I don’t really understand why football is played at the Olympics. I am aware, of course, that it pre-dates the World Cup by a clear thirty years and that many nations outside of the old European aristocracy are rather keen on it, but it still seems odd to me. It’s like having Olympic Formula One racing or Olympic NFL. If an Olympic Gold isn’t the highest honour that a sport can offer, should it really be in the Games at all? That said, there’s no excuse for the haphazard and faintly insulting way that we appear to be going about things.
Garth Crooks’ dismissal of Great Britain's group as ‘easy’, despite the presence of Senegal and Copa America holders Uruguay, was a profound statement of ignorance and yet it doesn’t seem entirely out of place in the national discourse. Up until now, the greatest debate over Team GB, (and does anyone else get a distinct ‘High School Musical’ vibe about that name? Team GB…YAY!) was whether or not David Beckham would play. Now I like Beckham a lot, I think he’s a superb ambassador for the sport and for mankind in general. He’s well-groomed, he smells of fresh cotton and he has eyes that make me feel good about myself, but is he really, really worth one of just three ‘senior player’ spots?
If Team GB (shudder) are going to take this tournament seriously, they can’t field Beckham on the basis that, ‘he helped out at all the buffets and, besides, the t-shirts are all printed.’ Beckham won the 2011 MLS with LA Galaxy as a leading light, not as a bit part player, but I’d still rather make sure we had a senior goalkeeper and an influential defender or defensive midfielder to give the rest of the squad a composed foundation. Then I’d pick Wayne Rooney on the basis that he’s only going to play 90 minutes at Euro 2012 and he’s, like, really good at football. Or Paul Scholes, a player who is still so effective that a number of football writers voted him player of the season for a campaign he didn’t sign up for until January.
You wouldn’t catch Uruguay, one of the nations that Crooks was so keen to write off, titting about like this. That’s because their view of international football is very different to ours. They believe that the various youth teams leading up to the senior squad are essential to the development of their players, and they take every tournament seriously because they have a policy of fast-tracking talented youngsters through the levels. I know, it’s crazy, isn’t it? If Uruguay find themselves short of a striker, they don’t pick someone like Jay Bothroyd on the basis that he’s obviously not good enough, but he’s marginally better than picking a cardboard cutout. Instead, they look to the future. Sebastian Coates, for example, was a key part of Uruguay’s Copa America success, despite being only 20 at the time. England, by awful contrast, took Matthew Upson to the 2010 World Cup.
If England, or any other members of…sigh…Team GB want to keep up with the rest of the world, they would do well to treat these competitions with more respect than an office five-a-side tournament, selecting Simon from Human Resources purely because he’s got a minibus we can use. This really isn’t an easy group and even if it was, it shouldn’t be used as a way of rewarding ageing superstars for their service over the years. I still think it’s strange to play football at the Olympics, but if we’re going to be in it, let’s at least try to win it, eh?