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Column: Olympic football needs Giggs and Becks
Butch and Sundance, Lennon and McCartney and ... Giggsy and Becks? Please, Stuart Pearce, make it so. Because we're suckers for good double bills.
Pearce, coach of the British Olympic men's football team, should shortly announce who is on his 35-player shortlist. If Pearce has any sense _ and given that he titled his autobiography "Psycho," you'd have to be brave to tell him he hasn't _ the tough former defender for England and Nottingham Forest must pick David Beckham and Ryan Giggs.
Seeing the former Manchester United teammates reunited at London 2012 would, to be frank, be one of the few good reasons _ maybe the only good reason, aside from Brazil and its 20-year-old star Neymar _ to get genuinely excited about men's football at the Summer Games.
Granted, at 37 for Becks and 38 for Giggs, these seniors _ as President Barack Obama playfully pointed out when he hosted Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy at the White House in May _ are nearly old enough to have fathered some of the youngsters they'd play with on Team GB.
Giggs even said that if they are picked, spectators shouldn't expect to see them tearing up and down
Olympic pitches as vigorously as they used to at Old Trafford, United's stadium.
"We might be able to get up but we won't be able to get back down again," said the only player to have scored in every Premier League season.
And given how much time Beckham seems to spend in his underwear or topless (ladies, check out his bare-chested Ursula Andress/"Dr. No" homage for the July issue of Elle magazine), the sensation of actually wearing clothes may take some getting used to for the former England captain.
So, yes, if you had to pick a team of the best footballers in the British Isles, Beckham and Giggs shouldn't be in it. But that's not what Pearce is being asked to do. The Olympic format allows him to pick 15 players under 23, plus three others, like Beckham and/or Giggs, who are older.
In other words, this is essentially a youth tournament, a youth tournament with Olympic medals, yes, but not the World Cup. The truth is that Pearce's managerial career won't be ruined if the host nation doesn't win this thing.
Lionel Messi cherished the Olympic gold he won with Argentina at the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing in 2008, but until the three-time world player of the year hoists the World Cup, some fans won't put him in the same bracket of greatness as Pele or Diego Maradona.
So spare the moralizing about how Pearce should field only the best and pick solely on merit. He does have some leeway here. Besides, "merit" can have broader meanings than simply how well players kick footballs _ which Beckham and Giggs, especially Giggs, still do just fine, by the way. There is merit in sentiment, too.
Beckham has been waving the flag for London 2012 since before its bid beat Paris in an IOC vote in 2005. A cynical view would be that the ex-captain has been waving the flag for himself, too, latching onto the Olympic bandwagon with the same deft sense of timing and opportunity that makes him so good at both football and self-publicity.
Or, more honestly, one can acknowledge that Beckham has been a genuine, hardworking ambassador for London, lending his global brand to the games, generating buzz and generally being useful. Like on Friday, when he dropped by a London school and played the game he's become as good at as football: delivering feel-good sound bites about the Olympics, Paralympics and, of course, David Beckham.
"It's going to inspire another generation of kids" (on the games).
"I'd love to play. I'm very proud to have played for my country 115 times" (on whether he expects a spot on the Olympic team).
"She's very smiley at home. I'd prefer her to be smiling at home than the other way around" (on why Victoria Beckham tends to rarely smile in public).
And, "It still amazes me every time I change the nappy, I'm like, 'Oh my God, we've got a little girl'" (on having a daughter after three boys).
So that's an argument for Beckham _ that he deserves an Olympic place more than most.
Now Giggs. Despite everything United's most successful player has achieved in 909 appearances and 22 years for the Red Devils, his misfortune as a footballer is that he's Welsh and that Wales hasn't qualified for a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. So it would be a thrill to see Giggs round out his astounding career with an international hurrah at the Olympics.
In short, Beckham and Giggs together are box office. The Olympic tournament needs them. The really big thing in football this summer isn't at London 2012, it's in Poland and Ukraine, at the European Championship they're co-hosting from Friday.
I, for one, can't imagine having a huge appetite for more football at the Olympics in July and August after gorging on it at the Euros for three weeks in June.
But if Giggs and Beckham play, I'll be tuning in.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester
By John R. Bolton
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