially when taking into account the corruption within FIFA and the bizarre way that power is distributed.
Olympic football is anything but a mickey mouse competition. Argentina won the last tournament, with Nigeria coming second, and Brazil taking bronze. While the Nigerian squad didn't throw up many big names (although Odemwingie and Anichibe will be recognisable to fans of the Premier League), Argentina's squad boasted the talents of Messi, Riquelme, Gago, Di Maria, Lavezzi and Aguero just to name a few. Brazil had the likes of Ronaldinho, Pato, Marcelo, Ramires and Diego. This kind of star power means that the Olympics is anything but a minor competition, as the two great South American powers had no issues about selecting their top players for the tournament. What player would turn down the chance to go head to head with someone like Messi? For example, Gareth Bale is coming off his best ever season, and is likely to be in the Olympic squad - as a Welshman this might be his only oppurtunity to test himself against some of the greats of World Football. Ryan Giggs, who was voted as the best player of the Premier League era, has never played in a major international tournament. No doubt he was begging Ferguson to allow him to play in the Olympics.
Taking all this into account, Beckham is likely to be rather upset at being denied a last swansong at international level. However, did he really deserve a spot in the squad? Beckham has been plying his trade in the MLS with LA Galaxy for the past few years - last season they won the league, and Beckham was second in assists, with 15 for the season. This season (MLS season runs from March to October) they haven't been so successful, with only 6 wins in 16 matches so far. He also recently turned 37. Compared to the other over age players, Micah Richards won the Premier League with Manchester City, while Bellamy was one of the Liverpool's best players in a torrid season. Giggs has maintained his status as a key part of Manchester United's team, which narrowly finished second. All three over age players are still playing their trade in England, which is a far better and more challenging league than the MLS, which is widely acknowledged as a developing league that is comfortable for players coming to the end of their careers, such as Beckham and Henry. Thefore, on footballing reasons, Beckham does not earn a place on the GB squad.
Another argument is that Beckham was a vital member of the successful bid team for the Olympics, because of his high public profile within sport. As a reward, Beckham's inclusion on the Olympic squad should have been a given. Unfortunately, the GB manager Stuart Pearce didn't see it that way, and who can blame him? His job is to win the tournament, not play politician to appease the higher ups. He should be free to choose whoever he thinks will give him the best chance of winning it. Beckham by his own admission didn't play well when Pearce went to watch him. Put simply, at this stage in his career, Beckham does not have the ability to be in the GB squad.
Beckham's celebrity and ego is also a concern. Alex Ferguson sold him because he feared that Beckham was developing too much of an ego, and more concerned with his celebrity than with his football. Beckham was a talented player when he emerged, but part of what set him apart was his work ethic - he would often stay back after training to practise free kicks, and he was one of the fittest players in the world. Ferguson responded to this by designing a system specifically tailored to create space for Beckham's crossing abilities, and for years Beckham was rampant in the Premier League. However, Beckham was determined to move into central midfield, the position he had started in, and fell out with Ferguson over how he was being used in the United team as a result. Not only that, but his off field activities had led Ferguson to believe that Beckham was becoming too big for his own boots - a victim of his own fame.
This also affected Beckham's involvement with the England team. For years, Beckham was given free reign to do whatever he wanted in the England squad, not just as a player, but as captain. Sven Goran Eriksson even played him as a defensive midfielder in one game, after Beckham's repeated pleas to be moved to the centre of the pitch - the match ended in an embarrasing 1-0 loss to Northern Ireland. As for England's World Cup campaign in 2006, the team was absolutely dire, struggling to beat markedly inferior opposition like Paraguay and Trinidad & Tabago, struggling to a draw against Sweden, before being knocked out on penalties to Portugal. In that tournament, Beckham was awful. Despite being deployed on the right, he would refuse to stay out there, constantly coming into the centre in an attempt to dictate play, which led to Gerrard and Lampard being crowded out of the middle, and big gaps appearing on the right every time England were defending.
That led to England's play being extremely limited - going foward they were non existant, and the team was noticeably more dynamic and created more chances in the matches where Aaron Lennon was substituted on for Beckham. Furthermore, the few occasions when Beckham did actually stay on the wing, he created goals, notably Peter Crouch's opening goal against Trinidad and Tobago. After England crashed out of the tournament, Beckham announced in a press conference that he was giving up the captaincy, a move that smacked of arrogance - players do not decide if they can be captain, that is the managers job. This action only served to reinforce the perception that Beckham had become a destabilising force, rather than a positive one. As a manager, Stuart Pearce knows that Beckham's celebrity would ineveitably overshadow the other players in the squad, and detract from the football.
With so much publicity in England over the Olympics, its only natural that Beckham, a name and face that sells newspapers and magazines would be the first mentioned when football was involved. With Pearce deciding to run his team on ability rather than celebrity, football purists up and down the country will be breathing a sigh of relief, as they will be spared from yet another Beckham sideshow. Perhaps now there will be the chance to actually enjoy the football without the media fawning over one of its favourites sons.