Stuart Pearce tries to defend David Beckham's omission

Jul 3, 2012
Bill Mann

GB team boss makes a very reasonable argument – but it's not good enough for sentimental press

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ONE WONDERS what Aaron Cook makes of it all, the British world Taekwondo champion controversially omitted from the London Olympics squad, or Richard Mantell, who was surprisingly left out of the GB hockey squad for next month's Games. Years and years of dedication down the drain and what are they left with? Not much, certainly not the riches and fame accrued by David Beckham down the years.

Yet the reaction to the omission of the former England captain from the Team GB football squad has provoked an extraordinary – and uniquely British – response. Surely in no other country would so many people be getting their knickers in a twist over the fact that a 37-year-old way past his prime has been left out of their Olympic football squad.

But this is Britain where sentimentality – or is commercialism? – rides roughshod over reality.

Beckham, so his millions of supporters claim, should have been named by in the Team GB squad because he deserved to be part of the 'Olympic Experience'. After all, hadn't he campaigned vigorously in 2005 when London pipped Paris to the honour of hosting the 2012 Olympics? He had, but then so had Matt Pinsett and Kelly Holmes, so shouldn't they be handed a place in Team GB, 'for old time's sake'?

The man copping the flak from those who believe the Olympics isn't so much about winning but rewarding is Stuart Pearce. Having told Beckham last week that he hadn't made the squad, the coach of the Team GB football squad yesterday revealed the 18 players that had.

Among the 13 Englishmen and five Welshmen are the three over-age players allowed in each Olympic squad: Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs, who is likely to captain the team, Craig Bellamy of Liverpool, and Manchester City defender Micah Richards. The trio are all Premier League players while Beckham has spent the past five seasons with LA Galaxy in the slightly less challenging environs of North America's MLS.

Of course, Micah Richards doesn't have his own line of underwear, and Craig Bellamy isn't married to a pop star. And in the looks department, Giggs comes a sorry second to his former United team-mate.

Among the younger players are some exciting names, including Scott Sinclair, the Swansea striker, and the Chelsea pair of Daniel Sturridge and Ryan Bertrand. But that wasn't of much interest to the assembled press pack when Pearce read out his list of names. They had only one agenda: to get to the bottom of what the papers would no doubt have dubbed 'Beckhamgate', had they not used up that cliché in previous outrages concerning Goldenballs .

Asked to explain his reasons behind Beckham's omission, Pearce replied by first outlining his selection criterion: "My starting point with all the players was that there were no guarantees," he said. "I'm more than happy with the three over-age selections I've picked and I think they stand up to any scrutiny because of the seasons they've had in the Premier League.

"You have to make big calls and whilst I would say David not being in the squad is a biggish call, from the offset I was only ever going to pick on what I see with my own eyes in regard to footballing reasons… I didn't pick on personality and I didn't pick on ticket sales. I picked solely on football reasons and I'm happy with the selections."

But many reporters weren't, and continued to prod Pearce on the subject, until finally the coach snapped: "There is no doubt David had a burning ambition to be part of this, he said it many times before. But the thing is the other 18 players in my squad have the same burning ambition."

Of course, who's to say Beckham won't be drafted in as a late replacement for one of Giggs, Bellamy or Richards. Hamstrings are funny things at their age, they can strain at a moment's notice, particularly when there are seats that need filling at an Olympic football tournament.

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