The air of uncertainty and confusion surrounding England's troubled preparation for the European Championship heightened yesterday when Stuart Pearce unexpectedly revealed he is planning to name the squad on 10 May, three days before the end of the domestic season.
While the Football Association believes it will still appoint a permanent replacement for Fabio Capello before the second week in May, Pearce is preparing as if he will be the man who takes charge of England this summer and so is working on a squad for the finals. Pearce has pushed the FA to decide the 23-strong party ahead of the end of the Premier League campaign so players know as early as possible if they are required this summer.
The FA insists it is necessary to have a contingency plan in place if it is unable to appoint a new manager in time, but Pearce's announcement at Wembley yesterday – where he attended the draw for the Olympic football tournament in which he will manage Great Britain – increases the sense that Pearce could still be in charge come June.
It also raises the possibility that if a manager is appointed after 10 May, he would be left with a squad he did not pick, although the FA maintain that remains an unlikely scenario. "Whether it's me taking the squad or someone else, the planning is totally done," said Pearce.
Naming a final list of players at such an early stage is unusual. The Champions League final is on 19 May and Uefa's squad deadline is 10 days after that. Capello chose an initial 30-strong party for the World Cup before reducing it to his final choice. "The players need to know," insisted Pearce. "The date has to be before the end of the Premier League season for all concerned."
Meanwhile, Pearce said that all players will be treated equally when it comes to deciding his 18-strong squad for the Olympics, in which he will manage Great Britain's first appearance for 52 years. None will be left out to satisfy club managers' demands, none will be included to satisfy any national demands, and no one will be selected because he is called David Beckham. Selection, said Pearce, is entirely down to form and fitness.
Pearce will, though, give Beckham the courtesy of a near-10,000-mile round trip to watch the former England captain play for LA Galaxy in Seattle.
To date Pearce has been relying on DVDs of Galaxy games to gauge Beckham's form as he mulls over whether the 36-year-old is worthy of one of the three over-age places available. Britain have been drawn against a Uruguay side likely to include Luis Suarez, Senegal (possibly with Demba Ba and Papiss Cissé), and the UAE.
"Form and fitness will dictate the make-up of the squad," said Pearce after the draw yesterday. "David falls into the same category. I have a duty of care to the Great Britain squad to try and win a gold medal. I will pick the strongest possible squad I can.
"I will know a bit more when I go to the States to see what form [Beckham] is in. He's made the shortlist and he has been a great ambassador for this country and the Olympics, but that's no recommendation that he will get in the squad, and that's fair and square across the board for all players."
Pearce's final choice will not be well received around a number of Premier League clubs, whose seasons begin the week after the Games. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger have already voiced objections to their players being involved. Jack Wilshere is on the 80-strong long list – it will be whittled down to 18 by mid-May – and Wenger would not welcome the midfielder's involvement.
"I can't change that attitude," said Pearce. "If I make one selection proviso for one manager then I have to do it for all of them. The most important thing to me is my duty of care to Great Britain to win a gold medal. I've a good relationship with Arsène. He has a duty of care to his players, I have a duty of care to Great Britain.
"We will look at everyone individually and check their fitness and the medical people will speak with the clubs. But once the tournament starts, excitement will be generated and people will see the greater good it will do for the individual players and the feelgood factor it brings. Plus we will be returning the players to their clubs before the season starts, so all they will be missing are pre-season friendlies.
"If I was a player, I would much prefer to be playing at Old Trafford, Wembley and the Millennium Stadium, competing for a medal and then going back to my club. The lift that would give me would be fantastic."
Britain's women were given the plum draw of Brazil. Hope Powell's side will face the Beijing silver medallists at Wembley on 31 July – after kicking off the Games against New Zealand on 25 July in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, two days before the opening ceremony.
"It gives us an opportunity to showcase the sport and raise the profile of women's football," said Powell, whose side will also meet Cameroon.
Team GB schedules
Group A GB, Senegal, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay
Team GB fixtures
Thursday 26 July Senegal (Old Trafford, 7.45pm)
Sunday 29 July UAE (Wembley, 7.45pm)
Wednesday 1 August Uruguay (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 7.45pm)
Quarter-finals 4 August; Semi-finals 7 August; Bronze medal match 10 August; Gold medal match 11 August
One to watch Neymar (Brazil)
Santos forward, 20, has caught the attention of Europe's big guns and won Fifa award for best goal of 2011.
Group A GB, New Zealand, Cameroon, Brazil
Team GB fixtures
Wednesday 25 July New Zealand (Millen'm Stadium, 4pm)
Saturday 28 July Cameroon (Millen'm Stadium, 2.30pm)
Tuesday 31 July Brazil (Wembley, 7.45pm)
Quarters 3 August; Semis 6 August; Bronze & Gold matches 9 August.
One to watch Marta (Brazil)
The five-time World Player of the Year, 26, helped Brazil to silver in both the 2004 and 2008 Games.
Coe: We'll have empty seats at the football
Sebastian Coe has conceded that the Olympic football tournament may not sell out. Coe, chairman of the London organising committee, said that more than a million tickets have already been sold for the men's and women's football competitions, but the prospect of matches such as Gabon v Switzerland filling all 52,000 seats at St James' Park in Newcastle remains improbable.
"They are big venues," said Coe yesterday. "I've never said we are expecting to sell out every stadium for every game."
Coe also said there are no plans yet to fill grounds by giving tickets away to local schools or sports clubs. Fans, though, are likely to be able to buy tickets on the day for some matches.
Ticket sales have dogged the organisers, in part due to huge demand for other sports, and the failure to have football tickets ready to go on sale yesterday was another blot in the copybook.
Olympic news you may have missed...
American athletics is mourning the death of LeRoy Walker, the first black US Olympic team coach.
The 93-year-old led the men's athletics squad in the Montreal Games of 1976 and also worked with teams from Ethiopia, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya and Trinidad & Tobago during his career.
What's coming up...
Tomorrow-Sunday William Fox-Pitt takes part in the Kentucky Three-Day equestrian event as overall leader in an event he won in 2010.
Friday-Sunday Gymnastics' Osijek Grand Prix includes a British team of four, led by Daniel Purvis.
David Webb Marathon runner admitted yesterday he took "a bit of a gamble" in missing the London event. He will still run at the Games because rival Lee Merrien failed to run the required time.
Senegal football Down to earth after qualification for Games – bank accounts are frozen in a dispute with a former coach.Reuse content