So after months of suspense as to who will be lining up in July to represent Team Great Britain in the Olympic Football tournament, the main focus of the “big reveal” a few weeks ago wasn’t on who had been included, rather who wasn’t. After Team GB Media Manager Andy Hunt read out the names of those selected on last Monday at Wembley Stadium, the floor was opened up to questions. Unsurprisingly, the first few were all about the exclusion of David Beckham, rather than any other subject. Betting companies like bwin had stopped taking bets on the inclusion of Golden Balls.
Team GB manager Stuart Pearce defended his decision immediately by saying it was down to “footballing reasons”. And so it should be – he should have picked a squad that is the best in his opinion based on the players at his disposal. He didn’t exactly cover himself in glory with a follow up answer as to why there was a complete absence of Scottish and Irish players:-
“I picked a team based on ability. I had no idea if they were English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh” Really Stuart – I think that may be stretching the truth a little bit too much. I am sure you knew that Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy were Welsh, and that Sturridge and Butland have just returned from England duty.
The killer question came from a guy at Sky Sports. “With poor ticket sales for the Team GB games so far, wasn’t the inclusion of David Beckham an idea to boost attendances?”
Good question, and one I would imagine the organisers had been contemplating. His inclusion would have boosted tickets from foreign visitors as well as some fans based in the UK knowing this was more than likely to be the last time they see him play in Britain. However, even the presence of Golden Balls is unlikely to save the Olympic Football tournament from thousands of empty seats being beamed across the globe. Unfortunately, as we have said many times before, the use of such big, diverse (Glasgow and Cardiff for instance) stadiums for games featuring Gabon, New Zealand, Egypt and Belarus was fool-hardy at best. However, nothing can be done now to change the situation and unless tickets are given away I think I will be almost on my own at Honduras v New Zealand in Glasgow in a few weeks time.
Also in attendance at the press conference was Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand. The youngster was “signed” by Chelsea at the age of 16 from Gillingham, and then has spent the last six years being “Chelsefied” (being loaned out to Football League clubs – just the five in Ryan’s case). He has, however, now made eight starts for the Blues, including in the Champions League Final where he acquainted himself brilliantly. One can only hope he is given a chance next season.
Pearce also mentioned that he planned to use the one and only warm up game against Brazil to give the full squad a run out and determine who would captain the side. However, to add further confusion to the logic of who was running the show, Pearce then announced a few days later than Ryan Giggs would captain the side.
Two weeks on and the squad had enjoyed a trip out to Spain and even a behind closed doors friendly in Marbella against the Mexicans which they lost 1-0. I headed off to the Olympic Park for the final press briefing before the tournament started next week. The process wasn’t smooth in getting in at all.
I have a pass for Old Trafford, which does not cover access to the Olympic Park. So I had to get a special day pass, which initially I was denied as I was classed as a “regional journalist”. Ironically, a chap waiting with me who was covering the Water Polo could attend the briefing as his accreditation included access to the Media Centre. Finally, common sense prevailed and I was in for my first taste of the Park.
First thing to say is it is massive. The walk from the Stratford Gate to the Media Centre was nearly 1.3 miles and took me past the Olympic Stadium, Aquatic and Water Polo arena, passed the Copper Box and as far as the Riverbank Arena (Hockey). It felt like the moment you get access to a theme park an hour earlier than anyone else. The park is spacious (in fact too much space in places) and very well sign posted.
After my route march I reached the plush MPC and headed upstairs. Pearce, Giggs, Bellamy and Tomkins appeared before the assembled media in the newly opened Media and Press Centre in the Olympic Park (well, they did eventually as they were 30 minutes late after they were stuck in the newly created traffic lanes outside the park).
The team were due to get their first look at their accommodation in the Olympic Village. The move is a strange one as due to the nature of their fixtures, they will spend very little time here, departing in less than 48 hours time for the North East where they will play their final warm up game versus Brazil. When asked who they were most looking forward to meeting in the village, Bellamy replied “I don’t know any athletes”, Tompkins said “Usain Bolt or Roger Federer” and Giggs wondered if Maria Sharapova was staying before also adding to the Federer camp.
The questions were fired mainly at Giggs and Pearce who also updated the press on the condition of Sturridge, and when if necessary they could replace him. Of course the follow up question was whether that would be Beckham. Pearce responded that he was Beckham’s “biggest fan” and it would be great to find a home for him somewhere in the squad – quite a change from his comments at Wembley a few weeks ago. The conference ended to some cheer as it was announced BP were sponsoring some free drinks downstairs.
Whilst there was a warm glow in the room after the press conferences, you just get that feeling that this is one tournament the Premier League Managers would rather wasn’t happening and would be hoping and praying that none of their players came back injured or suffering from too much too early in the season.