Why the Olympic football team must still be respected

Steven Caulker is in the Team GB squad for London 2012. The Olympic football tournament feels like it has had something of a difficult genesis on these shores, as the beginning to the 2012 games fast approaches. The entire concept of ‘Team GB’ has been questioned, queried and even ridiculed in some circles for several months now since it’s reformation for the games.

And in true blaze of British cynicism, we’ve typically decided to turn our eyes to the negative elements of the team. A lack of true British representation has been picked at consistently and the omission of demi-God David Beckham has gone down even worse.

But beneath the pessimism, there is the chance for a group of talented young players to immerse themselves in a tournament environment. With the European Championships now consigned to history and an unprecedented level of coverage and attention upon the Olympics, these players have a real chance to grab the spotlight and write their own headlines; and the benefits of that will be a major plus point to all involved.

With so much emphasis being put upon the three players over the age of 23, the subsequent fallout seems to have overshadowed proceedings. Whenever the Olympic football team seems to be mentioned, Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Micah Richards are the first names that roll of the tongue. And why shouldn’t it be? They are by far the three most high profile players and in Ryan Giggs case, a living footballing legend. Spectators will want to these three play and more importantly, see Team GB win.

But the focal point of the Olympic tournament is of course all about the young players. That’s what the under-23 rule is for. The three overage players are supposed to supplement the team, not define it.

The argument is that the Olympic Games are supposed to represent the pinnacle of any participating sport. That falls short for perhaps quite a few, but none more so than football. Even for the under-23 players, some have even said simply competing in the Premier League is of better experience than what Team GB will undertake this summer. And with all respect, the fixture against the UAE gives some credence to that point.

Although we need to view it for what it is. Those who are satirizing the participation of players in the tournament this summer need to think in the long term. Like it or not, the football tournament is going to receive maximum exposure. Plenty has been said for the unsold tickets and the lack of interest, but even though the publicity has hardly been a whitewash of positivity, it has featured prominently on the media’s agenda. A stand out performance during these games is going to get big column inches.

The knock on effects of such aforementioned coverage can benefit all parties involved. Sir Alex Ferguson knows what Tom Cleverley can do. But if he turns in a superb summer, pulling the strings in a strong Team GB showing, could that be the small margin that sees him starting games for United next term? Steven Caulker has recently signed a new long-term contract at Spurs. But with a new manager at the helm, places are up for grabs in that team. Put in a series of great performances at the Olympics and it could persuade Andre Villas Boas to hand the youngster a more prominent role.

Unfortunately, one of the real stigmas of this Team GB football squad is the representation of the other Home Nations outside of England. Realistically, it is likely to be the English national team who could benefit as a consequence if the players involved end up notching up more Premier League playing time. But if you were to be deeply cynical, it is also a platform for players to put themselves in the shop window.

The experience of playing in a tournament is also something that cannot be underplayed. In everywhere else on the continent, there is a huge impetus on youngsters playing in tournaments at every level. The experience is something that you cannot teach. All involved at the Olympics will benefit as a result of this.

In this country we place so much importance on the big names and the win at all costs attitude. But we shouldn’t necessarily brush aside this Olympic tournament as a result. Yes, most of the big names aren’t going to be in attendance. It’s not going to encapsulate the excitement of the Premier League. And the achievement of winning the gold medal is fairly low down on a player’s list of desired silverware.

But this tournament still has it’s own credentials. Comparing it to a European Championships is illogical. The merits of the Olympics may not lie in the overall prize in the grand old scheme of things. But the projection of these younger players into the spotlight is not something to be scoffed at. The quality of football will still be of a very high, technical level and make no mistake about it, the tournament will be played in an extremely competitive spirit.

And if this helps galvanize the careers of those playing for Team GB, then it could go a long way to justifying the renovation of our participation in the Olympic football tournament.