Changing China

Giant on the move

Olympic soccer is a serious business — just ask Messi

August 3, 2008

Messi arrivesThe Olympic soccer tournament, which starts next Thursday, has enjoyed unprecedented publicity in the run-up to Beijing, unwittingly helped by the belligerent attitude of the European clubs.
In their attempts to avoid releasing Argentina striker Lionel Messi for the Games, Barcelona helped raise the profile of the competition to a level it has rarely enjoyed in the past.

Barcelona finally relented last Wednesday when FIFA reinforced its ruling that clubs must release their under-23 players, although the Spanish club have appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sports and will demand the player fly back from China if there is a ruling in their favour.

Earlier, Barcelona had dragged Messi off for a pre-season tour to Scotland and the controversy dominated headlines on both sides of the Atlantic.

Messi’s presence, even without the added publicity, is a huge boost and and means soccer will have one of the most illustrious athletes in the entire Games.

German pair Schalke 04 and Werder Bremen also helped the Olympic cause by refusing to release Brazilian pair Rafinha and Diego. Like Barcelona, they too are awaiting a ruling from CAS.

Unlike Messi, however, Rafinha and Diego took the case into their own hands as they simply defied their clubs and flew to join the Brazilian squad on a pre-Olympic tour.

Their actions show how seriously Olympic soccer — an under-23 tournament with three overage players allowed per team — is taken outside Europe.

Brazil, five-times winners of the World Cup, have never won an Olympic gold in soccer and will not consider their trophy cabinet to be complete without it.

Dunga, coach of the senior side, will be in charge of their team here as well. Already under pressure, he could lose both jobs if they fail — just as Wanderlei Luxemburgo did after a quarter-final exit in Sydney eight years ago.

They tried to include Kaka as an overage player but, after AC Milan refused to release him, called up Ronaldinho instead.

It is not just in South America that Olympic soccer is taken seriously.

Just listen to United States midfielder Freddy Adu. ”Most of the players, I’d say about 99.9 per cent, want to go to the Olympics. This is a big, big, big deal,” Adu told a news conference on Friday.

“Guys want to go but they’re just being held back by their clubs. They’re important for their clubs and you can understand it but I think it’s a great rule that they have to be released.”

Argentina also boast Sergio Aguero, the overage Juan Roman Riquelme, Real Madrid’s Fernando Gago and Liverpool’s Javier Mascherano in an impressive line-up and start as favourites to retain their crown.

Brazil, with AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato leading the attack, look capable of mounting a serious challenge if Dunga can overcome naturally cautious approach.

Netherlands and Italy are likely to lead the European challenge while Africa also look strong, represented by Nigeria, winners in 1996, and Cameroon, who won four years later.

PHOTO: Lionel Messi arrives in Shanghai, August 1, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer


Brian – I think that the current U23 format is absurd. I think that a nice compromise between FIFA and the IOC would be for the IOC to run the U20 World Cup – which is closer to the “amateur” tradition than what we have now. And while I can understand player “sentiments” around wanting to play in the Olympics, I think that Messi in particular is being foolhardy in taking his temperamental body to Asia when he has yet to demonstrate that he can give the great club of Barcelona a full season of excellence.


As a matter of fact, Argentinian players are always proud to don the blue-white shirt. Even if their clubs are reluctant to let them play.

Posted by vava | Report as abusive

Having the opportunity to take part in the olympics is a dream for every sportsman. For those club officials who are fighting against this, can anyone of them come out openly and say that if they were within the age bracket of U23 during their time to participate in the olympics that they would have turned it down for their clubs?
i see these so called offficials as sellfish & jealous people. Certinly if i was a footballer and had this opportunity, i would certainly turn my back to the club. The olympics is the epitome of all sporting events and has more credibility and history than any football club. Clubs should be grateful that youngsters in their clubs can showcase their talents in such an event as it markets the club presense at the biggest single event this planet has to offfer

Posted by Obidike | Report as abusive

The Olympic tournament has always been taken very seriously by players in South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

It is the Western Europeans who tend to think that it is not important (partly because soccer is over-commercialized in Western Europe and partly because teams from this area have little hope of success).

Posted by Vincent | Report as abusive

‘The moment I received the bronze medal in the Olympics in Seoul 1988 when Germany beat Italy it was my number one outstanding emotion’. – Juergen Klinsmann

FIFA President Sepp Blatter today quoted what (the new Bayern Munich coach) Klinsmann wrote in his autobiography when he took part in the 1988 Olympic football tournament in the South Korean capital. Obidike, I have to agree with what you said. And even when someone like Klinsmann said something like this of his own Olympic experience, it’s heartening.

The link –  ,16368,3033_3909660,00.html

Posted by diana | Report as abusive

It can only be good for the Olympic football tournament when players such as Messi, Diego and Ronaldinho play there.


gomez, I was just on the Eurosport website earlier and it has this news flash that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has ruled in favour of the clubs. I also personally like to see the three you mentioned but then with this news, not sure how it will work out. hub.html?item=1657690

I had read somewhere that FIFA President Sepp Blatter said on Monday that even if the CAS really rule in favour of the clubs, they should allow their players to be in China. Unless they are injured.

Posted by diana | Report as abusive

You gotta feel for the Argentine coach who made his plans with Messi central to it and he now has to lose him as the Court ruled. Also for liverpool who lost babel and Leiva just to learn late they did not have to. Good luck to the Brave

Posted by njau | Report as abusive

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