by Jack Heaney

Too quick, wasn’t it? Like the best of things, the European Championships flew by so very fleetingly. They say International football is more tin canned beer than fine wine; while the latter glistens with age, the former has wilted into a kind of thin, tasteless piss water that even your local drunkard would have to think twice about swallowing. But Ukraine and Poland’s tournament packed a punch everyone felt.

And unfortunately, it makes a football-less few weeks even more insipid. Now we long for football. Now we need it more than ever before. The days are slow and tedious; the weeks snowball without the cathartic release 22 blokes and an airy pig skin can provide, while the transfer rumours only serve to fuel the fires for some juicy, proper football to be played. What are we to do? Watch Andy Murray? Watch old football highlights from yesteryear? Heaven forbid; read a book?

It is for the above paragraph that I welcome the Olympics with open arms. While many are pessimistic about even hosting the tournament, I for one look forward to an extended period of football. There is not a soul who has not heard the arguments against Olympics football. It is true; after all, that football governs itself in terms of tournaments and attainment through its own International competition. We already have the European Championships, Copa America and other continentally specific tournaments which sorts the best from the rest. The pinnacle of course being the World Cup. Each competition possesses its own rich chest of history, glory, fanfare; each tournament is coveted by our game.

Why would we bother with the Olympics? Who cares about a gold medal when the World Cup shines, evergreen and clinquant? Other countries may see it as important but to us, it’s all a joke. It will only naturally pale in comparison and throw in the fact that few established stars can join or would join the squad, and we have a distraction rather than an attraction.

Yet while all this may true – and indeed the Olympics football could never match of supersede footballs own tournaments – why not embrace it for what it is? The absence of comparison should lead to a more enjoyable experience for the viewer; hang heads and who knows? Eyebrows may just be raised post-tournament. At the very least, see the 16 teams competing – and the subsequent football played – as a mere curtain raiser. If we are in agreement as diehard football fans that no sport is as enthralling or vivacious as the game of football…well something is better than nothing, isn’t it? Bums on seats appears to be all important but we may as well make them comfortable bums if, like me, you simply will not be able to refuse a smidgen of football before the feasting of the new season starts. It may be a tattered offer, but if the offer stands…

The meat of this article, however, is much more interested by the talent on display. If you are a teary eyed nostalgic like me you will brighten with zest and succumb to smiles at the thought of Ryan Giggs joining the Great British squad, while perhaps more interestingly a flick through the history books reveals that World Class talents of today played the Olympics as young bucks; including Argentineans Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez and even Lionel  Messi, while Peter Odemwingie, Ramires, Alexandre Pato, Samuel Eto’o, Carlos Puyol, Xavi, David Pizarro, Landon Donovan and Benni McCarthy have all trenched their studs into Olympic grass.

Evidently, the point is not to simply list a group of pretty good players who have played at the Olympics. That in itself would not make a good tournament as the prestige factor still comes into play; rather, the point is to realise that football at the Olympics can be an education rather than pure entertainment. Xavi is now a World Cup winner; Ramires is an excellent addition to the Premier League. It may just be that this year, if eyes are squinted hard enough we may catch a glimpse of some sterling future talents. Who could resist potentially watching the stars of the next decade flaunt their youth in full flush? Who could resist what might just be a glimpse of the future?

Indeed, Jordi Alba and Thiago are two wonderful Spanish players who will only improve in the coming years while the Internationally brilliant Giovani Dos Santos, Marco Fabian and English Tom Cleverley are players to watch. Perhaps the most vibrant of youngsters come from Brazil where the games may just help them blood their talents in preparation for two years time with Oscar, Ganso and the man on everybody’s lips – Neymar – touted as the heir to Pele’s throne. If we shed through the layers of vitriol that is often aimed at football in the Olympics, it is demonstrable that though many members of the squads drop off and achieve moderate success in future endeavours, there may just be a few players we can watch right now who will be on the cusp of greatness. And if there is even a modicum of that chance becoming real – if there is even a morsel of surprise on offer – then I want to receive it with open hands. Especially with such football famine that hits us in these humdrum summer months.

Football at the Olympics is not the pinnacle. Yet this only begs the question: why expect it to be? At the very least, it provides us with some sort of watchable football while we itch and scratch for the new season proper to begin. More tantalisingly, it offers us the chance to indulge ourselves in the long-in-the-tooth Ryan Giggs and better still, starlets such as the vivacious Neymar. Olympics football is flawed; it is less prestigious than the heady heights we have recently become accustomed to. But if you offer it the chance to strike your starved football chords, perhaps the subsequent lullaby will not be as tedious as presumed.