Team GB Have Been Vindicated in Leaving Beckham out as Olympic Soccer Thrives

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2012

No David Beckham in the line-up for Team GB has been no big deal for Stuart Pearce's side and Olympic soccer as a whole.
No David Beckham in the line-up for Team GB has been no big deal for Stuart Pearce's side and Olympic soccer as a whole.Julian Finney/Getty Images

“He’s a national hero. I would’ve thought Beckham would be first choice because of his huge contribution to getting the Olympics.

"But some idiot decided otherwise. I feel a bit sorry for the three over-23s because we’re going to be looking at them and saying, ‘That should’ve been Beckham.’"

That was the verdict of Sir Paul McCartney—former Beatle ceremonial conductor of mass-singalongs at momentous British events and beginner bandwagon jumper—on Stuart Pearce's decision to omit David Beckham from his Team GB football squad in an interview with British magazine ShortList just prior to the beginning of London 2012.

McCartney was not the first to jump in on the debate, famous or otherwise, but his response infuriatingly typified the completely non-football based reaction to Beckham's omission.

It was a feeling that seemed in-line with a wider apathy throughout the host-nation in regards to the Olympic football tournament as a whole, that only such famous names would make it worth watching.

Refreshingly, the first week's group stage has been an exercise in proving the opposite, both from the perspective of GB soccer and the tournament as a whole.

Even as Great Britain has been swept up in Olympic-mania, celebrating the efforts and triumphs of its competitors in sports such as cycling, gymnastics and rowing, football has been far from neglected with good numbers turning up to watch matches at Wembley Stadium and venues beyond London.

Attendances have generally been upwards of 20-25,000 in the men's tournament (the women's equivalent has drawn decently, if comparatively not as well besides the GB team), with the host nation and the competition's big two—Spain and Brazil—drawing especially good crowds.

Speaking to British newspaper The Mirror, Team GB goalkeeper Jack Butland captured the sense of enthusiasm.

"People are looking forward to playing against or watching the other teams in the competition.

"It has been a while since there was a major tournament here. The country has grasped that and [is] looking forward to watching all these players play."

This enthusiasm and level of response London itself has shown to all things Olympics was on show in the remarkable turnout for South Korea's 0-0 draw with Gabon (a game more entertaining that its scoreline suggests).

Neither are regarded as traditional football powerhouses in Britain, but that didn't stop an extraordinary 76,297 people (admittedly a decent number of the capital's Korean population were in attendance supporting their country) turning up in what was a vibrant and cheerful atmosphere as you are ever likely to find at Wembley.

Usually at the national stadium, there is a greater sense of tension (and indeed menace) in the air accompanying, as it usually does, a domestic or England game of higher stakes.

That feeling has not been entirely missing in regards to Team GB, but the decent standard of performance the sides have exhibited in progressing from Group A have left British fans feeling satisfied.

The 1-1 draw against Senegal looks a far better result now following the African team's own qualification to the quarterfinals, while United Arab Emirates' surprisingly entertaining test of British credentials made the nature of the eventual 3-1 victory all the more pleasing.

The final Group A game against pre-tournament favourites Uruguay was not as demanding a contest as had been anticipated, but it demonstrated the growing maturity of the squad in that they handled the threat of the talented, if erratic, South Americans with relative comfort.

Anyone now clinging to the belief that Beckham would have genuinely added much at all to this squad beyond the circus of celebrity would be foolish.

This is not meant to be a harsh criticism of the former England captain himself.

Beckham has committed himself well to Los Angeles Galaxy and Major League Soccer, and the role he has played as an ambassador to London 2012 should be applauded.

These were all reasons why he deserved to be in contention for the GB squad, but what we have seen in the tournament has shown why Pearce was right to call on others ahead of him.

Of the over-age players, Craig Bellamy has been a delight to watch, playing with all the daring, exuberance and tenacity that exemplifies the Welshman at his best.

Micah Richards' sense of leadership and occasion has become more apparent with each game, and against Uruguay in particular, he showed himself to be a steady and willing presence alongside his defensive teammates in holding off his opponents' late surge.

And if you're looking for sentiment, the opportunity to see Ryan Giggs at last awarded the opportunity to play on an international stage has been great to see; his goal against the UAE was a particular delight to the many football fans who have enjoyed watching him so thoroughly at club level.

But where the lack of the Beckham sideshow has been most telling is on the increasing focus on the under-23s of the squad.

People are not talking about him; they are talking about the emergence of a bright, young goalkeeping hopeful in the form of Jack Butland, ably supported in his defensive endeavours by the stoic Steven Caulker.

Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Tom Cleverley have controlled, cajoled and created in midfield through to attack, where Daniel Sturridge and Scott Sinclair have shown tantalizing flashes of brilliance.

This has been about a football team coming together and expressing themselves on a big stage while uniting (at least) two disparate parts of a union.

A victory over the speedy and skillful Koreans in Saturday's quarter-final would ensure Team GB play for a medal, and perhaps anything less than that will lead to this whole experience counting for little.

But what is impossible to deny is football has been far from the unloved and neglected black sheep of London 2012; it has given several thousands the opportunity to enjoy the Olympic experience, which they might have missed otherwise (not just outside of London, even in the capital, tickets have been hard to get).

Any thoughts on that, Sir Paul?


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