David Beckham’s dream of playing in the Olympic Games has been crushed after Great Britain team manager Stuart Pearce performed a dramatic late U-turn.
Beckham was considered a certainty to play in his home city of London after being confirmed for Team GB’s 35-man preliminary squad last month but was axed from the final group of players, announced on Thursday morning.
“Everyone knows how much playing for my country has always meant to me,” Beckham said. “So I would have been honored to be part of this unique Team GB squad. Naturally I am very disappointed, but there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me. And like everyone, I will be hoping they can win the gold.”
Even members of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games were stunned by Beckham’s omission and will have to drastically rethink their plans, as he was expected to have a dual role as both player and Olympic ambassador.
Yahoo! Sports revealed earlier this year that Beckham’s selection was not as automatic as many suspected, with Pearce determined to field as strong a lineup as possible in the Olympic tournament.
Beckham’s struggles early in the season with the Los Angeles Galaxy initially put his place in peril, though a recent resurgence in both his own form and that of the Major League Soccer club appeared to have made him a lock for a place.
As recently as last week Games officials were preparing for Beckham to be involved on the playing side, with Pearce having given no indication to even those in his inner circle that the 37-year-old midfielder would be excluded.
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The primary reason Beckham was left out likely centered around young defender Micah Richards of Manchester City, a personal favorite of Pearce, who coached him during his own stint in charge at City.
Richards was surprisingly snubbed by Roy Hodgson, the new coach of the England senior team, when he picked his squad for the ongoing European championships. Protocol dictates that players used during Euro 2012 will not play in the Olympics, in order to give them sufficient rest before the start of the new club season.
With Richards not taking part in matches against Poland and Ukraine, his sudden availability was tantalizing for Pearce, who understands the need to bolster his defensive line if Great Britain is to stand a chance of progressing deep into the tournament.
“As soon as Micah became effectively available it was going to create a problem,” said a source close to Pearce. “But honestly, no one expected Beckham to be the one to miss out.”
The manner in which Beckham’s place was taken away is certain to draw a level of criticism that Pearce has disrespected him. And while Olympic chiefs vowed to keep the decision-making process solely in Pearce’s hands, his choice is expected to provide a significant blow to the already-slow sales of Games soccer tickets.
Beckham played a crucial role in the Olympic bidding process in 2005, when London was awarded the Games ahead of Paris on a dramatic night in Singapore. He will still be part of the Opening Ceremony at Stratford’s Olympic Stadium, but will not get the chance to lead a young GB side in what would have been one of the more emotional experiences of his career.
Olympic soccer rules allow for squads of players aged 23 or under, with three overage players permitted. Richards, 24, and Welsh pair Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy were Pearce’s special picks.
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