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Beckham vs Pearce and the Country That Doesnt Care

Given the relative lack of interest in this story outside the British media, I feel that it might be pertinent to start by setting the scene here.

It was a dark and stormy night when the miserly old man, his cold eyes matte against the light of the candle, picked up the telephone. The clunk of the circular dialler as his wizened finger forced the old ring around cut through the silence of his chambers. The deep hollow of the ringer hurt his ear.

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Eventually, the sound of children’s laughter and the warm glow of a life well lived fell through the receiver. An effete voice articulated itself over the commotion. “Hello?”

“Hello, David. It’s Psycho.” The hunched figure spoke, its rasping voice hammered by decades of bellowing. There was a silence towards the end of which the voice began to laugh uncontrollably. The laugh grew into a cacophony of overlapping notes punctuated by the occasional cough and splutter. “You didn’t make the squad.”

The line went dead.

At least, that’s the way the media are reporting Stuart Pearce’s decision to leave Saint David of Beckham sitting in the stands during the Men’s Olympic Football event.

To read the reports, you would believe that the evil mastermind Pearce had gone out of his way to destroy Team GB’s hopes of doing anything other than whimpering out at the group stage. Some even had the temerity to suggest that Pearce’s decision was grounded more in his innate desire to see his name in the red-top headlines than it was to do with football.

Of course, in Pearce and Beckham we’re dealing with two of football’s arch-self-aggrandisers. Beckham’s headline chasing career will be familiar to all readers but it is those who watched with a crestfallen sigh while BBC Sport suddenly rebranded itself as an LA Galaxy fan page who will understand the true nature of Beckham power.

Pearce the player is much different to Pearce the manager. As a player Pearce led his teams with all the self-regard of a kamikaze pilot, throwing himself in where others would not dare. Admittedly not into the decks of battleships but most certainly into the decks of his fellow professionals. As a manager, things seem to have cooled off and been replaced by a wish to be the man who is not afraid to make the unpopular decision.

It is purely a matter of opinion whether Pearce makes decisions like replacing Steven Gerrard as England captain or drafting in Micah Richards instead of David Beckham for the Olympics for the sake of his own ego or because they’re the correct decisions. However, I can tell you one thing for certain: Beckham should not play for Team GB.

The organisers of the games may well owe him a debt of gratitude for the selfless (but headline generating) work he did to bring the games to London. He may even be the most positive role model in the Olympic committee; unless you’re a particular fan of Lord Coe, the personality vacuum but that doesn’t mean he is an Olympian

It is easy to forget that the Olympics isn’t a personality contest for news media and advertisers to hock isotonic sports drinks, tattoos and leotards. The Olympics is about the very best athletes competing for a place among the elite. This applies to athletics, it applies to cycling and to all the other olympic sports, so why doesn’t the same attitude apply to football?

Simple. The UK doesn’t care.

As a nation, you won’t find people who take football more seriously than us. There are endless debates going on in public places up and down the land right at this very moment about the Balotellis, the Gerrards and the De Rossis of this world but before yesterday no-one was talking about Olympic Football.

Whereas some countries take it seriously like Brazil and Spain, we mock the tournament as being less than worthy of our illustrious sporting heritage. “The Olympics?” We scoff as we gaze forlornly at England’s trophy cabinet. “What do we need The Olympics for?”

The simple fact is that it’s a proving ground for the stars of the future to play in a major tournament. There is no major world tournament for players as they make the transition from U20 level to full internationals and The Olympics is the perfect stage. Who wouldn’t want to be a gold medal Olympian?

Unfortunately the media in the UK cares less about the football aspect of the Olympics than having Beckham pulling on the blue jersey and leading them out onto the pitch. It would not surprise me that had he gone, the coverage would have ended after the national anthem after just the right amount of nationalistic fervour has been applied.

Pearce’s decision to omit Beckham sends a strong message to the corporate arm of the London 2012 Olympics. If they win Gold, they’ll win on footballing merit rather than with the support of the media circus which follows Beckham around. Without doing so Olympic Football will never be taken seriously by spectators in the UK.

Put simply, it doesn’t matter whether it is Pearce or Beckham who is seeking the headlines and the scrutiny. Now the football will speak for itself and the Beckham-worshipping media will still get their shot of him sitting contemplatively in the stands, a martyr to the tournament that his country doesn’t care about.

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