No sentiment as Beckham cut from Olympics
British Olympic football coach Stuart Pearce opted for ruthlessness over sentiment by omitting David Beckham from his squad, denying the country’s most famous sportsman an ideal career swansong at the London Games he helped his home city win.
Facing a barrage of questions Monday at a news conference at Wembley Stadium, Pearce said he considered only form and fitness for his final squad.
And Beckham’s form wasn’t good enough.
“I don’t think there’s a football manager around who picks on sentiment,” said Pearce, who was grilled on a live television broadcast about the former England captain’s omission. “My opening gambit to all the players was there are no guarantees. They have to come through the door on form and form alone.”
The 37-year-old Beckham had been hoping to be part of the first British football squad at the Olympics since 1960.
Pearce, now public enemy No. 1 among Beckham’s millions of fans and reportedly some top sports officials, said he knew he’d have to stand by his decision.
Beckham was told by Pearce on Thursday night that he wasn’t in the final 18-man squad, with the three over-age places allowed at the Olympic tournament instead going to Beckham’s former teammate, Ryan Giggs of Manchester United, Liverpool forward Craig Bellamy and Manchester City defender Micah Richards.
Beckham announced last week he had missed out on the squad and, although he backed Pearce’s squad in a statement, the Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder was believed to be inconsolable at being overlooked.
Beckham was “very disappointed” when he told him in a telephone call, Pearce said. He was the first of the players cut from the initial 35-man group to be told the bad news.
“I know he had a real burning passion to be part of this squad. I understand that. I thought it was right and proper that he heard from me directly,” Pearce said.
There also was no place on the football team’s backroom staff for Beckham, but he could have a role with the wider British Olympic team.
“I totally, utterly respect Stuart’s professional judgment and decision as to the 18 players he selected,” the British team’s Chef de Mission, Andy Hunt, said. “But more broadly from the perspective of David potentially having some role with Team GB, that would be fantastic. I’ve actually made contact with his representatives over the weekend and we will wait to see how that moves forward.”
Hunt didn’t give details on what Beckham’s role might be, but one thing it won’t be is bending his trademark free kicks on the field.
Many argued that Beckham’s pivotal role as a local London lad with superstar Hollywood draw who had worked tirelessly in the final stages of the bidding process was worth a place on the squad.
He also took part in countless Olympic activities in the run-up to the games, including accompanying the Olympic flame on a flight from Greece to England and lighting a cauldron to mark the start of the British torch relay.
He was always set to be a headliner at the games just a few miles from where he grew up but, barring a late injury call-up, it won’t be as a competitor.
“From the offset, when I was given the opportunity to manage this team I was given the job to manage,” Pearce said. “I looked at form, fitness of players, availability, and in that respect I deemed this was the best squad available.
“I’m acutely aware that there was a contentious issue over the three over-age players. But I have to be comfortable when I get into bed at night that I have made decisions only on footballing grounds. It was not personality.”
Pearce insisted he had “a duty of care” to pick the best-possible squad for Britain’s Olympic campaign, even though he had “vast respect” for Beckham as a person and for his achievements.
A rugged defender for England during his international career in the 1980s and ’90s, Pearce also denied there’d been any political pressure to pick Beckham and give the Olympics an ideal marketing boost. If there was, he wouldn’t have taken the job, he said defiantly.
“I do enough hours watching matches and I think I’ve done due diligence on all the players here ... I’m a football man and I pick solely on football ability,” Pearce said.