3for3’s Dan “The Mekon” picks his squad for Team GB’s Olympic campaign, and explains why some of the biggest names shouldn’t make it to the Games at all.
It’s less than 150 days until the Olympic football tournament begins, a competition which has been won by such footballing greats as Lev Yashin, Ferenc Puskas, Lionel Messi and, erm, Sunday Oliseh, and deserves a modicum of respect as a result. Nations all over the world take this competition very seriously; indeed the Argentinians place as much emphasis on this tournament as they do on competitions like the Copa America. It also remains the only international tournament that Brazil are eligible to enter that they have yet to win.
And so, after months of arguments, negotiations and almighty “fuck-you”s from the Scottish and Welsh FAs, an agreement has been reached and Team GB will contest the Olympic football tournament for the first time since the 1948 Olympics – ironically, the last time the Games were held in London (quelle surprise) – which we duly won. Stuart Pearce has been placed in charge of proceedings and has been spotted at matches the length and breadth of the country scouting players, and will name his squad at an as-yet-undisclosed time nearer to the start of the tournament. I however, as a conscientious observer, have decided to take it upon myself to name the squad that I believe should be going to the Games and, I genuinely believe, has equally as good a chance of medalling as the squad that Psycho is likely to pick i.e. almost none.
First, the rules:
Squad must consist of 18 players
Only three players born before 1 January 1989 may be selected
I’ve found it necessary to add a couple of my own rules to this process too, simply because this was in danger of turning into a ’10 English players and Gareth Bale’ scenario, and quite frankly that’s not representative of the UK as a whole. A quota system is required and will be enforced in my selection, whereby each constituent nation of the UK will be represented by at least four players. Yes, even Northern Ireland. Look, I know alright? It was really hard, but it was worth it because even though the squad I’ve chosen will almost certainly fail to medal, it’s the squad that represents this nation as a whole the best. Ironically, no players from the SPL make the cut, despite a representative of the IFA Premiership getting a call-up. One in the eye for the haters there.
The second rule, and it’s one that I ummed and ahhed over for ages, is that no players who make the England Euro 2012 squad can be considered. Now if you breathe lightly and listen really hard, you’ll be able to hear the many howls of derision coming from Man Utd fans up and down the nation (mostly down, let’s be honest), given that a big chunk of their squad will almost certainly go to the Euros and will therefore miss out on the sixth most prestigious event of the British football calendar – after Euro 2012, the FA Cup Final, the CIS Insurance Cup final, Mario Balotelli’s end-of-season party and Terry Cooper’s “It Was Worth a Shout” post-sacking press conference.
Consider this though – should they go to the Olympics, at the end of next season Rooney, Welbeck, Smalling et al will have been playing football for two years solid. Given how exhausting and tense this year’s title race is looking likely to be, wouldn’t you prefer them to have a few weeks off to refresh and catch their breath? City fans, imagine Joe Hart sprains a finger in the Ukraine. Would you prefer to have him fending off shots from some of the world’s best at the Olympics, or sitting at home with his hand in a bag of frozen peas? We both know the answer, and frankly I’m excited at the prospect of some other names getting a chance. And so, with only slightly further ado, here is my 2012 Olympics Team GB squad.
Two absolute no-brainers for me here. Ben Amos (ENG) of Manchester United is a superb young goalkeeper who has shown himself to be both competent and reliable in his few appearances this season, and I think he’s done more than enough to earn the starting berth for Team GB at the Olympics. Ably backing him up will be my first over-age selection, Nottingham Forest’s Lee Camp (NIR), a goalkeeper who has suffered greatly for having an exceptionally poor defence in front of him this season but has talent in bucketloads, and would be a starter for almost team in the bottom half of the Premier League. With the possible exception of, ironically enough, Wigan.
