The nation is aghast, shocked, horrified even. How could Stuart Pearce be so heartless, so disrespectful? How on god’s green earth could he not select David Beckham for the Team GB football squad. From housewives, to young girls and from journalists to ex-pro’s many of the British population could not fathom how such a decision had been made. Yet, more concerning were the reasons given for their dismay.
Much reaction was based around the notion of the LA Galaxy star’s contribution to the Olympic bidding process and his admirable work as an ambassador for the games. Many others smugly wished The Olympic organisers “good luck selling tickets now Beckham’s not playing.” Worryingly very few people bemoaned this decision based on any kind of football or sporting reason. It seems when our beloved Becks is involved even some of the most robust alpha males and intelligent football commentators are deduced to possessing the rationale of a lovestruck teenage girl. Have we really become a nation that values celebrity and status over current sporting contributions. Is Team GB simply a PR stunt or are we going to actually treat the tournament with the respect all other nations bestow upon it?
Of course this is a first for our shores and undoubtedly the one-off nature of the Olympic football team has clearly left many not really caring about it’s progress, but instead seeing it as quirky bit of midsummer entertainment. Understandable perhaps, however in Beckham’s case this process has been going on for four years. Ever since his lucrative move to the MLS the former Real Madrid and Manchester United stars career has been reduced to a list of publicity stunts and token gestures. In March 2008 Beckham received his 100th cap for England nine months after his transfer to LA Galaxy. In that time Beckham managed just seven appearances for the MLS side and hadn’t played since October. Yet, inexplicably Beckham was named in the England squad for a friendly against France before ultimately being picked for the match.
Fabio Capello “I couldn’t make him come all the way from the USA and not play him.”
Even the experienced and authoritarian Italian was powerless to Beckham’s celebrity charm, he had been engulfed by his new homeland’s obsession with the boy from the east-end of London. The MLS is a young league and the standard remains considerably less than the majority of Europe’s top-flight leagues. Moreover, Beckham had barely featured. However, he was given special treatment, he’d made a longer journey than his compatriots who were operating at a much higher level of football and so of course deserved to play. His 100th cap had been a gesture of appreciation, almost sycophantic, not a step towards developing our national team in preparation for South Africa 2010.
While we were boosting the ego of a once great footballer the likes of Spain and Germany were investing in the future, developing strong youthful sides, based on substance not status. The results of our respective nation’s performances in that tournament speak for themselves. People may argue Beckham’s service to his country meant he deserved his landmark moment. But I would argue the nation is much more deserving of a progressive rather than regressive national side, than Beckham is of a landmark he himself put in jeopardy by valuing the glitz, glamour and money of Hollywood over elite European football.
However the notion of double standards persists four years on with tweets like the one from television pundit Robbie Savage being a common theme:
“Why was Beckham on the shortlist in the first place, then not pick him? Disgrace!”
What of the other 11 players on the shortlist that will not be selected for the final squad, is it a disgrace that they too will not be selected for the games? Or is the fact they are not on first name terms with Price William or that they don’t look as good in a pair of Calvin Klein’s mean they are more expendable. The fact is it doesn’t and probably all of those eleven will have a greater claim to a place based on football reasons alone. When picking a football team, Beckham is just another player, nothing more. If this is a case of Beckham’s ambassadorial activities not getting the reward they deserve, then it’s also a disgrace Seb Coe is being lined up for another stab at the 1500m after all his efforts. Not quite the same I know, but you get the gist.
Thankfully, one man truly deserving of a chance to shine on the international stage has been selected, Ryan Giggs. The Welsh wizard is the most decorated footballer in the history of the English game and is still making a significant contribution at the elite level of European football. Craig Bellamy is another deprived of an opportunity to perform in an international tournament in the past and who is still plying his trade in one of the best leagues in the world. While Micah Richards is fresh from winning the Premiership and is an England prospect for whom experience of tournament football will be invaluable for his future development. There is absolutely no argument on a purely football basis for Beckham to have been selected above these players.
It is important to note that this article is not anti-Beckham. At his peak the former Manchester United winger was a special player and his contribution and devotion to the cause of his national side was truly admirable. He has been very dignified in his response to his omission and will undoubtedly continue to offer great support and service to the games, which should be applauded.
However, as a county we must make strides to devalue the importance of reputation, past contributions and social status and instead celebrate substantive and progressive sporting decisions, as in a football sense at least, it is contributing to our downfall as the gap widens between other major nations and ourselves. Hopefully Stuart Pearce’s decision is a step in the right direction and sends out a message to competitors that for Great Britain London 2012 isn’t just an international PR stunt. For fundamentally this is a sporting event and as former England star John Barnes rightly says:
“The Olympics is about winning. You’re belittling the Olympic ideal if you choose someone just to put on a spectacle.”