David Beckham was, in his prime, the best player England had at that time, although of course he has become known more for being a celebrity than for being a footballer. Beckham is now on the shortlist for Great Britain’s football team at this summer’s London Olympics; he would qualify as one of the three players over the age of 23. This summer marks ten years since Beckham scored that penalty against Argentina at the 2002 World Cup, the point around which he was arguably in his prime. Now, however, it is obvious Beckham is not good enough for the Great Brtain Olympics team on meritocratic grounds. He is not one of the best 25 or so players in the country – it would be a big shock if he got into the Euro 2012 squad – let alone one of the three best over-23 players. The argument that his experience may help the younger players is a non-starter. You could say the same about better players like Stephen Gerrard, Frank Lampard and even Paul Scholes. Beckham could impart his wisdom as a coach, anyway.
If Beckham is picked, it will be for two reasons: his celebrity (which may boost ticket sales) and to indulge him as a ‘thank you’ for supporting the bid. It is a shame that the Olympic football is not more popular. However, its biggest problem is that it is not taken seriously. It is treated separately to FIFA’s youth tournaments and it is one of the few sports played at the Olympics whose profile is higher than that of the Olympic Games themselves.
However, Great Britain should take the competition seriously. As an under-23 competition it features players on the cusp of stardom: good enough to make the competition good technically, young enough for the competition to give them valuable experience. Many U21 players do not actually end up breaking into the senior squad, yet from an under-23 squad there is a shorter distance to the full squad. The winning 2008 Argentina squad contained, as under 23 players, Lionel Messi (who now has 68 caps for the senior side) , Sergio Aguero (33), Fernando Gago (35) and Ángel Di María (27).
David Beckham at his last major international tournamont (by ger1axg). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Picking a player who is ‘past it’ for publicity reasons would count as not taking the tournament seriously. It devalues the selection and participation of the other members of the squad. When previous tournaments have become ‘the Beckham show’ it has not mattered as Beckham has deserved a place in the team. This time around (six years since he last played at an international tournament) Beckham would distract attention from other members of the team who have earnt their place and deserve a chance to impress. There is an added reason to take the competition seriously when it is us on show. Picking Beckham would, in a small way, devalue the nature of the whole football competition and the rest of the Olympic Games. Fans would be angry if a player got into a World Cup squad just to sell tickets, and we don’t expect Denise Lewis to come back from retirement for London 2012. Goldenball’s golden times are over.
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