David Beckham versus Stuart Pearce. This was not a fair PR battle. Pearce loses that one every time. There is no way he could win - unless he declared it a “no contest” and picked Beckham for the Olympics.
Here is why Pearce was right not to...
1) He decided Beckham was not good enough. That sentence should be enough in itself. Not good enough. Pearce went to the United States three times in recent months to watch Beckham in action. That surely makes him as good a judge as any of whether Beckham genuinely has the football ability he required.
For all the criticism that Pearce has received, no one appears to acknowledge that actually he is the one in a position to know best. Personally I have my own views of the MLS in America, but I cannot pretend I regularly watch enough of it to have an opinion. I haven’t been over three times to watch Beckham. So I will trust in Pearce’s judgement.
2) But Beckham has been a great Olympic ambassador. Yes indeed he has. The London Olympic bid used him cannily and when they had won the Games, the London Olympics organising committee carried on using him. But does all that hard work equate to a reward? And should that reward be a place in the Olympic team?
This is palpable nonsense. Steve Redgrave helped with the Games, and he’s not in the rowing team. Seb Coe did far more than Beckham and he’s not in the track team.
3) But Beckham is famous and popular and would sell tickets. Indeed he is, but so would Robbie Williams. I fancy a central defence of will.i.am and Mick Jagger. And you could have One Direction as part of a five man midfield with Harry Styles and the blond one playing their slightly advanced, more creative role. That would sell tickets too.
4) But there will be empty seats without him. Indeed there may be. But are we as a ticket-buying nation really so shallow that we’d only go for Beckham?
Enough, enough. It doesn’t make sense. Even if you are Beckham himself, it doesn’t make sense. Would he really want to be selected as a 'thank you' for noble service?
The reason I believe this so firmly is because I believe fundamentally in the ideals of Olympics competition. I have been to every summer Games since Atlanta in 1996 and I don’t want to come over like an old git because of it, but at every Games you are struck by the same unavoidable conclusion – that, for pretty much every competitor out there, this is the biggest day of their lives.
It means more than anything else in their profession careers. It is the ultimate. And because of that, selection to an Olympic team is one of the greatest of any Olympian’s ambitions.
I was in the United States last week, at their Olympic trials for athletics and swimming, and the sheer joy they felt when they qualified for their Olympic team was striking.
The Olympics has to be about the best competing against the best. Occasionally that does not happen and because Olympic football is essentially an under-23 competition with hangers-on, it is, by definition, not “the best”.
Nevertheless, the obligation for selectors has to be that they remain as true to the elite ideals as possible. It is an insult to other Olympians to suggest that alternative attributes – marketability, long service – should pay a part.
The reason the Olympics can be classified as entertainment is because it brings together the best sportspeople in the world. Pearce has stayed true to that and has thus shown respect for the Olympics. To have selected Beckham would have dishonoured the Games.