Lord Sebastian Coe played down any chance of a Team GB men’s football team featuring at the 2016 Rio Olympics earlier this week.
It seems a little perplexing considering how football is arguably the most popular sport in the world. Surely including a men’s football team in Brazil would massively boost viewings and the competition’s popularity by a country mile, just as it did at London 2012, when Mexico took the gold.
Thousands of fans from hundreds of nations turned out at some of the country’s best sporting venues, including Old Trafford, Hampden Park, Millennium Stadium, the Ricoh Arena, and of course, Wembley, to watch some of the world’s best compete for the gold medal.
There was slight disappointment due to the fact only English and Welsh players competed for ‘Team GB’; the Scottish and Northern Irish associations withdrew for unconfirmed reasons. There were some regulations regarding who could play – most notably only three players over the age of 23 could be called-up, the rest had to be either 23 or younger. Ryan Giggs, Micah Richards and Craig Bellamy were the three chosen players. The remaining players made up a solid side, including the likes of Joe Allen, Daniel Sturridge, Aaron Ramsey, Ryan Bertrand and Steven Caulker.
If the same rules applied this time round, and all four home nations allowed players to feature in the Team GB side, how would their XI shape-up?
GK) Jack Butland (21) – England
The current Stoke City keeper’s rise to stardom came at Birmingham, where he caught the eye of many Premier League sides. However, since his 2013 move, he has been second best behind Asmir Begovic and has failed to rack up many starts for the Potters, having so far made just six appearances, one of which was from the bench. Since then he’s been loaned to Yorkshire sides Barnsley and Leeds, where he suffered tough times at both. In spite of a dip in form and poor luck at Stoke, he has still proved that he is a top keeper and would do the job for an under-23 Great Britain side.
RB) Nathaniel Clyne (23) – England
Southampton’s consistent right-back is under-going some of the best form of his career, as he continues his strong start with the Saints in their new season. It was tough to choose between Clyne and fellow Saint’s full-back Ryan Bertrand, but Clyne’s goalscoring record just edges out the former Aston Villa man. Considering the Saint’s number two has had more game time on the South coast and has found the net twice so far this season, one being a stunner against Arsenal in the League Cup, he also beats Glen Johnson and Calum Chambers to the right-back spot.
CB Calum Chambers (19) – England
One of many to depart Southampton this summer; the youngster couldn’t refuse the chance to play for one of the Premier League’s top sides – although, ironically, the Saints are flying at the moment. He has already forced his way into the Arsenal first-team and made his international debut against San Marino. It was difficult to decide whether Phil Jagielka or Gary Cahill should take one of the over-23 spots, but I felt Chambers was up to the task. He has been a solid signing so far and is impressive both for club and country. Despite showing some inexperience, the 19-year-old is shaping up to be a top English centre-back.
CB Andrew Robertson (20) – Scotland
It might seem a tad strange, especially to Hull City fans, that I’ve put Robertson in at centre-back, but the former Dundee United man is a versatile player and is renowned for Scotland. A big move to the Premier League cast doubt over the Scotsman, but he has settled in very well at the KC Stadium and is proving to be a regular for the Tigers.
LB – Ben Davies (21) – Wales
Again, some may argue that Leighton Baines or Kieran Gibbs should take this spot, considering they both play regularly for Everton and Arsenal respectively, but the Welsh full-back wins this one for his international experience and attacking threat. The Spurs man made his big money move from Swansea City after serving them so well for years, but has struggled to make the first-team at White Hart Lane, with Belgian Jan Vertonghen holding on to the left-back role. Sadly for Spurs, yet fortunate for Davies, the Belgian international has refused to sign a new contract and is expected to leave next summer. While Baines is one of the Premier League’s best full-backs, his age affects the team selection and for that sole reason he hasn’t made my starting eleven. He would make my starting eleven for England though, if that’s any consolation.
RW – Raheem Sterling (19) – England
While some people may consider Sterling too inexperienced, it is impossible not to pick the Liverpool sensation, as he has proved to be an unexpected influence time and time again. The winger is currently the Red’s top-scorer and was part of the deadly trident made up of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and himself, which helped Liverpool record the most goals last season. With Sturridge out injured and Suarez’s £75 million departure to Barcelona, it was thought that he might have struggled without his deadly partners alongside him, but he is proving that he still has what it takes, despite having a lacklustre Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert ahead of him.
RCM – Steven Naismith (28) – Scotland
Scotland’s prolific forward has been a vital component for Everton this season and last. He is currently the Toffees’ top goalscorer, after scoring their goal against Manchester United on the weekend. The versatile Scot can play as a lone striker, or in any midfield position. Thanks to his adaptability, he has earned a place in my midfield.
CM – Aaron Ramsey (23) – Wales
The Arsenal midfielder has blossomed over the last eighteen months and is showing what a top midfielder he can be after spending most of his career at Arsenal. He managed to rack up a career high of sixteen goals last season, before picking up an injury that lots of Arsenal fans will argue had a huge impact on their season. The same has occurred again this season – a recurring hamstring injury hit home against Spurs two weeks ago. However, he has already scored three so far in this campaign. He is what Arsene Wenger described as a ‘complete midfielder’ and when he’s on form and free from injury, he is one of the best in the world.
LCM – Oliver Norwood (23) – Northern Ireland
Oliver Norwood? Yes, Oliver Norwood. The Reading midfielder, who came through the ranks at Manchester United, never managed to hold down a regular place in the Premier League and therefore spent a number of years in the Championship, making eighty appearances at Huddersfield, becoming an important component in the side before making a move south to the Madjewski. Despite being born in Burnley, the 23-year-old is a solid part of Northern Ireland’s midfield, playing small yet vital roles no matter what shirt he wears. While I doubt he would make many people’s starting elevens, for me, he makes the cut.
LW – Gareth Bale (25) – Wales
Hopefully this is one everybody agrees on. The Welsh wizard is in the form of his life and has been for some years now, since he was given a last-gasp chance at Spurs when he scored against Arsenal back in 2009. Back then, he was their third choice left-back and was almost out of the exit door. However, he took his opportunity against Arsenal and scored a week later against Chelsea. Ever since he was rarely out of the Spurs line-up before becoming the most expensive player in footballing history in 2013, after a reported record £85 million move to Real Madrid. While it is a ridiculous amount of money, he has so far lived up to expectations since his move from North London and has adapted to life in La Liga superbly. There’s no question, there’s no better wideman within the home nations than Bale.
ST – Daniel Sturridge – (25) – England
Along with Sterling, Daniel Sturridge was a vital part of Liverpool’s 2013-14 season, totalling up a personal record of 24 goals in 33 appearances in all competitions. The lethal striker managed to get off the mark on the first day of the current season, scoring against Southampton, before suffering a thigh injury which has kept him out since the 3-0 win at Spurs back in August. The deadly striker, who scored one of England’s two goals at this summer’s World Cup, is an adaptable player and I’m sure he would have no issues leading the Team GB line again in Rio.
On the bench:
GK – Connor Roberts – (21) – Wales
DF – Luke Shaw – (19) – England
DF – Jon Flanagan – (21) – England
MF – Emyr Huws – (21) – Wales
MF – Shane Ferguson (23) – Northern Ireland
ST – Tom Lawrence (20) – Wales
ST – Will Grigg – (23) – Northern Ireland
Do you agree? No, probably not. Have your say in the comments below.