Tidey: Great Britain's Men's Football Team Leave Me Cold
I'm British, and my professional life is dedicated to football. You would think that combination would lend itself to a strong affection for Great Britain's men's Olympic football team, but I'm finding them very hard to love.
It's partly down to the contrived nature of it all. Of the four nations that make up Team GB—Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England—only two are represented in Stuart Pearce's squad of 18, which comprises five Welshman and 13 Englishman.
The football associations of Scotland and Northern Ireland made it clear they were opposed to the idea, clinging to their independence in a show of defiance. The Welsh FA weren't happy about it either, but were obliged to allow the likes of Craig Bellamy, Ryan Giggs and Aaron Ramsey to participate if selected.
Seeing as the Welsh haven't been to a major tournament since 1976, being part of the Olympics was always going to represent an alluring proposition. Even so, it feels forced and awkward that Wales players are there against their country's wishes.
Then there was the decision to rule out England players who participated at Euro 2012, thus diluting the talent pool still further beyond the curious age restrictions in place for Olympic men's football squads—which are made up of 15 under-23 players and three designated overage stars.
Goalkeeper Jack Butland was given special dispensation, and is clearly a future star of the game, but for the most part Team GB are in danger of looking like a poor man's England. Ouch.
And as an England fan still bruised from their uninspired campaign at Euro 2012, the last thing I want to see is another technically deficient outfit going forth in our name and toiling in vein to get anywhere remotely close to delivering entertainment.
But that's exactly what we've seen in the two games so far. Brazil gave Team GB a footballing lesson, while Senegal had 16 attempts on goal to GB's three in the course of 94 mostly scrappy minutes at Old Trafford.
As ever with players from our shores, you couldn't question their work ethic. And there was no doubting the fact that a packed house in Manchester had come together in the Olympic spirit to back this strangely-assembly collective on their quest for gold. But there was something missing.
Maybe it's that Great Britain has no real footballing identity to speak of. At least with England we can feel deeply invested in the torture of it all and can cling to the notion that past glories will maybe one day return. There's a sporting narrative to underpin the agony, and for a 30-something Englishman the time has long past for opting out.
What loyalty do we owe Team GB? If it weren't for the fact London are hosting the Olympics they probably wouldn't exist, and that tells you all you need to know about whether they belong in the five-ringed theater.
It's not the players' fault of course. Giggs and Bellamy are fully deserving of their moment in the spotlight and Micah Richards could argue he's owed an opportunity after being overlooked by England for the Euros (I still would far rather have seen David Beckham). The young players around them are full of promise, and many are already familiar faces in the Premier League.
Individually they're all worthy. But as a squad they just don't make sense. And to expect a hastily-put-together mob to outstrip the cohesive likes of Brazil, Uruguay and Spain is optimistic in the extreme.
But here we are regardless. Team GB are engaged in competition and may yet ride a wave of partisan support to somehow reach the semifinals—where they'll obviously lose on penalties.
I want to get behind them, but for that to happen Team GB must first forge their own identity. One electrifying performance; a handful of players seizing the moment. Something has to happen to ignite my enthusiasm. Something to make it all make sense.
Whatever England do, don't do it.
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