Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Embarrassment of Youth

With the announcement of Pearce's Olympic team came a lot of outrage in the exclusion of David Beckham. I however was a member of the few who opposed his selection for Team GB. Although I disagree that football should even be an Olympic sport, I viewed that a semi-retired professional footballer shouldn't be offered a sporting Olympic role upon the grounds of having 'worked hard' or to some degree being 'responsible for the Games' being given to London. Regardless, the decision has been made and Pearce's squad chosen.

Pearce's choice, much like mine was defended upon the grounds of "footballing reasons" (the new 2012 footballing cliché). Pearce thanked Beckham for his great work that helped secure Olympics for London, but defended his position that his team would be built around the best players he had available to him.

Either way the team has been chosen and Beckham has flown back to L.A to perfect his acting career of a soccer player in a highly competitive league. It leaves the rest of us to ponder what to expect in the football at these Olympic games? Are those 400,000 empty seats at Hampden Park going to be rued by the people of Glasgow? Or like the cabaret of the Krankies, will they have been wise to the limited performances on show?

A general comparison of teams doesn't seem to be readily available. Perhaps the Opta stats people don't do mickey-mouse football tournaments, or maybe ITV haven't finished their research to supply Jon Champion with useless information... Either way, I've scoured the internet to put some stats together. England comparisons (and by extension Team GB) are always made with the best in the world, so for the sake of simplicity I've pooled the stats for Team GB, Brazil and Spain. What you take from them is up to you.

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This table shows the number of senior appearances and experience each squad has. When including all 18 players, it is apparent that Team GB leads the way in senior appearances with around 2,500 games played; 500 more than Spain and almost 1000 more than Brazil. First blood to the British?

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Again, in International Caps Britain wins hands down with around 180 to Spain's miserable 40.

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To win any tournament a team must be able to score goals. And in yet another category Team GB appears to outscore both Brazil and Spain. Spain's 8 international goals are greatly overshadowed by both Brazil's 29 and Team GB's 37. Time to give up? It surely doesn't matter, one trophy is enough for one summer?

Those who've given the stats any time will see how such claims are as accurate as our hopes of winning (I use "we" and "our" guardedly considering the exclusion of any Scottish players). Although Team GB's overall international caps, goals and senior appearances far outweigh the rest, it's almost entirely down to Ryan Giggs' inclusion. The addition of Craig Bellamy as well distorts the graphs further. Regardless, though the stats may highlight senior and international experience, they aren't an indicator of current ability. Can you really say that Ryan Giggs' 12 international goals make him a more formidable attacker than Neymar with his 9 or Hulk with his 3?

The Giggs and Bellamy stats equivalent is buying Messi, Ronaldo and Iniesta for your fantasy team and filling the rest with East Fife reserves. The experience of just a few warps the stats for the rest. Having 650 senior league appearances might be great on the left wing but soon becomes an issue when your arrangement only allows for a ball boy in goal.

A fairer comparison might be with the average appearances for clubs in their respective leagues.

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Now we see a more even comparison. Spain's average of 26 league games last season is almost exactly the same as Team GB's, and only slightly higher than Brazil's 20 (of which only includes Brazil Serie A and not State League games making the lower figure distinctly lower than it would be otherwise).

So what do these stats tell us? Well, absolutely nothing. Anecdotal and recent performances must matter more. Spain has 6 players with international caps, Team GB has 7 (5 are Welsh) and Brazil enjoys a slightly more remarkable 17 (only 1 player is not a full international).

The Brazils and Spains of this world have an embarrassment of riches that stats simply cannot do justice. Spain for one, are current u21 European champions, quarter-finalists in three of the last four u20 Euro championships and 5x winners in the last ten years at u19 level. Britain on the other hand? A 2009 u19 final with England and u17 Euro champions in 2009 (of which only Jack Butland has made the Olympic squad). Sadly Britain's youngsters have little experience of international glory, and indeed if this squad is anything to go by, even England's youth (asides Daniel Sturridge) have no full international experience whatsoever.

So why the great gap in talent and experience? One could make the argument that no England player at Euro 2012 being able to be chosen for the Olympics makes a sizeable challenge to selection. Nevertheless, who from that squad would get the British public excited for the Olympics? Daniel Welbeck? Andy Carroll? A man who's ball control ability often appears akin to that of a set of ladders wrapped in golf clubs. Somewhat unlikely.

Ironically, Pearce's admission that this squad was picked on footballing merit may have been his greatest mistake. Choosing one 37-year old and semi-retired David Beckham would have both given the Great British public something to be excited about and shown exactly what this squad is, short of experience, short of talent and in a tournament no one really wants to win.

The loss of Bale was a blow as was the failure to include the likes of Jordan Rhodes or perhaps even James Forrest. Either way the perpetual calls for 'give youth a chance' may actually be seen for once. Belief may be in a copious supply, but let's hope for the good of all that it remains with the real Olympians.

This year with the Queen's 60 years of waving, Murray's certain Wimbledon demise and Chelsea's stumble into European glory, it has become a year of Great British expectancy. Where there is talent in abundance in Team GB, it's not within Pearce's XVIII. This summer let's leave the glory to the real athletes, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Chris Hoy. For to leave our hopes with this 3rd rate team, is sure to bring that most expected of British gifts; disappointment.

