Is Beckham's omission brave or foolish?
David Beckham's shock exclusion from Team GB's Olympic football squad is a decision that puts manager Stuart Pearce's credibility - not to mention popularity - on the line.
Beckham was widely expected to be included, but Pearce has shown he is not willing to pick England's iconic sporting figure out of sentiment or as a gesture of thanks for his role in bringing the Games to London.
Beckham's enduring popularity was emphasised at half-time during England's friendly with Belgium at Wembley last month when he appeared to receive a Uefa award for winning 100 caps and received an even warmer ovation than the great Sir Bobby Charlton.
The 37-year-old may now be playing his football in the less competitive environment of Major League Soccer with Los Angeles Galaxy, but it was confirmation he still retains huge affection and his absence from the Olympics will anger many.
David Beckham was part of a British delegation that flew with the Olympic flame to the UK from Greece. Photo: Getty
There was widespread shock when news emerged that Pearce had not selected Beckham as one of Team GB’s three players aged over 23 in the final 18-man squad.
The men selected are Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs, Liverpool striker Craig Bellamy and Manchester City defender Micah Richards.
The selection of Richards, in particular, ahead of Beckham will be regarded as highly contentious given his recent refusal to be on stand-by for England’s Euro 2012 squad.
This was seen as being in sharp contrast to the attitude of Beckham, who has always been keen to place himself at his country's sporting service.
Pearce’s pick has already proved hugely divisive, despite a dignified statement issued by Beckham immediately after his exclusion had been confirmed.
Those criticising Pearce made the understandable point that he should not have given Beckham hope of inclusion by naming him in his provisional squad of 35 only to disappoint him with the final outcome. Many will feel he deserved better treatment than that – and it is an argument that carries weight.
Pearce, in counter-argument, could present his own strong evidence supporting a move that will create huge backdrop for debate up to, and probably throughout, the Games.
Beckham himself admitted he did not perform well when Pearce went to watch LA Galaxy, and Pearce felt his Team GB squad needed greater defensive strength in the shape of Richards, a player he knows well from his time as Manchester City manager, rather than plumping for an ageing midfielder.
Giggs, Bellamy and Richards also performed well in the Premier League last season, which will inevitably have counted in their favour.
So Pearce will surely argue he has made his choice based on form, merit and the need for a balanced Team GB squad that can make a serious challenge for the medals in London. Pragmatism ruled.
If football at the Olympics is to be taken seriously – and it must be said it is still to win that argument convincingly – then Pearce will insist he must pick the strongest squad he can and he obviously believes Beckham does not qualify.
Those in Beckham’s corner will say he could provide experience, leadership, inspiration and an understanding of the Olympic ideal as well as adding box-office value to a tournament that has struggled to capture the public imagination.
Pearce’s retort will be that he is picking a team to win gold, not sell tickets, even though Beckham's presence alone would have guaranteed more crowds through the gates.
The arguments will rage long and hard and if Team GB come up short he will expect harsh criticism for leaving Beckham behind.
Beckham’s words of support will not fully disguise the hurt and disappointment he will feel at missing out on this landmark moment in British sporting history, especially as he made it clear he relished the opportunity to play – and even captain – Team GB should he be afforded the opportunity.
Adding to Beckham's disappointment will be the denial of a last hurrah on such a stage as the London Olympics. He will have regarded this as the platform for a perfect conclusion to his career in this country - and many supporters will feel he merited this as reward for his outstanding contribution to British sport throughout a glittering career around the world.
Now he will play out the rest of his career away from the English spotlight in Los Angeles. While he will be as diplomatic and decent as ever about this turn of events, inside there will be sadness at missing out on those weeks when London will be at the centre of the sporting world.
Pearce will no doubt feel the full force of the anger from some sections of public opinion for wounding Beckham in such a way, but he will have known the exact consequences of his decision.
It is a brave move because the easy way would have been to pick Beckham and let him be the figurehead of Team GB. Time, and results, will tell if it is a foolhardy one.
And if there was a lack of interest in the Olympic football tournament, this controversial moment has ensured there will be a sharp focus of attention on Team GB as the man who looked certain to be their biggest drawing card watches from the sidelines.