For once it seems that football may take a back seat for Britons this summer, as the Olympic Games come to London. For a collection of nations that are so fanatical about the Premier League, the SPL and their respective international sides, the Olympic Football has gone somewhat unnoticed and uncared for. The faces of Premier League heroes have been temporarily replaced by athletes, swimmers and cyclists on television sets and billboards across the nation. These are the competitors who will be the stars of the summer games, not the footballers.
Whilst the aforementioned sports should be expected to take centre stage, I find the lack of hype around the football particularly unusual. I wasn’t even aware of the squad announcement until I accidentally stumbled across it online earlier in the week, such is the lack of build up in the UK. Nobody really knew who was going to be in Stuart Pearce’s squad, with the main talking point being whether David Beckham was going to be playing or not. Tickets are still on sale for both the mens and womens football games, whereas most events have sold out after a battle for tickets upon release. Fans up and down the British Isles seem to think a club side and a national side is more than enough to support, with the lack of ticket sales suggesting fans are taking a “thanks, but no thanks” approach to the offer of going out to support Team GB.
It begs the question, why is nobody really that bothered about the GB Olympic football team, or even the olympic football tournament altogether? We should be, shouldn’t we!? The fact that Team GB will field an Olympic Football team for the first time in half a century is a historic moment for the games and Great Britain. Whilst the respective governing bodies of Welsh, Northern Irish and Scottish football have expressed their concern over the inclusion of a GB team and the effect it may have on their autonomy as independent football nations, the accumulation of four nations into one side should be something for Britons to celebrate (in the same way British people get behind the British Lions Rugby tours).
The Olympics also give us the chance to see some of the top young talent emerging from the British Isles playing in a competitive tournament. Experience which could prove crucial for future European Championship and World Cup competitions. Whilst the age restrictions (all but three players must be aged 23 or under) were put in place to prevent the Olympics from taking over the World Cup and the respective continental championships as the premier football tournament, plenty of World Class players have plied their trade in the summer games in the past. Argentinian’s Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez have both picked up winners medals in the 2008 and 2004 respectively, whilst Nwankwo Kanu and Jay-Jay Okocha burst onto the scene in 1996, helping the Nigerian’s pick up a surprise gold medal. Who’s to say that Tom Cleverly, Aaron Ramsey and Ryan Bertrand may not emerge as a world star next season on the back of a gold medal triumph this summer?
Whilst there will be youngsters taking part in this tournament who will undoubtedly go on to great things, there are plenty of players who will take to the field at the likes of Wembley, Old Trafford and Hampden Park who are already established world stars. Neymar, Hulk, Luis Suarez, Thiago Silva, Juan Mata, David De Gea, Ryan Giggs, Alexandre Pato, Chicharito and Edinson Cavani are just some of the world’s top players that will grace the games this summer. When you look at each of the squads on paper, its difficult to see why the Olympic football is held in such low regard by football fans in Great Britain. These players are household names for even part time followers of football.
Lastly, for football addicts such as myself, the Olympics will provide some competitive action to fill the void nicely after the conclusion of the Euro 2012. And despite what some critics of Olympic football may tell you, it certainly will be a competitve tournament. Group clashes include GB vs Uruguay, Switzerland vs Mexico and Spain vs Japan. Such is the significance of the tournament for Brazil, the talk coming out the country is that manager Mano Menezes could even lose his job if a strong Brazilian squad fails to deliver at the tournament. Team GB manager Stuart Pearce has also signaled his intent for the tournament after leaving out David Beckham after citing that there is no place for sentiment in football, even in the Olympics. Plus, at the end of the day, an Olympic Gold medal is not something to be sniffed at for any professional sportsperson. Picking one up at the end of the summer would be something any player would rank alongside their greatest achievements in the game. As Neymar himself defiantly put it recently “I’ve told the federation president I will be bringing the gold medal back to Brazil.”
Personally, I can’t wait for it to get started.
What are your opinions on the Olympic Football tournament? What players should we look out for? Will any teams prove to be a surprise package?
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