James Lawton: Olympics no place for Beckham-Giggs sideshow
Five years ago, at a mere 33, Ryan Giggs turned his back on international football, a prudent decision, most agreed, by someone wishing to extend his career with Manchester United. But now that he wants to join David Beckham in Great Britain's Olympic team, is it too much to hope that he will be effectively discouraged?
The answer appears to be yes. We know well enough that it would take rather more than a detachment of the Household Cavalry to keep Beckham out of the London limelight, but if Giggs' enthusiasm is rather more of a surprise it too carries a certain inevitability.
This is unfortunate because until now Giggs has, in his public life at least, generally walked a brilliant line between the often stunning relevance and relentlessness of his play and his sober and professional reaction to it.
Giggs has never sought out cheap acclaim – and still less football that wasn't immersed in the highest competitive standards.
If he struggled last spring in the Champions League final with Barcelona, he could claim that he was operating at the highest professional level. More recently, he was a powerful voice demanding heightened commitment from his United team-mates in what he perceived to be a breakdown of old standards. He was an old pro fighting to stay on the hardest edge of competition.
It is something that cannot be said for his willingness to join in a publicity jamboree with his former United team-mate, one with no greater meaning than how, very loosely, it used to be.
Ten years ago Giggs-Beckham might have carried a still vibrant resonance. In the London Olympics it will be no more than a played-out, garish sideshow, in an enterprise that has always been, you have to suspect, seen more for its box-office potential than any authentic contribution to the growth of the game in these islands.
To believe this is not automatically to downgrade the place of football in the Olympics. Some say that any sport which cannot claim that the Summer Games offer the highest possible reward to the participants should not be involved.
Yet when you look at the history of Olympic football you see more than a little substance. Decades before the arrival of the World Cup a gold medal was indeed a supreme reward.
For the most competitive football nations the Olympics have remained a significant point of development. The gold medallists in Beijing and Athens were Argentina. In 1992, in Barcelona, Spain had their first taste of being champions. Uruguay, little Uruguay, signalled their stunning achievements on the world stage with Olympic success. The sublime Hungarians won gold twice.
And from Great Britain, the unformed team which Giggs and Beckham would so profoundly dominate in a swirl of headlines? There is nothing since the early years of the last century – when the Spanish were, for one example, learning the game from imported British mining officials and gentleman coaches.
Olympic regulations permit three over 23-players. The idea is to stiffen a new generation of new talent. It is not to hawk tickets – or refresh old memories
Giggs says that he wants to turn back the years and he tells us: "I don't think it will be like 20 years ago when we were both up and down. We might be able to get up but we will not be able to get back down again. Becks is a friend and he's a great player and still remains that, so if this was to be, it would be great. Obviously, I started my career with Becks in the youth team. Twenty years later, to be still doing that would be great."
Yes, but for whom? Beckham has already denied vigorously claims that his form in the American MLS, and not least when the GB coach Stuart Pearce made the transatlantic trip to take a look, simply cannot justify his inclusion in an international competition which is taken seriously by most of the football nations.
Giggs, after making some significant contributions to a gruelling season with United, has less difficulty in repulsing the celebrity charge but he is still in some danger of being found guilty of considerable self-indulgence.
The Olympics, in whatever discipline you care to mention, is supposed to be about a peak of performance, a reward for years of striving. It is not an optional extra at the end of a career suffused with glory, and in the case of Giggs one that has the evidence of 12 Premier League titles, four FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions League medals.
He says it would be nice to enjoy the experience of competing in a major international tournament that was denied him before he decided he had as many Welsh caps as he wanted. No doubt it would be a pleasant stroll into the past with an old team-mate. He could also, like Becks, call himself an Olympian and, who knows, that may never have a hollow ring.