The sight of Gareth Bale advertising the Team GB football team gave the clearest indication yet that he is set to ignore the official stance of the Welsh FA and agree to be part of Stuart Pearce’s 18 man squad for the Olympic Games next summer. Understandably this has caused anger amongst Welsh fans and administrators alike who fear that their nation’s footballing sovereignty, like that of Scotland and Northern Ireland, will be diluted by this Team GB.
Much as the home nations would want to believe otherwise, the lure of playing in a major footballing championship, will overcome any nationalistic feelings that players may have. Especially as players such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, and members of the Northern Ireland and Scotland will be kicking their heels at home while their club colleagues compete at Euro 2012.
The increased flow of players around the British Isles has also helped to break down the barriers between the contingent states. Gareth Bale joined Southampton as an eight year-old; his entire footballing career has been spent in England surrounded by English players. Aaron Ramsey, whose footballing education was in Wales with Cardiff, was heavily influenced by English and Scottish players. Ramsey played under an English manager in Dave Jones. Of Cardiff’s current squad there are twice as many English players as Welsh, and more Scottish than Welsh players. In Swansea’s team last week in the Premier League there were six English starters, compared to three Welsh players. The divide between England and Wales at club football has well and truly broken down.
As a Welsh FA spokesman said ‘We are welsh and we are British’. Welsh and British sportsmen compete with each other in every other sport. Simon Jones played a pivotal role in England’s cricketing success under Duncan Fletcher. Welsh players proudly represent the British and Irish Lions. Athletes such as Colin Jackson and Dai Greene have competed under both the Union Jack and the Welsh Dragon. It is only football where, internationally at least, there is a chasm between the home nations.
However much as these ideas of nationalism and footballing sovereignty are important to this issue, there are a group of people who are far more influential in this debate: the player’s club managers.
Club managers are the key people in this Olympic battle. It is the reason why Aaron Ramsey, who is as keen as Bale to join a GB team, may find it more difficult to be a part of the London Olympics. Managers such as Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson will not want players missing the first two weeks of the season, with the possibility of picking up an injury, especially if players such as Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverly and Jack Wilshire go to the European Championship before the Olympics.
Under persuasion from Sir Alex, Ryan Giggs seemed to always pick up niggles every time an international friendly came around, and ended up retiring with only 64 caps. Nemanja Vidic has just announced his international retirement at the age of 30, and Paul Scholes also quit international football prematurely. Regardless of his national allegiances, Sir Alex will not want any of his players being involved in any more international football than is absolutely necessary.
There is no doubt that there will be players from the other home nations in the Great Britain team for the Olympics, as well there should. Granted, a guarantee from Fifa usually isn’t worth the paper it is printed on however, Fifa have no quarrel at all with the home nations and playing as Team GB will not change that. After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. The Olympics were the first view the world got of Lionel Messi, Kaka and many other world stars. From a footballing point of view the home nations will benefit from sending players to this tournament. Any international tournament experience can do nothing but benefit young Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish stars.
Players want to play football, and any chance to win a medal in front of their ‘home’ fans will easily negate any nationalistic divisions. The men who control the fate of this team are not Football Association powerbrokers, but the managers and club chairmen who pay wages and whose pressure can easily persuade players that they do not wish to be part of a GB team. A good run as a united Great Britain team would help create Olympic fever in a way few other things could, especially if it comes in the aftermath of a poor showing at Euro 2012 by England