Is the 2012 Olympics influencing EURO qualifiers?
The backtracking by Fabio Capello over a post-World Cup commitment to focus his England team on young talents such as Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Everton’s Jack Rodwell surprised few. Although 22-year-old Adam Johnson of Manchester City is expected to play a part in tonight’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Switzerland neither of the teenagers Wilshere and Rodwell will feature at St Jakob-Park in Basle. Is the reason an inherently conservative English approach to playing young players, or is there perhaps another underlying reason?
In less than two years time, London will host the 2012 Olympic Games and, as hosts, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (GB) can enter a team without needing to qualify. The last GB team to take the field was an amateur XI that were thrashed 5-0 in Bulgaria to crash out of their two-legged qualifier 5-1 on aggregate.
Olympic football has since moved on, but not in Britain. The team that was brutally crushed in Sofia were all English and the XI that will take the field representing GB in 2012 will be too. The other three Home Nations have all refused to take part in a united team for 2012, citing concerns that their independence could be jeopardised.
Sepp Blatter promised that a GB XI would do nothing to affect the historical anomaly that sees one country field four national teams, but few in Northern Irish, Scottish or Welsh footballing circles believe the FIFA supremo. That leaves the onus firmly on England to represent Britain in the Olympic football tournament, just as they did on four of the GB’s 11 appearances in the competition between 1908 and 1972.
The English Football Association (FA) must provide a squad of 18 players. None will be amateur, that credo having long since been discarded, but England must nominate 15 players aged under-23 and three players above that age-band. In two years time, players like Rodwell and Wilshere could quite easily have matured enough to make their promotion from the U-21 team to Capello’s senior squad a foregone conclusion. The problem for FA is that the Olympic football tournament follows directly on from the Euro 2012 finals, where Capello needs England to have qualified to restore his credibility as a manager.
Curiously, not long after Capello discovered a zeal for youth, Hugh Robertson – newly installed by Britain’s coalition government as sports and Olympic minister – was advocating a united GB team.
“I would like to see a British football team in 2012 that represents all the four corners of the UK,” Robertson told Worldfootballinsider.com at the end of July. Robertson’s comments followed calls earlier the same week by both the British Olympic Association (BOA) and the London 2012 chairman Sebastian Coe for the Home Nations to field a united team. Coe also represented the staunchly unionist Tories during his spell as a member of parliament from 1992 to 1997, but neither his nor Robertson’s pleas produced any meaningful response.
Coe would certainly not want to see GB embarrassed at football in two years time, but with so few top-quality Englishmen available due to the influx of overseas players into the cash-rich Premier League, that is a distinct possibility – particularly if Capello took all the best young players to Euro 2012. Perhaps the England manager’s decision to leave the youngest English talents in the U-21 squad was based on football reasons?
Or maybe – with the other Home Nations as tepid as ever over a united team - the England manager was persuaded that from the ever diminishing resources available to him, he must somehow provide two competitive XIs for the summer of 2012?
Steve Menary is a regular contributor to PTG and his new book on the history of the GB Olympic football team, ‘GB United? British Olympic football and the end of the amateur dream’ is published next month by Pitch Publications.
The book can be pre-ordered at https://www.amazon.co.uk/GB-United-British-Olympic-Football/dp/1905411928/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1283774855&sr=1-4