David Beckham's dream of representing Great Britain in this summer's London Olympics could be in jeopardy due to his disappointing start to the Major League Soccer season with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Beckham was widely expected to not only captain the home side at the Games but also act as captain and senior statesman in a squad that will primarily be made up of under-23 players.
However, after being one of several Galaxy players to underperform for the reigning MLS Cup champion that is now in last place in MLS's Western Conference, Beckham needs a swift upturn in form and confidence in order to be sure of his place in the British lineup.
While selecting Beckham would be a strongly symbolic gesture – he grew up just a few miles from the Olympic Park in East London and played a crucial role in the bidding process that saw London awarded the event – head coach Stuart Pearce is determined that every player earn their place.
Pearce's packed schedule in his triple role as Olympic coach, head of the England under-21 side and temporary manager of the full England national team has meant he has so far been unable to travel to the United States to watch Beckham in action this year. Even if he had, it probably wouldn't have made for particularly pleasant viewing for a coach hoping to lead his squad on an emotional journey of success on home soil.
Beckham is far from being the primary cause of the Galaxy's troubles, but there is no question he has been short of his best form. Ahead of the new campaign, the Galaxy was tipped to capitalize on its star-laden lineup featuring Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane and storm through the regular season for the second straight year.
Instead, L.A. has managed just one win and three defeats from its first four games and crashed out of the CONCACAF Champions League in a huge upset against Toronto FC. Beckham has looked off the pace in several games and has suffered from the team lacking the kind of cohesion it showed during its title run in November. Beckham even suffered the embarrassment of being taken off at halftime of the Galaxy's home defeat to the New England Revolution before missing out on last weekend's road trip to Sporting Kansas City with reported back spasms.
Such disappointments have not gone unnoticed in England, where media discussion is now starting to analyze whether choosing Beckham for the Olympics can be justified if the primary motivation is to boost public interest and sell extra tickets.
"Beckham was an integral part of the successful Olympic bid team … without his efforts London may not have won," wrote respected sportswriter Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail. "What better way to show our appreciation than to include him in the event itself? Of course, take this to its natural conclusion and we'd let Lord Coe run the 1500 meters and Tony Blair could have a go at the javelin, but when has logic ever dallied with Beckham's hindmost years as a professional footballer?"
Lord Coe would be Sebastian Coe, the 1980 and 1984 Olympic 1500-meter champion who headed the London bid alongside Beckham and former British Prime Minister Blair, who has no significant sporting pedigree to speak of.
What is being missed in all this is that Beckham can have a role to play for Great Britain that offers more than mere symbolism or public relations.
With Olympic rules restricting men's soccer teams to only three players over the age of 23, the opportunity to call on a star with Beckham's wealth of experience and fierce competitive spirit could be of great service to Pearce. Furthermore, Beckham would command the respect of the Great Britain squad's youngsters, who have watched and admired his long career with Manchester United, England, Real Madrid and the Galaxy.
But first, he needs to get himself back to optimum shape and use his drive and inner fire to start turning in the kind of displays the Galaxy know he is capable. He cannot and should not expect to be chosen for the Summer Games because of his reputation and past performances, let alone his international fame. Such an outcome would be disrespectful to the many senior British players still in their prime who wish to take part, to the young players seeking to maximize their chance of Olympic glory and to the event itself.
The London Olympics can benefit from having David Beckham involved, but only if it is as a player who can lead by example – not as a token figure handed a free pass to the greatest show in sports.
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