Sam Wallace: Bale to play in London for Team GB? Don't put your shirt on it
Talking Football: For all who rhapsodise about Olympic football, ask them... who won gold in the last five tournaments?
There are just the two problems with the stirring picture of Gareth Bale on this page, in which he grasps the Team GB crest on his newly-minted Olympic football shirt. The first is that Bale has been told by the Wales Football Association that they do not want him to play at the 2012 Games. The second? That is not even the Team GB kit.
A footballer who has been told not to play in the Olympics modelling a football shirt that will never be worn: even the Premier League's most ruthless merchandisers will let out a whistle of disbelief when they hear that one.
Like the Welsh, Scotland and Northern Ireland's equivalent FAs want no part of Team GB. Legally, they cannot prevent their players joining up, but the Associations have told them not to for fear of losing their own independence with Fifa. Bale's standing is such that he may well defy the Wales FA, although he has said nothing of the sort publicly.
As for the shirt, if you read the small print that came with this Adidas puffery on Friday you will have noticed that Bale's jersey was released to "commemorate" the establishment of the Team GB XI. Allow me to explain. Not content with flogging us the actual shirt – out next year – Adidas have decided to double-up with another jersey in a blatant attempt to wring some more money out of a crowded market.
Here is another problem with the flawed concept of a Team GB football team: at the first opportunity the corporate sponsors are throwing up posters of famous footballers in their official merchandise, rather than the sports with which an Olympics are traditionally associated.
The Olympics, and 2012 in particular, are supposed to be the time when, briefly, we turn away from professional football's cavalcade of squabbling agents and moody players and give the archers and the swimmers a look-in. Team GB football was problematic from the start and stunts such as the one Adidas pulled with Bale only serve to confuse the issue.
In an ideal world, Team GB would be represented at London by an Under-23 team that included the likes of Wayne Rooney and Bale among the three over-aged players. This is a showcase for Britain, and Premier League football is arguably the country's most ubiquitous modern cultural export. But back in reality there is a crisis in international football and something has to give.
Those of us who cherish the international game want it to be protected from the European Club Association, which is demanding a new calendar that permits just two friendlies every two years. Pulling players out of crucial pre-seasons to compete in an Olympic tournament that has no real football currency is no way to protect what matters, which is the two-year cycle towards World Cups and European Championships.
The argument that the Olympic tournament (26 July until the final on 11 August) is harmless because it comes before the start of the domestic league season is redundant to the clubs. Any manager will tell you that every player lays the foundations for a good season in pre-season. And that is before we factor in the inevitable pre-Olympic Team GB training camp.
There is simply not the goodwill to start commandeering players a week before the start of a domestic season for a tournament that does not matter. Something has to give. If it means that Team GB consists of David Beckham, ably supported by a cast of academy players not young enough to remember his red card at the 1998 World Cup, then so be it.
Before we get too precious about the Olympics – in which a British team has not competed since 1960 – we should also remember that this is not the only tournament the English Football Association have been forced effectively to give up on. The Under-20s World Cup in Colombia in July was another occasion in which the FA sent the best team they could without offending the clubs. They have to pick their battles, and protecting the current international calendar is crucial.
The presence in Team GB of Beckham, who will be 37 by the time the Games begin, should tell every manager who is asked to release players for the squad, or any other national team at 2012, what this tournament is about. It is a tribute to a footballer whose approval by the English nation has been hard-won but is now written in stone. London 2012 is the set-piece farewell he never got from the England team.
For all those who rhapsodise about the value of Olympic football, ask them this: who won gold in the last five Olympic tournaments? Struggling? One imagines that Bale would have required recourse to Wikipedia too, and who can blame him? Argentina won the last two preceded by Cameroon, Nigeria and Spain, but it hardly affects our perception of these countries in the way winning a World Cup or a continental title would.
And, yes, Britain won Olympic gold in football three times between 1900 and 1912. To those who quibble about defending our tradition it should be pointed out that we had lots of other traditions in 1912 that we have dispensed of since, such as forbidding women to vote and dispatching ocean liners without the requisite number of lifeboats. The nation seems to have survived without them.
Even for the cynical there will surely be plenty of reasons to be proud to be British next summer. We do not need another replica nylon football shirt to fire our imagination. Bale may believe that the Olympics are his one chance of playing in a major international football tournament. Someone should tell him that the flaw in that argument is this: the Olympics are not a major international football tournament.
When Arsenal needed Jim to fix a 3-0 loss – to Oxford
Growing up in the 1980s, my favourite Jim'll Fix It was the episode in which a young Arsenal fan had it fixed for him that his team's 3-0 defeat to Oxford in May 1986 was restaged, with him as referee. He sent off virtually the whole Oxford team for trivial offences. And remember, this was the 1980s, when Harald Schumacher knocked Patrick Battiston out cold and was awarded a goal-kick.
The Oxford team played along brilliantly, feigning disbelief at his decisions. I recall Malcolm Shotton being particularly convincing. All the Arsenal team were there too. After the passing of Sir Jimmy Savile on Saturday, it behoves us to remember those innocent times. Needless to say, it would never happen in the present day. But if it did, you get the feeling Andre Villas-Boas would have already posted his letter by now.
Swans defeat leaves Coyle at the crossroads
It has been another rough weekend for Owen Coyle, the defeat against Swansea City leaving his Bolton Wanderers in 19th position and level on points with Blackburn Rovers. Having played, and lost to, most of the big boys, this was the kind of game Bolton needed to win. Now, for the first time since he joined Bolton in January 2010, Coyle is under pressure.
It is the classic tipping point for so many young homegrown managers – Coyle was born in Scotland but played for Republic of Ireland. If they lose their first big job, they may never get another chance. Phil Gartside, the Bolton chairman, has shown no sign of wobbling yet and let's hope he sticks to that policy. Because second chances for bright young managers are far too thin on the ground.
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