People may, as we speak, be lighting candles outside Leytonstone Town Hall this afternoon. David Beckham, one of the more public faces of the London bid to host this summers Olympic games found out earlier today that he will not be in the squad for this summers matches, another layer of controversy added to a team which seems to be pleasing very few people at the moment. Coach Stuart Pearces rationale for leaving Beckham out is reasonably straightforward. The Olympic football tournament is a curiosity of a tournament, with squads made up on under-23 players and three over-age players allowed to take part in the competition. It had been expected in some quarters that Beckham would line up alongside Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs as one of the over-age players for the squad but Pearce, perhaps smartly, has opted for Micah Richards of Manchester City – who many felt should have been in the England squad for the European Championships this summer – instead.
If anybody thinks that we are about to start piling the hate on Beckham, however, think again. The hysteria that surrounds his every move is not, by and large, of his making. It is a media creation at which he finds himself, whether he wants to be or not, at the centre. It is easy – probably rather too easy – to project any dislike of the circus that follows him around onto the man himself, but the truth is that Beckham has seldom – infidelity aside, arguably – given any great impression of being particularly publicity seeking. His response to the decision was about as reasonable as one could expect, certainly:
Everyone knows how much playing for my country has always meant to me. So I would have been honored to have been part of this unique Team GB squad. Naturally, I am very disappointed, but there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me. And like everyone, I will be hoping they can win the gold.
The fury that may be currently bubbling around the length and breadth of the internet, however, is not of his doing and to seek to place the blame upon him is not far short of the equivalent of trying to blame a Page Three girl for the phone hacking crisis. Beckham may or may not be the sharpest tool in the shed – for all the attention that he receives, he is reasonably skilled at not letting anyone know what he actually thinks at any given time – but he must have been aware that, at thirty-seven years old and with his best days as a player well and truly behind him, there was a reasonable chance that he would fail to make the cut for this summers tournament.
There will also be those that are upset at Micah Richards being the player selected ahead of him, considering the manner in which Richards accepted – or rather didn’t accept – not being selected for the European Championships squad. This, however, is twenty-first century professional football and the focus of coaches and managers is always likely to be focused on winning and nothing else. Beckham fanboys and fangirls may not like it. The organisers of the games may well be crying salty tears of despair over the missed marketing opportunities. But Stuart Pearce is perfectly within his rights to say, “That’s not my problem.” His job, however difficult this may be to envisage (or to want), is to try and win the gold medal for the British team and the idea of Beckham playing in a tournament in the middle of the summer in a tournament in which the vast majority of the players will be amongst the best young players in the world is not, perhaps, one that he would have wanted to countenance.
With home advantage, much may be made of the chances of this experiment at this summers games, but it may be wise for those that do end up supporting the team to temper their expectations. This is a team that has not previously existed since the Olympic football tournament since 1972, when it was very different to now. Professional players were first allowed to compete in 1984 and it would be a surprise to see the British team win a medal of any description. Furthermore, despite an expected whitewash in the media, there remain an awful lot of people that are very angry at the very existence of this team and their voices will doubtless be loud during the tournament itself. Without wishing to get too deeply drawn into the politics of it all, it certainly seems anomalous that a team representing the whole of Great Britain should be playing football in this tournament for the first time in four decades at a time when the very political union which holds it together feels more tenuous than it has done in living memory.
These considerations have probably not been playing too heavily on David Beckhams mind of late. Regardless of how much he earns, his celebrity status and those that will be furious at todays announcement on his behalf, the lions share of his disappointment may well be related to something far more base and human. There are times in everybody’s life when the reminder of the fact that we are ageing can sting. Most of us like to think of ourselves as spritelier than we probably are, and this feeling of dismay as the body starts to age may well be more accentuated amongst top class sportsmen. David Beckham may well have been hoping that this summers Olympic football tournament would give him that one last hurrah - chance to bow out as a player at a once in a lifetime event being held a stones throw from where he grew up. A chance of a little closure before kneeling at the altar of one of the few things in life that we can do nothing about. To have left him out of the squad may or not turn out to have been the right thing to do. To criticise him for being disappointed about it, however, is perhaps to seek to deny him the right to a very human emotion indeed.
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