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Olympic participation is something that money cannot buy

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Football and the Olympics are an uneasy fit.

As many commentators have pointed out over the weeks leading up to the 2012 tournament, this is a long way from the pinnacle of the game.

And some, such as Welsh 400m hurdler Dai Greene, have suggested that football has no place at all at the Olympics.

His argument is that for the vast majority of athletes competing at the games, this is the accumulation of four years of work and toil, of hours spent in the gym, on the track, in the pool.

Greene believes football at the Olympics is something of an afterthought, but that the media spotlight that inevitably surrounds it detracts from the athletes for whom this really is the pinnacle.

He has a point. Where young athletes dream of Olympic gold, young footballers dream of scoring in the final of the World Cup or the Champions League.

Becoming an Olympian

Olympic football will never carry the importance of a major international tournament such as the Copa America or the European Championships.

But becoming an Olympian is something that very few footballers get to do. Just ask Lionel Messi.

Despite protestations from the Argentine magician, Barcelona initially denied Messi permission to participate at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Allowing him to play would mean losing him for crucial pre-season games, not to mention exposing him to the risk of injury.

Nonetheless, Messi was determined to represent his country, and when Pep Guardiola took over as manager of Barcelona, he saw it as an opportunity to establish trust with the player, allowing Messi to play at the Olympics.

Guardiola’s gamble paid off, with Messi shining in Beijing and winning gold with Argentina.

Development

More importantly, Messi then became the core of Guardiola’s Barcelona side, moving to a more central role and developing into the goal-machine that he is today.

Messi himself has said that being allowed to play for Argentina at the games was a huge moment in the development of his relationship with Guardiola.

No doubt many players at this year’s tournament will feel the same way about participating in the Olympics.

Most will aspire to go on and play for their countries at World Cups. Some, such as Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy, are playing at an international tournament for the first, and perhaps only, time.

But Olympians they shall all become, and that is something that cannot be bought, even at £200,000 a week. Just ask Lionel Messi.

By Andrew Wade

Follow Total Football on Twitter: @TotalFootball12

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