After the arguments have died down (for now) between the British Football Associations and the existence of a British Olympic Football team has been announced, with the men’s team manager predictably named as Stuart Pearce, the next decision to be made (though not for some time) is who will represent Great Britain in the squad. Previous rules suggest an 18-man squad, with 15 players under-23, or more precisely, born after 1st January 1989. Three players over 23 can also be named, which opens up selection options vastly. That is where the contentious issues may arise, and how David Beckham’s name will continue to appear in newspapers on a daily basis for the next year.
So who would I pick? Well it’s not easy. And it of course depends on how a number of players perform and develop over the season. Whilst the Scottish, Welsh and NI FA’s may have vetoed such a team, they cannot block the like of Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey appearing, so I have chosen using the full list of British players.
So here are my picks for the squad, which like the actual squad will still probably have a heavy English bent to them:
Not an easy choice, as there is not an obvious choice. The best option I can think of is Ben Amos (Manchester United). Not hugely experienced, though he has played in the Champions League (once).
Declan Rudd (Norwich) – not an area of expertise for me, but seems best option on the surface, and as I will say a lot during this article, will be excellent experience for him to be involved.
Phil Jones – ridiculously over-hyped as the new Duncan Edwards and a future England captain as soon as he moved to Manchester United, but another easy selection, and would be good experience for him. Much depends of course on how much action he sees over the summer for the senior squad, but my guess would be not very much.
Kyle Walker – fast-improving defender, excellent going forward, and has now broken into senior squad, keeping Micah Richards out. Named in the summer’s U21 European Championship Team of the Tournament despite the poor showing of the England team as a whole
Jonny Evans – representation for Northern Ireland. Takes an over-23 slot, and has been slated at times this season, but obviously has plenty of top-level experience, and each country should be represented in team in my opinion.
Micah Richards – the best English right-back on current form, so we might as well use him, as Fabio Capello clearly has no intention of. Sadly just too old to fit in the 15 U-23s, so he goes in as one of the oldies. A waste of one of those three spots? Maybe, but he is desperate for international football, and I think he deserves it – unless of course Capello changes his mind and he features for England.
Martin Kelly – Liverpool defender who has broken through to first team, and looks an excellent prospect. Makes the squad right-back heavy, but he is known to prefer playing at centre-back so gives team options.
Danny Wilson – with the squad not over-blessed with options at left-back, Wilson gets the nod, another Liverpool youngster signed from Rangers, who has already represented the senior Scotland team five times, and can also deputise in the centre of defence.
Aaron Ramsey – will be 21 next summer. A box to box midfielder who continues to improve. Will surely feature heavily, fitness permitting.
Gareth Bale – the man today spuriously linked with a £35m bid from Barcelona in January is a no-brainer of a selection, and seems better suited in midfield rather than as a marauding left-back.
J. McEachran – will be 19 next summer. A left-footed central creative midfield player who has had occasional chances in Chelsea’s first team, he looks a good prospect.
Jack Rodwell – talked about as the next best thing for years now, and continuously linked with a megabucks move to Manchester United, I am yet to see just what the fuss is about, or where his best position is, but what do I know? Obviously has talent to burn, and could be a good stepping stone for his development.
Oxlade Chamberlain – early days in his Arsenal career, but again looks a good prospect. A perfect Olympic team choice.
Barry Bannan – seemingly out of form and now suspended too following a drink-driving arrest, this is not a time to be “bigging up” the player. But he has impressed me more than any of his team-mates when I have seen him play at the Etihad Stadium, and would add a great deal to the midfield.
Daniel Sturridge – 22 next summer, another easy option. Often underwhelming at Manchester City, he grew as a player whilst on loan at Bolton. Has shown excellent form for Chelsea this season (the odd game apart), and seems to be developing as a player nicely.
Danny Welbeck – 21 next summer. Will he feature in the senior squad? Will probably make squad, which you could argue should exclude him from Olympic squad, but can’t see him getting too much time on the pitch in Poland or Ukraine.
Wayne Rooney. The last over 23 pick, and why not? It’s not as if he’ll have a full schedule for the senior squad over the summer. And his selection would annoy Alex Ferguson, so it ticks all the boxes. But then is it fair to take that spot away from a promising youth player who might benefit more from the experience? I can’t decide.
Marvin Sordell (Watford) – staked a claim with a goal-scoring performance for the U21 team this week. His goal-scoring record is hardly sensational this season, but has managed to establish himself in the Watford side, and another year to develop could see an exciting player make the squad.
Connor Wickham – the Ipswich prodigy now at Sunderland cost £8m, a sign of how highly-rated he is. A knee injury has stalled his progress for now, but looks to have a bright future. Might be one striker too many in the squad though.
So there you are. Perhaps my approach is totally wrong. How about Plan B? – no selection for players who make the summer senior squad, irrelevant of minutes on pitch. Selecting a squad is not easy at all – perhaps the better option is to really go for youth and pick less high-profile players – to aid their development and to give them experience of international competition. It will be an experience none of them will ever forget after all. Also, for the over-23 slots, use the rule (as most will) and pick very experienced players, rather than a few players just too old to feature in the original 15 – perhaps the likes of Craig Bellamy, or even Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher. Personally I’d love to see Kevin Phillips!
I don’t envy Stuart Pearce deciding, that’s for sure – perhaps the solution will involves numerous dialogues with clubs and players to discover which players want to go most, and which clubs are flexible at allowing their players to miss a pre-season for possible Olympic glory.
Either way, here’s a provisional starting XI:
Richards, Jones, Evans, Collins
Chamberlain, Rodwell, Ramsey, McEachran, Bale
And the other options?: Henri Lansbury, Nathan Delfouneso, Emmanuel Frimpong, John Flanagan, Chris Smalling, James Forrest, and many more – the list is plentiful…..