The story was across all the sports sections of the papers this morning. Gareth Bale dared to play 74 minutes of football in a pre-season friendly just 3 weeks after he pulled out of Team GB’s football squad for London 2012.
Many journalists were reporting that Bale’s inclusion in last night’s pre-season friendly caused raised eyebrows among Team GB and FA officials. Never letting facts or a bit of thorough research get in the way of a good story, the tabloids were having a field day and the well-known sports-related talk radio channel kept its phone lines busy. How could Bale be playing when he pulled out of Team GB’s football squad with a back injury 24 days ago?
As many Spurs fans know, it is not the first time Bale has suffered a back injury. Sometimes this kept him sidelined for a couple of weeks, but there have also been occasions where he was back within a week’s time.
Now I’m no physiotherapist or doctor specialized in dorsalgia, but it’s common knowledge that a back injury could have many causes and the pain caused by the injury can often be intermittent. The reports at the time of Bale’s withdrawal from Team GB stated that he aggravated an old back and hip injury while running in training.
It was also reported that Bale sought medical advice from both Spurs’ and Team GB’s medical staff to decide whether or not to pull out of the Olympics. Given his decision, and the lack of question marks regarding his withdrawal by Stuart Pearce at the time, it seems highly unlikely that either medical staff was in favour of keeping him in the running for Stuart Pearce’s 18-man squad.
A back injury can easily come and go when the exact location of the injury has not been properly identified to find the right treatment. This also increases the chances that any further intense exercise could aggravate the condition or even cause additional injuries. It’s no surprise that Bale didn’t feel comfortable entering a serious preparation camp for the London Olympics after the situation of his back and hip injury had worsened.
It’s worth noting that all this happened well after the season had finished. Spurs played their last competitive match on May 12th against Fulham at White Hart Lane. Bale pulled out on June 30th. This means that Bale was training individually to keep fit for the Olympics when the injury recurred. This pretty much rules out the assumption that he willingly pulled out of the Olympics.
Bale had been a firm supporter of Team GB despite opposition from the Football Association of Wales (FAW). The FAW and both the Scottish and Northern Irish football associations (SFA and IFA) did not support Team GB as they feared Team GB would pose a threat to their future as separate international entities. The FIFA later assured the associations that supporting Team GB would not have any consequences for their future involvement in international qualifiers and final tournaments.
There were stories about the FAW threatening Welsh players who take part in the Olympics with sanctions. However, the inclusion of Welsh internationals Craig Bellamy, Joe Allen, Neil Taylor and Aaron Ramsey confirms that those stories were inaccurate, which was later also confirmed by FAW chief executive Jonathan Ford.
So did Spurs prevent Gareth from taking part in the Olympics? First of all it makes perfect sense for a club to protect its player from suffering additional injuries by travelling to an international tournament while not being fully fit. But what did Scott Parker do? He wasn’t fully fit yet still got the go-ahead from Spurs to join Roy Hodgson’s squad for Euro 2012. There’s no precedent there.
The argument that Spurs are not supportive of their players to feature in the Olympics in general is a flawed one too. Both Danny Rose and Steven Caulker are part of Team GB.
“Sure, they are not the most important players for Spurs,” one could argue. But what about Sandro? Arguably one of Spurs’ best players in recent months. He’s a starting player for Brazil’s Olympic Seleçao and he also featured in plenty of international friendlies in Brazil’s preparation ahead of London 2012.
Of course Villas-Boas would’ve preferred to have all his top players involved in the USA pre-season tour, but the fact Sandro has been travelling all over the place with Brazil since the end of last season proves that AVB does not have a final say in whether players can jet off to play for their national team during the pre-season.
As if the whole Bale Olympics row wasn’t hysterical enough, FIFA’s head clown Sepp Blatter had to chip in to gather some much-needed publicity for FIFA in a year his organization is being eclipsed by both UEFA’s Euro 2012 and IOC’s London Olympics. He said that the FA could file a complaint regarding Spurs for not releasing Bale to take part in the Olympics for Team GB.
“The principle is that if a club does not release a player then this association can come to FIFA and we will then ban this player during the duration of the Olympics. So far nobody came to FIFA to say we should, but it is a possibility we could ban these players if they are not at the disposal of the national team.”
“They complain and then we say let this player go or he cannot play for the club. FIFA’s position has never been so clear than it is now for the Olympics 2012 and 2016.”
Pat on the back for you, Seppy B. FIFA truly is the best custodian of the beautiful game we have ever seen. It’s a shame you forgot to mention that the player in question initially was released to join Team GB and that 3 of his fellow team-mates were correctly made available to participate in the Olympics according to FIFA regulations.
Mr Blatter, let me point you towards FIFA’s very own Regulations of the Olympic Football Tournaments London 2012. Paragraph 10.5 of chapter III – Eligibility of Players:
5. The numbers on the back of the shirts shall correspond to the numbers indicated on the official team list, which shall be submitted to the FIFA general secretariat, together with copies of the players’ passports, using the official form, by 9 July 2012.
You’ve read that? The deadline for the official team list for the London 2012 Olympics’ football tournament was July 9th. Stuart Pearce’s Olympic squad was announced on July 2nd. There were a mere 2 days between Bale’s announcement he was pulling out of Team GB and Pearce’s squad announcement. Could the player have recovered in 2 days time? Highly unlikely. Could he have recovered in 3 weeks time? It’s quick but more likely than after 2 days.
Conclusion: The deadline set by FIFA and Stuart Pearce’s decision to announce his final squad a week before this official deadline made it virtually impossible for Bale to give the injury more time and give Pearce a bit more time to consider his options. Even then, Pearce did not consider to list Bale among the four alternate players on standby to replace a Team GB player who has to withdraw from the tournament due to injury.
Did Bale know he would be back fit around the start of the Olympic tournament? Definitely not judging by his words on Spurs TV last night:
“After about 65 minutes my calf started to cramp up a bit but it was a good workout. It was one that I needed and it was good to get a goal as well.”
“My rehab’s gone very well at the club. We are well ahead of schedule.”
“I am glad to be back. It’s important to get a pre-season under my belt for the season forthcoming so I am just delighted to be back now without any problems.”
The fact that Bale’s recovery is ahead of schedule is not a cause for neither the FA, Sepp Blatter nor the press to criticize his inclusion in last night’s friendly as the situation did not leave any possibility for Bale to recover in time to be included in Stuart Pearce’s final squad.
Everyone could’ve traced this back to the team list deadline set by FIFA and the date of Pearce’s final squad announcement. But, like most of the times, the British media didn’t let fact checking and rationale get in the way of a good story that was a sure-fire hit among the patriotic British public who are generally excited about London 2012.
So all-in-all, judging the situation by the facts at hand and rationally feasible assumptions, the whole Bale Olympics row proves to be nothing but a storm in a teacup.