London 2012 Olympics: Stuart Pearce says ‘I have not shot Bambi’
STUART Pearce has defended his decision to overlook David Beckham for the Olympic football team, insisting the former England captain’s form did not merit a place in the first British squad to enter the Games since 1960.
Announcing that a squad of 13 English players and five Welshmen had been selected, Pearce said he felt sorry for Beckham but stood by his decision.
Beckham was in contention for one of three over-age slots in the under-23 squad, but lost out to former Manchester United team-mate Ryan Giggs, who is likely to captain the team, Craig Bellamy, and Manchester City defender Micah Richards.
While debate has centred on the veterans, the squad is dominated by players who have represented England Under-21s under Pearce with the emphasis on pace and versatility.
There are three players from the Swansea side that illuminated the Premier League, and two from Chelsea’s Champions League winners.
Speaking for the first time since Beckham revealed last week that he had been ignored, Pearce effectively closed the door on a reprieve, saying that an over-age player was unlikely to be named on the standby list of four that will be handed to Fifa on Friday.
Technically Beckham remains on standby, along with the other 16 players cut from the longlist of 35, although Pearce has not specifically asked him if he is available to be called up at short notice.
That points to the conversation in which Pearce informed Beckham of his non-selection being a short one, but the coach said he had no regrets about ignoring a man who has been one of the faces of London’s Games.
“My starting point with all the players was that there were no guarantees. I’m more than happy with the three over-age selections I’ve picked and I think they stand up to any scrutiny because of the seasons they’ve had in the Premier League,” he said.
“You have to make big calls and whilst I would say David not being in the squad is a biggish call, from the offset I was only ever going to pick on what I see with my own eyes in regard to footballing reasons.”
Beckham was excluded, Pearce explained, because with injuries in defensive areas and Bellamy “a certain given” irrespective of form because of an “outstanding” season for Liverpool, his over-age options were limited.
“I had to start with the under-age players and fit them into the system, and then look at the squad and consider where we were short and in what positions. Craig Bellamy was a certain given, I had to use an over-age pick on that. He’s had an outstanding season this year.
“Micah Richards came in to supplement the centre of our defence, where I felt as though we had one or two individuals missing, namely Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Kyle Walker. And then in the centre of midfield I think Ryan Giggs’ form has been outstanding.”
Beckham’s exclusion was a source of tension between the Football Association and the British Olympic Association, who discovered from the media that he had been dropped. In a sign of the continued sensitivity over the Olympic team, the FA has declined to publish the names of the 17 players overlooked for the final squad.
BOA chief executive Andy Hunt said the issue had been discussed and that “in an ideal world” communication would have been better.
Pearce said he had not considered the force of Beckham’s personality when deciding to drop him, and rejected the suggestion that by ending his chance of an Olympic swansong he had “shot Bambi”.
“I’ve ruled out any other process in my mind bar a football one.”
Pearce said he came under no political or commercial pressure to include Beckham, and said he had ignored nationality when picking players. The Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland FAs were all opposed to players joining the squad.
Pearce also denied that Beckham’s enthusiasm for the Olympic football tournament was unique.
“We musn’t be sidetracked in to thinking that David is a stand-alone professional who is desperate to play in the Olympics above anyone else who is on this sheet of paper. That isn’t the case. He has a burning ambition, but along with 18 other players.”
Scott Sinclair, Joe Allen and Neil Taylor from Swansea have made the squad, with Tottenham defender Stephen Caulker, who spent the season on loan at the Liberty Stadium, joining them.
Danny Rose is another from White Hart Lane in the squad, along with Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge and full-back Ryan Bertrand.
Among the unheralded players, Jason Steele of Middlesbrough, sent off on his under-21 debut within minutes of coming on as a substitute, gets and opportunity, along with Jack Cork, of Southampton.