5 comments:

  1. Uruguay dark horses (or stallions in Cavani's case)

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  2. With no real top class/top class potential (baring arguably Daniel Sturridge and possibly(If you're an optimistic gunner) Aaron Ramsey) in the side I really can't see GB living up to expectation. In a tournament consisting of very low chemistry teams goals will be more important than ever... And with Sturridge, Bellamy and Sinclair upfront I fear they'll be at a minimum. Not to mention a terrifying lack of passing from the two VERY greedy strikers, which will really only serve to create an even less attractive display from the team.
    In the modern game passing seems to be the aim for most (Roy Hodgson excluded) and our midfield just isn't up to scratch. With an ancient Ryan Giggs at the helm pace looks missing in the middle of the park, and once again, a 'less-than-himself' Giggs, will probably make suitable passing a one off per game.. Or possibly the whole tournament. Which begs the question: Why should we sacrifice our teams chances so that a player can have the 'send off' he deserves in a major tournament? And if he does deserve a nice goodbye from the sport does one Michael Owen not after his services to England and the sport? Even having spent the past three odd years in obscurity He is far superior to anyone else in the team excluding a fit Ramsey, a Sturridge who fancies passing and Micah Richards.
    I really do feel Stuart Peerce has made a clanger on this one. Not to say David Beckham would have been better suited to the job as He too isn't anywhere near the level he used to be, but any mid-career player could have done the job. For example Carrick is, I feel, an incredibly under appreciated Englishmen, and his omission from the Euro squad was baffling. Though some would argue that him ruling himself out of the England back-ups inadvertently ruled him out of the GB team as well. But if that's the case what of Micah Richards?
    On such a topic, the one appointment that seems to make any sense, Micah Richards, has been greeted with a real sense of unease and disapproval. Though He wasn't a constant in the Man City team is that highly surprising given their strength and depth of world class players? For him to have even made the 25 man squad is incredible, and he definitely shouldn't have been overlooked in the first place by Roy Hodgson in the first place.

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  3. I'm sorry but this article is a little biased in the opinion of what makes a good player (it seems you have to be an England International and we know all to well that those players should be moved on) and it also surmises that Olympic football is not important simply on the basis that Britain doesn't take part in it.

    For the record, the best player there is not Sturridge, he is not even Top 5 in the Team GB football squad. The best player is without a doubt Ryan Giggs, while Bellamy and Richards are the in line for the second best player.

    Joe Allen stands apart as the talent of the young guns, he is light years ahead of Sturridge as far as talent is concerned and I would say even now at the young age of 21 he is even pushing for a Top 3 talent in the team. That kid is absolutely amazing.

    Sinclair and Taylor are also impressive talents, better than England's Sturridge and in any case, why on earth talk about Sturridge as if he is not all that impressive. He is. But even so, despite Sturridge's undboubted class he is not even as good as Caulker.

    If this Team GB played against the England Senior XI then the Team GB would be easily victorious, they are hungrier, they are faster, they are fitter, they are more technically gifted and dare I say it... they are far more tactically astute.

    Why only mention Richards and Sturridge? Oh I know, they play for Chelsea and Man City and are not over 30 years old. In essence, when writing this article you applied the same level of football snobbery and football naivety that is applied by managers when picking Team England for the World Cup. The best young players do not play for the traditional Top 4 clubs, they are playing for the rest of the Premier League.

    PS. The other nations take Olympic football seriously, interesting how their players are far more adept to international football later in their careers. There is no coincidence, they know this tournament is a training ground for the next senior players to hit the international scene running. The UK on the otherhand, they turn their nose up at Olympic football and the result is the players are constantly outclassed in every way, shape and form. If only we took the Under-20 World Cup seriously as well, that is another competition that we British snobbishly deride as a nothing tournament.

    Like all nations, we should be embracing any tournament that our next generation takes part in. The youngster variant of the World Cup and Euro Championships should be screened live on BBC One and ITV, with big advertising for the event. It would help the Senior team when those students of football graduate into the Senior squad later because Youth just isn't taken seriously right now, and that really needs to change.

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  4. I base my assertion that both Richards and Sturridge are preferable to others because not only are they decent players (irrespective of the rest) but they are both far more experienced than the likes of Joe Allen and co. You accuse me of naivety and snobbery, yet you're asserting that you know more than the best managers in the English Premier League, if not the world. I hardly think that is the case.

    Personally I don't rate either particularly high, and don't actually rate the rest of the Team GB team highly either. By far and away the most prolific young striker in the UK, Jordan Rhodes only made the standby list.

    At this level talent as well as experience is important. Where I do take your point that Ryan Giggs has been a phenomenal player, there is no way you can describe him as such in the twilight of his career. Where we do still see the likes of Pirlo controlling games at the age of 32- Giggs is 39 in November. He neither has the pace or the fitness to play the game he once could. Also as a left-winger he doesn't have the necessary attributes to control a game in the manner required.

    I'm far from snobbish about the way I look at youth football. I myself followed the Scotland u20 team to Canada. The very fact that there is not a single Scotsman in the team is telling in itself, with young players like Rhodes, Wylde, Mackay-Steven, Russell, Bannan, Allen, Wilson, Hanley... There's no way that entire England and Wales u23 team is better than each one of them.

    Besides, having 'drive' is again an utterly meaningless term. What you're suggesting is that they have more than other possible selections? Why on earth is that? How about Spain and Brazil who are clearly fitter and faster and more tactically astute. The Spanish won yet another u19 European Championships last week.

    Regardless, we'll see to some degree the strength of this team against Brazil tonight at 8.00. Personally, I expect it to be only one way traffic.

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