By Wayne Veysey
It is testament to David Beckham’s still considerable profile that news of his shock omission from the Olympics launched an instant and heated social media debate.
By turning his back on a global icon who can still shift tickets and fill news space like few others, Team GB manager Stuart Pearce was accused of flexing his muscles in the most dramatic and attention-seeking way.
Beckham’s admirers claimed it was unfair on a national treasure who is a son of the East End and played a major role in winning the Games for London in 2005.
What harm would have been done if Pearce had named Beckham as one of the three over-age players in his 18-man squad and given him one last shot on centre stage before the curtain goes down on his top-level career?
After all, the boy from Leytonstone, who has matured into a wise head, can still swing that right boot in fairly imperious fashion, even if it is only showcased in a less-demanding league like the MLS.
Pearce has gone against all expectations by omitting the LA Galaxy midfielder. Those who assumed he was a cynical shoo-in because of his celebrity can now chomp on some humble pie at their leisure.
Yet, on a purely football level, it makes complete sense.
Pearce is paid to select a squad that can win the competition. That should be his only consideration, whatever ‘advice’ he may have had from mandarins at the British Olympic Authority, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games or his own employers at the Football Association.
Let’s not forget that Pearce’s own reputation has taken a bit of a battering recently. After taking caretaker charge of the England squad for the February friendly defeat against the Netherlands, he was then overlooked for a role in Roy Hodgson’ backroom staff when the new manager began assembling his coaching team in mid-May.
Pearce’s managerial CV is notable for a mediocre spell at Manchester City back in the days when titles, trophies and A-list players were a distant pipedream.
Five years as England Under-21 boss have produced mixed results - the high water mark of the runners-up spot in the 2009 European Championship, counter-balanced by a disastrous 2011 campaign.
Pearce has weighed up the merits of the potential candidates for the three over-age spots in his squad and concluded that Beckham does not offer the same value as Craig Bellamy, Ryan Giggs and Micah Richards, who have been selected ahead of him.
The former England defender went to America last week to watch Beckham in action. He has put in the research and reached a reasonable conclusion.
Beckham has been a regular for LA Galaxy, where he still has 18 months to run on his current deal, this year, contributing five assists and two goals in a league campaign that is scheduled to play its 17th match on Saturday away to San Jose Earthquakes.
By comparison, Giggs was a regular in a Manchester United team that was a last-second Sergio Aguero goal away from winning the Premier League in May, Bellamy had a highly productive season for Liverpool and Richards finally looked like the defender he had always promised to be for Manchester City.
On a footballing level, the MLS and the top of the Premier League do not compare. Richards will bring power and athleticism to the defence - possibly at centre-back rather than his normal right-back role - and Bellamy can still burn defenders with his acceleration.
If former club colleagues and poster boys Beckham, 37, and Giggs, 38, were playing for one place, it is only correct - sportingly and morally - then the Welshman should get the nod.
Giggs has never showcased his considerable skills in a major tournament. Crucially, he is still doing the business in one of the most competitive club environments in the world.
Pearce has chosen to take the Olympics seriously by picking a serious team that is the best available to him.
He should not be castigated for that.
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