A few simple choices here too: West Ham’s James Tomkins (ENG) has been one of the best centre-backs in the Championship this season and Martin Kelly (ENG) of Liverpool has been a superb breakout star in the Premier League too, adding vitality to an ageing Pool defence. His club teammate Danny Wilson (SCO), on loan at Blackpool, is also proving to be an excellent young prospect and is Scotland’s first selection in this squad. He’s joined by Blackpool teammate Craig Cathcart (NIR), a player I felt was vastly underrated in his club’s ultimately failed bid to survive in the Premier League last season and has proven himself to be a stalwart for Ian Holloway in this year’s Playoff push. Newcastle’s Shane Ferguson (NIR) has all the makings of an excellent full-back and is included here, as is Blackburn Rovers’ Grant Hanley (SCO), an excellent young prospect making a name for himself at the wrong end of the Premier League table. Rounding off a slightly inexperienced but very talented defensive selection is Chris Gunter (WAL), the first Welshman to make the squad and the only bright spot in what has been a defensive horror show for Forest this year.
This, friends, is where we enter flavour country. Great Britain has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to midfielders and wingers, and frankly the only difficulty I had was to find an exciting young Northern Irish prospect to slot into the squad. I failed in the end, apparently quality young Northern Irish midfielders are either as real as a porn-and-pizza tree, or fleeing Ulster to the Republic to play for them (which is, frankly, contemptable. I’m looking at you James McClean). I don’t need to wax lyrical about the abilities of Gareth Bale (WAL), Aaron Ramsey (WAL) or Wilfried Zaha (ENG) to any football fan worth his salt, but the inclusions of Aston Villa’s exciting youngster Barry Bannan (SCO) and the honourable and talented winger Gregg Wylde (SCO), who fell on his sword at Rangers in a bid to save the club that had raised him and now plies his trade in Bolton’s colours, are perhaps more surprising. The energy that both those players have and the raw talent they possess are things that Pearce can harness effectively, and by mingling them with the experienced Premier League players I’ve already chosen he can find an excellent balance to the midfield area. So I’ve got one more midfielder left to pick, and it’ll be my second over-age selection. I’ve also decided to make this player my leader, my captain, my king.
Paul Scholes (ENG)
Paul Scholes the rock around which the England team should have been built for the last decade, and is damn well going to be the rock that my Great Britain team is built around. He’s won everything there is to win at club level, and he’s done it all with one club. Vision, passing, awareness, a thunderbolt of a shot, he’d have everything if only he could tackle properly. In a young team like this you need an old warhorse who’s done it all twice and backwards again, and Scholes would be the perfect man to anchor Team GB’s midfield. You’d have a hard time convincing me that England has produced a better player than him in the last twenty years, and if this ‘return season’ is to be his swansong, I don’t see why Pearce can’t give him the ultimate send-off and ask him to lead our country out at the biggest sporting event it has ever hosted. Shit, make him the flag-bearer. Do something.
Only three forwards I know, but Zaha can double as a support striker (and has done to good effect for Palace in the past) and besides, I can only pick 18 players. First striker on the teamsheet is Cliftonville’s hitman Liam Boyce (NIR) who, despite not quite making the grade at Werder Bremen after bagging plenty of goals for their reserves, has shown both for club and country that he has both an eye for goal and a passion to play football wherever he can. Ahead of him though is a pair of goal machines, in Huddersfield Town’s Jordan Rhodes (SCO) and my final over-age selection, Southampton’s Rickie Lambert (ENG). These two strikers have scored 61 goals between them in all competitions this season (so far). That’s a phenomenal output, regardless of what level they’re playing at, and I can’t help but think that both players will be banging in goals in the Premier League next season (for very different reasons).
So that’s my squad. It’s got youth, experience, pace, aggression, talent, style, determination and tactical awareness. As I said before, this might not be a team good enough to medal at the Olympics, but it’s definitely a fair representation of the young talent sprouting up from all over the United Kingdom, plus it’s got Paul Scholes as its captain. And even if we do fail to grab a prize, it’s hard to argue that this team wouldn’t run its guts out, give everything it’s got and leave our nation proud that we bothered to enter at all, while giving those killjoys at the various football federations across the land a collective middle finger at the same time.