Selecting players to represent the Great Britain Olympic Football Team (“Team GB”) was always going to be a controversial and ultimately thankless task; however Stuart Pearce appears to have made two grave errors of judgement with the official announcement of the final squad selection.
The first of these errors was the omission of David Beckham from the team, a decision that has upset Gary Lineker, Robbie Savage, James Corden and Ronan Keating, to name a few. If the various celebrity rumblings can be put aside for one moment, it is true that based purely on current form and ability, Beckham may not have made it into the squad. However a man who carries the popularity and experience of David Beckham would have been a welcome addition to any team. It has to be noted that the Olympic football tournament is essentially an amateur football tournament. With an age cap of 23, aside from three permitted overage players, it is clear that the tournament does not represent the highest level of professional football. The decision to exclude David Beckham has proven to be hugely controversial and has turned the tide against Stuart Pearce, although it is submitted that this will only be a temporary sense of public outrage mainly consisting of shock at the exclusion of such a national and footballing icon.
It is perhaps true to say that Pearce was in a no-win situation. If he had selected Beckham, there would have been sections of the media stating that he had placed sentimentality above talent. The fact that he has not selected Beckham has led to some stating that he has shown a callous disregard to a footballing legend who was instrumental in bringing the Olympics to London. There are merits to both sides of the argument; however one cannot help but wonder how majorly influential the presence of Ryan Giggs and David Beckham, on the left and right sides of midfield respectively, would have been for the younger members of the Olympic squad. It is not a huge leap of faith to speculate that Craig Bellamy will perhaps not bring that same positive and constructive influence into the team and, in any event, anyone who has followed the performances of Beckham for LA Galaxy over the last season cannot dispute that he is still an extremely talented footballer and an inspired leader on the pitch.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the decision to exclude Beckham from the Olympic football team, the real point of controversy came when it was revealed that no Scottish or Northern Irish football players will feature in Team GB. The significance of this revelation cannot be underestimated in its magnitude. Perhaps there are just no Scottish or Northern Irish players that are good enough to merit a place in the team. However, is this not missing the point of the Great Britain Olympic Football Team?
When it was first announced that there was to be a Team GB in the Olympic football tournament this decision was met with outrage by the Scottish, Welsh and Irish Football Associations. Despite assurances to the contrary, the aforementioned Football Associations were concerned about the impact that a Great Britain Olympic Football Team could have on the future autonomy of the respective Home Nations’ status as independent Football Associations. No consensus has been reached since these initial objections were made and the position of the Scottish, Welsh, and Irish Football Associations has remained consistently against the concept of a Team GB featuring players from all four Football Associations at the Olympic Games in London. There may therefore be a legitimate claim made to the effect that, as there was no support for team GB from the Scottish and Irish Football Associations, there can be no complaint levelled at the omission of players from those Football Associations.
This argument fails to recognise one crucial factor. There were a number of Scottish and Northern Irish players who expressed an interest in representing Team GB at the Olympics, despite the backlash that ensued from many football fans and the wider media in those countries. There was no doubting the desire of these players to represent Team GB and therefore the opposition of the Scottish and Irish Football Associations would have had no bearing on the selection process. In fact, certain Scottish and Northern Irish players made the shortlist before the selection of the final squad. These players have failed to gain selection at the final hurdle and it is almost incomprehensible how this has been allowed to happen.
It will no doubt be stressed that the selection of players was purely based on merit. The best squad possible was selected and these players just so happened to be Welsh and English. There is no doubting that players such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsay truly deserve their place in Team GB, however an argument can be made to the effect that these players have had the advantage of playing in England. The English Premier League is of course far superior to the Scottish Premier League and the IFA Premiership; however Stuart Pearce failed to attend any of the fixtures in these leagues in order to assess the talent of any players who plied their trade there.
It is this complete failure to express an interested in these two leagues that will heighten any anger over the omission of Scottish and Northern Irish players from Team GB. James Forest of Celtic and Gary Mackay-Steven of Dundee United have had sensational seasons and Steven Davis, the now former Rangers captain, would have fully merited a place in the squad as an over age player. It is quite clear that players such as the ones mentioned, and many more, have been completely overlooked on the grounds that they do not play in England and Stuart Pearce has not taken the time to give these players the proper respect and consideration that they deserve. For these players, competing in the Olympic Games was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. They deserved better than this.
Even if it was ultimately concluded that these players were simply not good enough to gain a place in Team GB and the decision was purely based on footballing ability, which is far from certain, this misses the crucial aim of a Great Britain Olympic Football Team and why it was re-established for the London 2012 Olympics. This football team was supposed to unite all of the Home Nations together under the Union Flag for one tournament only. English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh football fans were to come together and support a Team GB and cheer them on towards the Olympic Gold medal. As unlikely a prospect as this was, both in the sense of all four home nations uniting and Team GB actually winning Gold, it is now completely dead in the water.
Stuart Pearce has alienated Scottish and Northern Irish football fans from the whole process. It should have been a requirement to have at least one player from each Home Nation in the team. This is supposed to be Team GB and should therefore represent the whole of football across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Great Britain Olympic Football Team is a special case. This is a team brought together for the London Olympics and was a great opportunity to attempt to unite football fans across the United Kingdom, if only for a few weeks. One cannot help but feel that this is has been a totally wasted opportunity. Of course it would be fantastic for Team GB to win the Olympic football tournament, however it was the symbolic nature of fielding a Great Britain Olympic Football Team that was far more important than winning the tournament. In any event, it is submitted that these two factors did not have to be mutually exclusive. Stuart Pearce has been shown to be completely short-sighted in his selection process. His selection has proven to be divisive when it could so easily have went a long way to bring people together as one nation on the football pitch as a special one off event.
Selecting David Beckham, as well as some Scottish and Northern Irish players would arguably have enhanced the Great Britain Olympic Football Team. Sadly, it will never be established whether or not this may have been the case. It appears that, in the mind of Stuart Pearce, neither David Beckham, nor indeed any footballers from Scotland or Northern Ireland were good enough to gain a place in his squad. The omission of Beckham has been a gross error of judgement which has immediately angered a large number of people who have viewed the omission, as well as the process undertaken to take that decision, as disrespectful and ill-judged. The omission of all Scottish and Northern Irish players has ostracised two nations within the United Kingdom and has created an unpleasant atmosphere around the whole concept of a Great Britain Olympic Football Team in the eyes of many across the country.
Stuart Pearce appears to have missed the whole point of why a Great Britain Football Team was re-established for the forthcoming Olympics. This is no longer a Great Britain Football Team. It cannot legitimately be called this where only two of the four home nations are represented. Stuart Pearce has misjudged the mood of an entire nation, or at least the mood of the minority who were actually interested in a Great Britain Olympic Football Team in the first place, hardly a desirable result for any coach representing a nation. He is either incredibly naive or he is callous and insensitive. Either way the results of his actions have left many football fans calling for the final whistle before the tournament has even begun.