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NEVERMIND THE ‘GOLDENBALLS’: Why Pearce was right to exclude David Beckham

Monday 2nd July 2012

I really thought that I would be writing an article ranting about David Beckham’s inclusion in the British Olympic squad as ‘sentimental nonsense,’ and how Stuart Pearce had buckled under the pressure from those wanting to see Beckham’s ‘swansong’ in his home area of east London. I’m happy to note that I am not. Well done to Pearce for picking players on merit. Some journalists are very angry about it. No doubt the same ones would have been just as angry if Beckham was one of the 18 players selected.

They accuse Pearce of being ‘‘mean-spirited, out of touch with popular sentiment and wrong.’’ During major championships like the Euros just gone, they moan about football in England being out of touch with the rest of the world, and then state that Beckham should have been picked purely because it would have established a ‘‘feel-good factor.’’ Make your minds up! Do you think that’s how Argentina and Brazil choose their players whenever they enter the Olympic Games?

They pick their team on merit; they do not select someone just because he campaigned for his country to host the Games or that he’ll draw in fans that are more interested in his hair and tattoos – however big an icon he is. Amazingly, this is what many experienced professionals in football are saying. By this logic, we should have fellow campaigner Sebastian Coe running for Great Britain again. It’s about football and football only.

Can you imagine Alex Ferguson or Brian Clough picking a player on the basis of those aforementioned premises? It just wouldn’t happen. The Olympic Games is arguably the second most prestigious tournament in world sport – behind the Fifa World Cup – where a Gold medal is at stake for the victor. Football is seen as a ‘token’ sport in the Olympics by many, but every side is still in it to win plus it can provide big match experience for those who are competing, experience that could be valuable for them in the World Cups and Euros of future. If Beckham was selected it would have been, like so much these days, about celebrity.

Even if there wasn’t a limit for overage players I don’t feel he should have got in. Grant Holt, Adam Johnson, Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, and Celtic striker, Gary Hooper, to name but a few, all deserve a place in the side more than Beckham. In football terms the overage players who were selected – Craig Bellamy, Ryan Giggs and Micah Richards – also deserve to be in the squad ahead of the former England international.

So do a substantial amount of others that are over the age of 23. Wasn’t it the man himself who said that he didn’t want to be picked to ‘sell shirts’ or be used as a ‘stadium filler’? There could be up to six games in a 19 day period so he would either struggle or not play a part anyway. Many people say he deserved a ceremonial kind of end to his career in England. Well, he can have a personal testimonial then can’t he? Beckham was a great player and achieved much, but he has had his opportunities playing in World Cups and European Championships whereas many others have not. Obviously, Beckham worked hard to get there, but despite him still being able to pull off a mean set-play, he has had his day.

Even though he has represented England since joining LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer (MLS), the moment he did, he waved goodbye to any chance of being taken seriously for international football again. The MLS may not even be in the same standard as England’s second tier Championship, and although the same could be said of one of our opponents in the Games, United Arab Emirates, choosing a player on sentiment is no way to pick a team if one wants to win honours. Yes, I know one of my preferred players, Hooper, plays in a league which could be deemed Championship level football, but 52 goals in two seasons is not to be sniffed at. Pearce travelled to the United States to watch Beckham play so he’s seen plenty of him. Cynics may say that he went just to be seen to be giving the former England captain a chance, but I don’t buy into that theory.

I’m surprised by the hullaballoo that the omission of Beckham has caused, but the same would have happened if he had been included no doubt. Those militant journalists would most probably have been stating that his inclusion is testament to our inferiority on the world stage – that we’re not serious about winning things, but instead, just wanted to provide the player with a farewell tour. Pearce wasn’t going to win either way. This doesn’t mean I’m a ‘Beckham-hater’ as one narrow-minded correspondent put it – I’ve always been a big fan of his – it just means that I want players to be chosen on football merit; ones that can win something for Great Britain. At the end of the day, as David Beckham would undoubtedly say, that’s what it’s about.

What do you think of Beckham’s omission from the Olympic squad?

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