The great arc of an international football campaign is one with which we are all too familiar.
We start off with low hopes, we then kid ourselves that actually we are fairly decent, a few newspapers inflate a massive balloon called expectation and finally when it bursts, everyone agrees they were all rubbish in the first place. You know the format, we all do.
I refer to “we” here. We as in England. Though now that the “we” is Great Britain, an unknown beast full of kids plus two and a half blokes who’ve had driving licences for more than a week, there is uncertainty as to whether it will follow the same path. Whether we will love this team, believe in it, think it’s going to win… all is yet to be played out.
One thing is for certain, though: it will have its winners and losers and, clearly, already on the losers side of the divide is Spurs’ Welsh genius Gareth Bale.
Now, I am prepared to buy into the idea that he may not be entirely guilty of blatant deception here. But whether he is or is not, it seems that he is already too late. Fate has charged ahead of him here and declared him the villain of the Olympic football concept.
And I agree, it looks blatant. It looks so embarrassing. Bale was the first ever footballer to model the new GB football strip. He appeared to be the poster boy for the concept. He was not English, which helped solve that political blather, he is very good, he is young, exciting. His apparent endorsement of the GB football concept struck a resounding note for it.
So it was galling and frustrating that he was not able to partake because of injury; no poster boy in the team (I am talking Bale here still, not David Beckham. Different story altogether and we’ve already covered that).
But then to turn up on Spurs’ pre-season tour, and then to play against LA Galaxy in a friendly, and then, to cap it all, to score a goal? That is taking the mickey. That is a humiliation for the GB team of which he once appeared to be such a solid supporter.
It is baffling. It may not have mattered so much if it had been anyone else. But Bale is symbolic: we think of him as the first on board. Now he looks like the first on board the ship and then the first to jump ship (tempting to say “bale out” there; temptation avoided).
The result is that he appears to have been duplicitous. Furthermore, he has broken one of the basic codes in sport: he has let his teammates down. Just when they were starting their Olympic campaign, and voicing all these splendidly positive opinions about the Olympic football concept and how they hope it can be perpetuated, their star man pitches up on the California coast sticking two fingers up at the whole thing.
There are only two possible explanations here. Either Bale really is duplicitous and soulless and does not care. And, yes, he may have come under pressure from his club here to play for Spurs rather than GB, but if he has succumbed to that and failed to stand his own ground, then he is somewhat spineless too.
Or – and this is more likely – he was too injured to join the GB squad, but his injury had recovered enough in time to go on the pre-season tour with Spurs.
Let us hope that the latter is the case, but sadly, whichever it is, it is too late. Generally I have been trained as a journalist to have a natural suspicion of the PR industry, however, on this occasion, the PR has maybe completely let him down.
It would not have taken too much to ram the message home, it is very simple, make a public statement: Bale was injured, he has recovered fast, he is nearly fit now.
But no one spelled it out. And now it is too late. So all we are left with is the impression that Bale is the Olympic football villain. He may be, may not be. Either way, that is how he will be remembered.
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