Yesterday’s announcement that Team GB will face the mighty Brazil in a pre-Olympic warm-up match will come as a major boost for LOCOG.
The much-publicised lack of interest in the event is threatening to over-shadow what many hoped and expected to be a seminal moment for football in the United Kingdom.
After plenty of debate and conjecture, the associations involved appear to have reached agreement over allowing players to get involved at London 2012. How happy they are about the situation is up for debate.
But the fact that a Team GB will take place in this summer’s tournament hasn’t yet captured the imagination of the public, and whilst David Beckham’s probable inclusion will go some way to selling more tickets, there is still plenty of seats available for those who fancy a look.
Coming just a month after the completion of Euro 2012 and weeks before the start of another Premier League campaign, it’s understandable to see why people haven’t quickly jumped at the chance to watch an U23 football tournament with a few veterans thrown in for good measure.
However, this problem isn’t one that’s felt elsewhere across the globe. Whilst we’re happy to pour scorn over Olympic football, countries like Brazil have been using it to their advantage for decades.
“I was in the 1994 World Cup and I couldn’t play a single minute. Later, I played in the 1996 Olympics and for me it was a fantastic experience. It helped me out a lot,” noted legendary striker Ronaldo in an interview with Gary Lineker.
When you consider that Ronaldo went on to become the all-time leading World Cup goalscorer, it’s probably worth taking note of his comments.
Where Brazil seem to have realised that there is an opportunity to develop its best young players, England in particular have missed out with a lack of a Team GB at the Olympics.
And, whilst junior tournaments like the U20 World Cups and U21 European Championships give young players the chance to experience high-pressure situations, the Olympics would appear to take that onto the next level.
Used as a natural progression for youngsters looking to advance within their country’s football hierarchy, England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales all fail to offer that potentially vital stepping-stone that Ronaldo utilised so well in his career.
“We’ve had the basis from the U20 squad that played in the World Cup, so there is a lot of hope that this year we can win it,” noted the former Real Madrid and Barcelona forward.
“Neymar, I’m sure he’ll play. Ganso is another promising player who is a great central midfielder.”
Whilst Premier League managers are quick to try and avoid having their players on show at the Olympics, the Brazilian philosophy in particular is that this is a showcase for stars of the future. We will certainly be hearing more from Neymar and Ganso in years to come.
If you don’t believe it works, then just check on the progress of Lionel Messi, who made his mark on the 2008 tournament when forcing the Selecao to settle for bronze. A young Sergio Aguero was also in the team.
Given how seriously Brazil takes the event, it’s therefore a surprise to learn that they have never actually won gold in the event. Whilst in the UK we don’t care to take part, the South American public are hoping for more, and think this could be the year for glory.
“Yes, because we have never won the gold medal, and the Brazilian people are very optimistic that we will win the gold medal,” responded Ronaldo when asked if people were interested back home.
“It’s incredible – we’ve had a lot of opportunities. When I was playing in Atlanta, we led the semi-finals against Nigeria 3-1, but with ten minutes we switched off and lost 4-3. It’s very important to the Brazilian people, and they really love this tournament. And for the athletes the Olympic tournament is an honour to be in.”
Perhaps that’s another key factor to consider. In Brazil, it’s an honour to represent your country in the Olympic football event. Whether the same can be said about players from the UK is up for debate.
Nobody can deny Beckham’s desire to represent GB at the Olympics, but it’s more important to see the young stars of the future showing a passion for the event. Plenty are talking a good game, but there is understandably scepticism among the British public.
That will almost certainly remain as the games get closer and closer, and the real test of how serious this competition is for Team GB – and therefore the British public – could well come from that friendly against Brazil at the Riverside Stadium.
Stuart Pearce will have a serious job on his hands to contain some of world football’s hottest properties, who most importantly want to make a mark on the football landscape for their country.
It’s the same dream that Pearce must instil in his players to stand any chance of success both on the pitch and in the stands this summer.
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