It has long been a strange situation, why at the Olympics the British nations band together under one moniker, while in almost every other sport each nation competes individually – and with fierce rivalry. And for years I’ve wondered why we never bothered mustering a team to compete in the Olympics, I mean sure, it ain’t the World Cup, but between the lot of us (all reasonably ranked) we could surely compete against the other nations, and no one is ever going to turn down a trophy are they?
Now of course, with the London Olympics drawing nearer and nearer as we come down from Beijing’s high, the question is on every ones lips: why should a home nation team compete in the Olympic football tournament? And to be honest, though it has so far been met with mixed views, many negative from the football media community, I don’t see why we shouldn’t.
Of course it will never replace the World Cup or anything as a major tournament on the football calender, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t at least compete. We compete in every other Olympic event where we have athletes with a chance of making an impression, and that is certainly the case in football. Indeed, as it restricted to an U23 squad, it also will give some younger players with international futures the experience of taking part in a major tournament, of getting used to squad life and the rigours of tournament football.
Some would suggest that U21 and U19 and even the younger age bracket World Cups cater for this, as well as the European equivalents, but I don’t think that that is the case. While U21 games have a reasonable following, the nation as a whole does not really get behind the younger squads and so such tournaments provide nothing of the pressure that will be piled on at a World Cup proper when the players progress to that grade. And that is one of the major things that a squad has to adapt to to be successful. To be able to perform under the weight of such expectation is not an easy thing to do.
In that sense, I think the Olympics would form an ideal stepping stone from U21 World Cups and European Championships to the fully fledged versions. While it wouldn’t be the be-all-and-end-all of a World Cup, the footballers would get caught up in the hopes and expectations of the nation that grips everyone during Olympic time. It is an event that brings people together, as we all watch people doing strange things that we’d never usually watch and going mental if they do it the best. But we all watch football anyway, so why not cheer on our younger team as part of that, and why not give ourselves a chance of another gold medal, as well as improving our experience for upcoming World Cups?
As a concept then, I’m right behind the inclusion of a Great British football team in London 2012. The problems really begin to arise though, when the technicalities are considered. How is the squad to be balanced? Should simply the best players of the appropriate age be selected, which may lead to a heavy presence from one or two nations, thus leaving out the others and destabilising support and relations, or should a quota from each country be chosen, therefore possibly weakening the squad?
And who should manage the team? Should simply the ‘best’ (a difficult word in itself, how may a manager be judged objectively for such a job?) willing manager be selected, or should a coalition be formed, between young coaches of each nation, but then, who makes the final call? Because managing is often a process of instinct and split second decisions that cannot really be re-created democratically (that’s why co-managing appointments never last).
On these particular dilemmas, I say that when it comes down to it, we select on the same basis as the rest of the Team GB athletes will be selected. Those players who have the greatest chance of winning a medal will be selected. This in itself wouldn’t be easy, but a panel of selectors (who have a depth of football knowledge) could soon sort it out fairly well. I would accept this, as it would be in the best interests of the British team, but being English, there is a large likelihood that as both the largest and most successful of the home nations, English players will dominate the squad.
Because of this, my acceptance will be slightly biased, and the opinions of the other countries probably would not be so accepting. Fans always have differing views on the abilities and merits of players, and so there would be bound to be suggestions of favouring players from this country or that country and it may endanger the great spirit that the Olympics traditionally inspires between the home nations. In my opinion though, to enter a knowingly understrength side simply to accommodate players from each country would devalue the sense of ambition that would be shown in entering the tournament. If we are going to compete, we should compete to win, and give ourselves the best chance of doing so.
As for the choice of manager, I would take a similar stance. I think one manager would have to be picked, and of course there would be many suggestions, as all of the home nations have some great managers, but the selection process would be aided by some of them almost certainly not wanting to be involved. I also think it would be good to give the job to a fairly young manager, to give them the same chance for extra experience that the players are getting. And I also think that a top coach from the other countries should also form part of the coaching staff, making it as democratic as possible, but retaining a definite leader.
Whether such a situation could be achieved is debatable, with egos and competition bound to complicate matters, but I think it is something that should certainly be attempted if we are to enter the Olympics, so that one nation does not gain more from the experience than others. But of course all these are just my opinions and I have heard many people disagree with them already. It will be absolutely impossible to appease everyone, and so in the end, the powers that be must choose that solution which pleases the most people.
In light of these difficulties some have suggested that a Home Nations tournament should be held to determine the best home nations team, and thus the victors would go on to represent Team GB in London. This to me seems instantly flawed, as the other nations would find it hugely difficult for the most part to get behind a team of what are, in all essence, foreigners, and also, if they should not win, will be constantly bemoaned and the suggestion constantly suggested that someone elses team could have done better, which would again upset Great British relations and also impact negatively on the morale of the team involved.
So the idea is a very tricky one, but as I have suggested, I think we should keep it simple. If we enter, we should stay true to the name of our combined nations. The squad should of course be British, and must be compiled of players from each nation, but likewise it must be Great, in spirit and in talent, so a squad that is compiled of the players of greatest ability should be assembled, but also one that will be able to function as a squad, with a team spirit and togetherness that resembles the Great spirit that the Olympics bring out in us.
Of course, some have argued that it should not happen at all, partly because of the above difficulties, and partly because of the possible consequences from such a team being formed. It has been suggested that if a Great British football team is formed, there would then be pressure to merge the individual teams of the nations in full international world football. This would of course be a horrific consequence, I can;t even imagine the idea of supporting Great Britain rather than England at a World Cup, but I also think it is a consequence that would never actually occur.
Because the fact is, that while there is a great union between out nations, we are all individual countries, and the World Cup and European Championships are all competed between countries. If there were to be any reshuffle because of all this, surely Team GB would be disbanded in favour of individual representations at the Olympics, after all, the other nations are all their own individual teams with no other unions quite like ours.
This would of course be a loss too. There is no doubt that Great Britain, as a united people, gets a good deal from our combined representation. If we competed individually, the medal tally of each country would be much lower, and we would consider each Games far less of a success. This would be a great shame of course, as well as the fact that we would then all be competing against each other, rather than cultivating the great sense of camaraderie that the Olympics brings to us.
But whether this would transpire, I don’t know. To be honest I don’t know why it is that we compete as GB rather than individually at the Olympics (something to do with the Kingdom I guess, but if you do know, please leave a comment to enlighten me), but if the IOC hasn’t seen fit to bring an end to it up until now, I don’t see them changing their minds. If they are happy to let us compete as Great Britain then we should continue to enjoy it, and why not enter the football tournament as a Kingdom too.
At the end of the day, what we the people think probably will not have too much of an impact on what actually happens. It will be decided by those with the power and will no doubt be decided based upon which action will bring the most financial revenue to those same powers that be, as that seems to be the way the world is going. But I hope that if we do compete as a Kingdom, no matter what the make up of the squad and the differences of opinion, I just hope that we get behind the team and try and help them win a gold medal. Because the Olympics is so great at bringing us together as one people, and football is so great at bringing the World together, it would be stupid if we let the two combine to drive us apart.