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Roker Ramble: Is It Time We Treat The Olympics More Seriously?

Stuart Pearce is in serious mode, so why isn't anyone else when it comes to Olympic football?
Stuart Pearce is in serious mode, so why isn't anyone else when it comes to Olympic football?

There is no doubt that the Olympic Games have caused feverous debate since they were awarded to London way back in July of 2005. Whether or not you see it as a fantastic, once in a lifetime event we should embrace or as a monumental waste of tax payers money during what is a difficult financial situation for most, the fact is its here and it is
mere weeks away. The games have at least thrown up an interesting scenario for British football fans as for the first time in fifty-two years there would be a football team representing our nations.

Whilst the majority of the debate as to the team so far has centred around David Beckham's exclusion, surely there is more to this than just the media darling's omission?

"I would always want to see Team GB put in a football team simply because it is a fantastic opportunity for a young man or woman to represent their country at an Olympic Games. I absolutely want to see us use this as a launchpad to have a Team GB football team at every single Games."

This is the view of Hugh Robertson, Sports Minister, who is obviously firmly in support of a Team GB football team every four years. The creation of the side has been strongly opposed in the past by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Football Associations, fearing that it may "undermine their independence" in the future and lead to attempts to merge the nations into one combined British side for upcoming World Cup and European Championship tournaments.

Obviously qualification for this Games' tournament was not an issue given our status as hosts, however for future events FIFA would be required to provide special dispensation for the Nations to qualify via the Under-21's Championship in order to then become the Great Britain team. This has been met with severe opposition from the home nations and Premier League managers which is unsurprising given the tournament's timing - smack bang in the middle of key pre-season preparations.

We have already seen Newcastle United ferociously oppose the inclusion of key personnel Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba from Sengal's Olympic squad, a battle which they have emerged victorious, whilst Everton and West Ham have allowed Magaye Gueye and Mohamed Diame respectively to represent the African nation in the Games. Alan Pardew's reservations as to allowing Cisse and Ba's participation is understandable given he is also likely to lose both players during January's African Cup of Nations.

However, following England's exit from the recent European Championship, talk in the press and media turned to the gulf in class between ourselves and the likes of defending Champions Spain. Much has been made of the new St. George's centre, a £100m football training centre new Burton, which will serve as a central training ground for
England football squads and education facilities for trainee referees and coaches. Chairman of the project David Sheepshanks declared the facility as:

"The future. This is where we will pursue excellence for English football"

So if this is the case, why aren't we taking opportunities for our young talent to gain more competitive experience on the international stage? Surely the FA should be looking at competitions such as the Olympics as more than just a way of generating interest in the Games when we are hosts and as an opportunity to nurture our young players
and prepare them for the full international squad?

Whilst Newcastle's concern as to the inclusion of players they class to be key personnel to their first team is understandable, I would be interested to hear the thoughts of both Andreas Villas Boas and of course the Spurs fans for example as to the inclusion of their young talents Steven Caulker and Danny Rose, I'm sure they may see the experience available slightly differently.

So whilst Olympic football has been a tournament that has been ignored on these shores for many a year, even to the point in 1998 where we qualified but declined to enter a team, this is not the case in other countries. I'm not just talking about any old countries either but nations such as Brazil and Spain who bring through such talented footballers that Roy Hodgson could currently only dream of having at his disposal for the English national side and play a style of football that would give the likes of Andy Carroll a worse headache than, well, probably last Saturday morning as he woke up with his head in a kebab box.

These nations use the Olympic Games as a "proving ground" as it were for their future stars, a tournament that provides an ideal opportunity for their players to make the transition from the U20 international level to the full international squad, a stage in their development for which there is no real other alternative on the international stage.

One player who could be highlighted as an advocate of the Olympic Games and its benefit to their development is Lionel Messi. Yes, the most talented footballer on the face of the planet. Back in 2008 Barcelona and their talented young Argentinean were involved in a prolonged dispute as to the forwards inclusion in Argentina's squad for the Games. The Spanish giants won a battle with FIFA as the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that clubs were free to prevent their players from taking part in the tournament should they wish. However, following a discussion with the player, the newly appointed Guardiola decided to let the player join his nation's squad. Of course, as you can imagine with Messi involved, the rest is history as they say, as Argentina went on to win the Gold medal with Lionel instrumental throughout the tournament.

If we are serious about wanting our National side to compete for honours in future International tournaments can we really afford to treat opportunities to develop our talent, as the Olympics, with such scorn and distain? Yes the tournament may be viewed as an inconvenience to Premier League managers, yes we need a major shake-up in the way we develop our young talent from the grassroots up and competing in one more tournament will not solve all these issues overnight but given the success that nations such as Spain and Brazil have enjoyed in recent years, surely it is worth considering.

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